The Union government is not allowing the prosecution of a High Court judge suspected of receiving bribes — including whiskey bottles and a mobile phone — and fixing illegal land deals.
But it now emerges that an in-house inquiry committee constituted by the Chief Justice of India has recommended the removal of Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
<b1>A rare, in-house probe by Allahabad High Court Chief Justice HL Gokhale, Gujarat High Court Chief Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Madan B Lokur of the Delhi High Court has “established beyond doubt” that Justice Yadav received Rs 15 lakh in unexplained money, sent by Delhi hotelier Ravinder Singh, according to a thus-far secret 92-page report which is in possession of the Hindustan Times.
The committee gave its report on December 6, 2008. Hindustan Times reported two days ago how in March the Union government refused permission to prosecute Justice Yadav, citing insufficient evidence — and at a time when questions are being raised about the government’s reluctance to intervene and the judiciary’s reluctance to act against its own.
Contacted on Friday, Law Minister Veerappa Moily refused comment, disconnecting the phone. The SC inquiry and CBI inquiries were both initiated by Chief Justice of India (CJI) KG Balakrishnan. Both relied on the same evidence: interrogation of suspects and witnesses, documents and cellphone call details.
Last week this paper also reported how Punjab’s Vigilance Bureau had asked for — but not received permission — to further investigate into the revelations of an officially-sanctioned phone tapping of two private persons in which the names of two other judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court had figured in connection with a slew of malpractices, including payment of bribes for favourable judgements.
“The misconducts (sic) disclosed against you are serious enough for initiation of proceedings for your removal as Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court,” said a confidential note issued by CJI and served on Justice Yadav on December 25, 2008.
In response, Justice Yadav started a flurry of communications with the CJI, picking holes in the Committee findings. She raised a number of objections and argued that a SC judge and a Punjab and Haryana High Court judge were at the residence of another High Court judge, who shared a similar-sounding name, Nirmaljit Kaur, where the Rs 15 lakh was wrongly delivered on August 13, 2008.
Justice Yadav based her allegation on a reference in the inquiry committee report which inter-alia says, "...even if there were some judges present at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Kaur on the evening of August 13, 2008, it has no bearing or relevance to the inquiry.”
Justice Yadav’s implication: the money was meant for these judges, not for her. Her arguments were not supported by the evidence, which point to payoffs from touts.
There has been no further action by the Chief Justice over six months. Justice Yadav was taken off the high court Bench last year, continues to be without judicial work and receives full salary and benefits. Justice Nirmal Yadav initially refused comment. Later, she said: “The matter is with the Chief Justice of India whom I have already submitted my replies.”
The three-judges committee had two tasks:
To determine if the Rs 15 lakh, delivered to the residence of Justice Kaur, was meant for Justice Nirmal Yadav and that it was sent by Delhi hotelier Ravinder Singh through Sanjiv Bansal, then Additional Advocate General of Haryana.
To determine if the Rs 15 lakh was paid by Singh to Justice Yadav on August 14 through Rajeev Gupta, Bansal’s friend.
"Both these allegations have been established beyond any reasonable doubt. These allegations themselves amount to acts unbecoming on the part of Justice Nirmal Yadav,” said the report.
Justice Yadav, the report said, “did not practice the degree of aloofness which was expected of her consistent with the dignity of her office”.