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Justice Karnan vs SC: Need to ensure court’s dignity is not compromised

The question that needs to be answered is — what is the best way to discipline judges and deal with their indiscretions and is impeachment the exclusive method to deal with erring judges.

opinion Updated: May 02, 2017 10:50 IST
Ashok Bagriya
Ashok Bagriya
New Delhi
Supreme Court,CS Karnan,JS Khehar
Justice CS Karnan of Calcutta high court addresses a press conference at his residence in New Town near Kolkata.(PTI)

Top seven judges of the Supreme Court (SC) of India are in a fix.

They are struggling with a bizarre situation emerging out of a defiant attitude of Calcutta high court (HC) judge, Justice CS Karnan — who accuses not just the top court judges of discrimination and corruption but also makes similar wild allegations against Madras HC judges.

Add to this, freakish orders by Justice Karnan — directing psychological examination of CJI JS Khehar and other SC judges by a board of doctors and direction to Air Control Authority, to stop eight SC judges from travelling abroad.

All this despite the SC stripping Justice Karnan, of his judicial and administrative work and powers in the past. These developments have not just seriously dented the image of judiciary as a institution but has also lowered the image of judges.

Attorney General of India, Mukul Rohatgi, has gone to the extent of pleading that Justice Karnan has made judges a laughing stock.

While there is a pattern in the judicial indiscipline, shown by Justice Karnan – in 2011 he called a press conference accusing a Madras HC judge of discrimination, in 2015 charged his other Madras HC judges of corruption and misuse of judicial office — his actions are unparalleled.

There have been recent instances of Justice Dinakaran and Justice Soumitro Sen also that have troubled the judiciary.

Even though the Constitution of India recommends impeachment by Parliament to deal with situations like these — the SC has taken a different route - contemplating suo motu action against Justice Karnan for lowering the image of the judiciary.

But the question that needs to be answered is — what is the best way to discipline judges and deal with their indiscretions and is impeachment the exclusive method to deal with erring judges?

While Justice Karnan’s case offers an opportunity to look for solutions in this direction, the case is not a simple one, caste equations have been dragged into it. Justice Karnan not only refuses to withdraw his allegations but insists on dragging in his Dalit identity to play the victim.

Moreover, this problem could not have come at a worse time for the judiciary which is engaged in a tug-of-war with the executive who want a say in the appointment of judges. There are serious apprehensions that this case will be used by the executive to bargain for a say in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

While the judges contemplate making Justice Karnan an example for future indiscretions, there has to be a better way to out this problem, so that every time the case comes for hearing in the SC, the dignity of the court is not compromised by a defiant judge.

Besides a quiet burial to the case — which allows Justice Karnan to retire in June- and results in closure of the case, some serious out of box thinking is needed to deal with situations like this in future. Probably the judges can take a leaf out of the ways of the former Chief Justice of India- who used the moral authority of his office to deal with controversial judges like Arun Madan and Samit Mukherjee.

First Published: May 02, 2017 10:50 IST