Bribery in name of judges: SC sets up bench of 5 senior judges to hear case

The court issued notices to the Centre and CBI on a plea that has sought the setting up of an SIT, to be headed by a retired chief justice of India, to probe the matter.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2017 22:47 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,CBI,bribery
The next hearing in the case will be on November 1(HT file)

The Supreme Court of India referred a case alleging corruption involving members of the judiciary to a five-judge Constitution bench – the first time such allegations are being taken seriously enough for such a move.

The case concerns admission to a medical college run by the Prasad Education Trust in Lucknow. Earlier this year, the government barred the college from admitting students in the year 2017-18 and 2018-19. The trust sought relief in both the Allahabad high court and the Supreme Court. In an order dated September 18, a bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra refused relief for the 2017-18 academic year and asked the Medical Council of India to inspect the college afresh for the year 2018-19.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. On September 19, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a First Investigation Report against Justice (retired) IM Quddusi and a certain Bhavna Pandey under the anti-corruption law. The CBI said the two had assured the Lucknow-based medical college’s representative that they could facilitate favourable orders from the Supreme Court.

The CBI claimed the former judge and Pandey had demanded “huge gratification for inducing public servants by corrupt and illegal means.” Three days later, the two and four others including a hawala operator, were arrested. Within 48 hours, a special CBI judge gave bail to Justice Quddusi, an order that was never challenged.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court’s reference of a petition based on the CBI’s FIR to the Constitution Bench was preceded by high drama.

On Wednesday, a petition filed by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) based on the CBI complaint was mentioned before Justice Jasti Chelameswar’s bench. He ordered it to be listed for hearing on Friday.

On Thursday, a similar petition filed by Kamini Jaiswal came up before Justice Chelameswar. The petition argued for a court supervised investigation by a Special Investigation Team into the matter. “Since this case has brought to light an instance of corruption in the very highest echelons of power, including the justice delivery system, the CBI, a government controlled agency, may not be best suited to continue this investigation,” the petition said.

Terming the accusations made against judiciary in the case registered by CBI as “serious and disturbing”, a two-judge Bench headed by Justice Chelameswar on Thursday, said, “Looking at the gravity of the allegations, we feel the matter is important not just for the institution but also the nation. Allegations pertain to the functioning of this court (Supreme Court). Therefore, we feel it should be heard by a constitution bench”. The bench said the five most senior judges of the court would hear the case.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for Jaiswal , urged the bench that the CJI Dipak Misra should not be a member of the bench since he had heard the original case. “That is why we have ordered first five judges in seniority,” the court replied.

Dave asserted that since the allegations involve the judiciary at the highest level, the probe needs to be handled sensitively and a retired CJI should supervise it.

When the matter was being argued, Justice Chelameswar received a note from the office of CJI Misra, the contents of which were not revealed. However, the note was made a part of record by Justice Chelameswar. Hindustan Times could not ascertain what the note said.

Eminent jurists termed the allegations in the CBI case disturbing, if they were true. Supreme Court advocate Gopal Sankaranaryanan said: “Sooner we have the air cleared the better. I am confident that the judges of the court will put their heads together to ensure that the interest of the institution will always be foremost and nothing be done that would dilute its majesty.”

First Published: Nov 09, 2017 20:37 IST