Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that India’s real strength lies in its free press, an independent judiciary and autonomous institutions like the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office. Among all these, the judiciary is the only one that has direct and regular interaction with citizens and, therefore, as jurist Soli Sorabjee said, it draws its real strength “not from the law books but the confidence it enjoys in the eyes of the people”. To avoid any breach in that wall called public faith, it is imperative that the allegations against Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran are dealt with not only strongly but also used as a springboard to usher in the required changes to the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968. The Act shields top judicial officers from investigations and only an impeachment can ensure their removal. Till date, no judge has ever been impeached. In the 1993 impeachment motion against Justice V. Ramaswami when the matter was put to vote in the Lok Sabha, it failed to get a House majority because the Congress abstained.
The law ministry has been planning for long to replace the Act with the Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, which will have disciplinary measures for judges short of the impeachment process, but this is yet to take off. The logjam in the Justice Dinakaran case only proves the need for such changes. Meanwhile the Justice — who according to the impeachment motion failed to keep his oath of office to “dispense justice without fear or favour” and passed judicial orders on “dishonest and extraneous considerations” — has exploited the lacunae in the law. Since under the existing rule, the Chief Justice of India, officially his boss, has no disciplinary authority over him, Justice Dinakaran, who says that the allegations are concocted, ignored the advice that he should go on leave till his name is cleared. So when the call for taking moral responsibility has gone unheeded, why has he then been ‘transferred’ to the Sikkim High Court? Is this what we know as a punishment posting? Or is Sikkim any less important than say Karnataka or Tamil Nadu? Justifiably, the Sikkim Bar Association members have met the chief minister and lodged their protest and said that they would go on strike if Justice Dinakaran is sent to Gangtok. As of now, the law ministry says that it has not received any advice from the SC collegium.
If the public faith in the judiciary has to be restored, the judiciary itself needs to accept that rot has set in and only real tough measures and less opaque systems of its workings and appointments can improve matters.