Former chief justice of India (CJI) S.P. Bharucha confirmed our worst fears when he said, “In my view, perhaps 20 per cent of judges in India are corrupt, not more than that”. Twenty per cent, in an institution that, by its very nature, demands 100 per cent incorruptibility. The Hindustan Times’ shocking findings on the rot within the Punjab judiciary shows that the former CJI was probably not off the mark. A Punjab government secret vigilance report indicates that cases in the Punjab and Haryana high court may have been fixed for a consideration, touts freely spoke of manipulating lower court appointments and distribution of cases and various other malpractices. Significantly, this report was forwarded to the CJI as far back as July 2008. Nothing was done.
In March 2009, the Punjab governor got hold of a copy of the report and forwarded it to the both the CJI and the Prime Minister’s office (PMO). Why was nothing done all this time? This means that during the time that has elapsed, those who are under a cloud were able to discharge their judicial functions. With the lid blown off this scandal, it is time once again to reiterate that the judiciary must review its practice of judging itself. People have immense faith in our judicial system. When all else fails, it is the judiciary that they turn to. Therefore, it is incumbent on the judiciary to be seen to be transparent and accountable.
It can no longer go on with this opaque process of conducting trials within. If 20 per cent, even 10 per cent, are corrupt, then we would like to know what action has been taken against the guilty. Today, we are in a phase when people are no longer content to treat any arm of governance as a holy cow. The judiciary should not seek to insulate itself from open democratic processes. This will only erode its authority and credibility. The signals we are getting today is that the law seems to put itself above the law. The legal procedure could literally hold the difference between life and death for many.
It cannot be sullied by allowing some members of the judiciary to treat it as a marketplace controlled by touts. Now that the report is with the CJI and PMO, it must be acted upon. That would be really going by the law.