Sunday, October 26, 2008
Last week, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan wrote to all the high court chief justices urging them to evaluate the performance of judges when they turned 50. If found incompetent or of doubtful integrity, he suggested they be removed. The CJI wrote: "Such a provision will keep deviant behaviour in check, besides getting rid of those who are found to be indolent, ineffective or with doubtful integrity." He added that such a review had proved to be "quite effective" for the Supreme Court.
This approach is welcome. There is just one snag. Has the SC been effective in eradicating misconduct from its own ranks? Reference to the SC is inevitably respectful. But does such respect arise from propriety or from conviction?
Frankly, the SC’s credibility is not as high as it should be. The lax conduct of SC judges themselves is responsible for this. The SC rightly is very zealous about maintaining its high reputation for integrity. That is why it never overlooks word or deed that remotely questions its reputation. Recall how Arundhati Roy was slapped with a contempt notice for staging a dharna outside the SC. However, the public gets puzzled by instances when SC ignores damaging allegations made against SC judges. Why is the conduct of judges not swiftly reviewed then? Such instances are many. Two current cases are noteworthy.
In the Rs 23 crore Provident Fund defalcation scam, high court judges, retired SC judges and one sitting SC judge are allegedly involved. After hearing the case, the SC empowered the high court to authorise the police to investigate. Has the sitting SC judge suspended work until the probe concludes?
A more vivid example of a casual SC approach is related to sitting SC judge, Justice A. Kabir. Earlier, as a Calcutta High Court judge, Justice Kabir passed a judgement deemed perverse and motivated by a litigant. The litigant approached the SC for relief. His petition was upheld. Justice Kabir’s judgement was overruled. Meanwhile, Justice Kabir had been elevated to the SC. Three judges of the Calcutta High Court ignored the SC ruling and followed Justice Kabir’s judgement. In an unprecedented scenario, a contempt notice against these three sitting judges was admitted by the Calcutta High Court. Did the CJI review the performance of Justice Kabir? Was it found satisfactory?
Such instances confuse the people. They will always speak respectfully of the SC. But what do they inwardly think? The CJI should know: respect cannot be legislated, it must be earned.