Former chief justice of India RC Lahoti has refuted ex-Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju’s accusations that he gave in to pressure from the UPA 1 government to allow a “tainted” Madras HC judge to continue in office.
In a blog on July 20, Press Council of India chairman justice Katju alleged that three successive CJIs allowed justice Ashok Kumar to continue, ignoring corruption charges that were red-flagged by him.
In an exclusive interview to HT, justice Lahoti, who was the CJI from June 2004 to October 2005, said, “Specifically, in the matter of justice Ashok Kumar and even generally, nobody has ever tried to influence or pressurise me nor have I ever come under anybody’s pressure.”
The former CJI had issued a brief statement — his first ever communication with the media — after Katju’s claim created a storm, saying he had done nothing wrong in his life and never came under any pressure.
The former CJI, who enjoys the reputation of being an upright judge, agreed to an interview with HT but said, “This is the first and the last time I’m speaking to the media. My name has been unnecessarily dragged into this controversy. I just want to put the record straight.”
Justice Lahoti refuted Katju’s claim that as the chief justice of the Madras high court he had written a letter to him seeking “a secret intelligence inquiry” into corruption charges against justice Kumar.
“Justice Katju never, at any point in time, gave me in writing that justice Ashok Kumar was corrupt or not worth being made permanent,” the former CJI said.
“The least justice Katju could have done as the chief justice of the Madras high court was to withdraw the recommendation of justice Kumar being made permanent, if he was corrupt -- and that would have been the end of the matter.”
Katju was the CJ of the Madras HC between November 28, 2004 and October 10, 2005 before he was moved to the SC as a judge.
Katju had blogged that the Manmohan government, under pressure from a southern ally, an oblique reference on the DMK, had persisted with justice Kumar.
A former SC judge, justice Ruma Pal, had said she had written to justice Lahoti, opposing an extension to Kumar.
Asked about the letter, the former CJI said, “Justice Pal did not give any such letter to me.”
Justice Kumar and seven others were appointed as additional judges of the HC on April 3, 2004 and on April 1, 2005 got a four-month extension. On July 27, 2005 while seven other were appointed permanent judges, justice Kumar was given a year’s extension. The extensions kept coming till he was made a permanent judge on February 3, 2007. He retired in 2009 and died in the October of the same year.
Justice Kumar’s appointment was challenged by former law minister Shanti Bhushan in the SC that called in all records regarding the appointment.
The court refused to quash the appointment. There is no mention of an Intelligence Bureau report against Justice Kumar in the SC order.
It also does not talk of justice Katju or justice Pal writing to justice Lahoti or his successor justice YK Sabharwal.
Typically, the government seeks an IB report on a candidate only before an initial appointment and not when a judge is up for a promotion or in the process of being made a permanent judge.