In what is seen as a major blow to the fight against corruption in the judiciary, it has come to light that the government did not allow the investigative agencies to probe complaints of corruption against the former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Y K Sabharwal.
Exposing the lack of clarity in the absence of a clearly defined law on who has the powers to probe allegations against judges, the file containing the explosive allegations against the former CJI was given a quiet burial.
Allegations of corruption against serving judges can only be probed in case the chief justice of the concerned high court or Supreme Court forms a committee under the Judges Inquiry Act. In case a judge is found guilty, the chief justice can merely recommend his removal (impeachment) to Parliament.
There are no curbs on probing allegations against retired judges, but no former judge has faced a probe for misconduct or corruption so far. The UPA government failed to make a fresh law to deal with corruption in judiciary, despite the fact that Judges Inquiry Bill was cleared by the union cabinet twice.
The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), were advised by the government not to initiate any proceedings in two separate legal opinions on the Sabharwal issue.
Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha, said: “After the CVC had forwarded the complaints against Justice Sabharwal, the Department of Justice sent its opinion, saying the Commission did not have the authority to look into the matter.” When the CBI sought a legal opinion, it was told: “Since the complaints mostly dealt with alleged motivated judgments, no investigative agency can look into the matter as per the provisions of the Judges Inquiry Act.”
Sinha said both the agencies were told by the government, that “the only recourse available was to seek a review of such orders.”
The CVC had forwarded the complaints filed by a group of lawyers and jurists called the Campaign for Judicial Accountability against the former CJI to the Ministry of Law and Justice for necessary action. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan had filed the complaint with the CVC in November 2007, demanding immediate registration of an FIR by the CBI.
The complaint alleged that Justice Sabharwal ordered sealing of commercial properties in residential areas of Delhi to further the business interest of his sons.
Justice Sabharwal had denied the allegations of having misused his official position.