Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has granted permission to CBI to investigate corruption charges against a sitting judge of Allahabad High Court. This is a welcome departure from the attitude of one of his predecessors who had ruled while disposing of a case that no action should be initiated against a judicial officer even if he takes bribe.
Justice S N Shukla of Allahabad High Court (Lucknow Bench) was alleged to have favoured a private medical college by extending deadline to admit students for 2017-2018 in violation of the Supreme Court order. After receiving a complaint from Uttar Pradesh Advocate General Raghvendra Singh in September 2017, then CJI Deepak Misra constituted an inquiry panel comprising three High Court judges, two of them Chief Justices, to hold a preliminary inquiry into the allegations against Justice Shukla. The panel found that Justice Shukla had disgraced the values of judicial life, acted in a manner unbecoming of a judge to lower the majesty, dignity and credibility of his office and acted in breach of his oath of office, and that “there is sufficient substance in the allegations contained in the complaints against Justice Shukla and the aberrations complained of are serious enough to call for initiation of proceedings for his removal”. On receiving the panel’s report, Justice Misra asked Justice Shukla either to resign or seek retirement but he had refused.
The Supreme Court had in 1991 ruled while deciding a case that no investigating agency can lodge an FIR against a Supreme Court or High Court judge without first showing the evidence to the CJI for permission to investigate the judge. The CBI had written to CJI Gogoi to investigate the allegations against Justice Shukla. Attached with the CBI request was a note listing the preliminary evidence of corruption against Justice Shukla. After perusing the note, CJI granted permission to CBI on July 30 to file an FIR against Justice Shukla and start investigation.
Contrast this with the attitude of the Supreme Court about five years ago when corruption in Judiciary was virtually given legitimacy by a judgement of the apex court — by a three-member bench presided over by then CJI K G Balakrishnan. An Additional District and Sessions Judge of Uttar Pradesh, Ramesh Chander Singh, was charged with illegal gratification for granting bail to a notorious offender. An inquiry was held by the vigilance wing of Allahabad High Court and it came to light that the respective courts, which had the jurisdiction, had rejected the bail applications of the accused twice on merits. It was alleged that the Additional Judge had granted bail on the third application in utter disregard of judicial norms and on insufficient grounds and it appeared to be based on extraneous considerations. The full court of the Allahabad High Court imposed a punishment of withholding two annual increments of the Additional District and Session Judge with cumulative effect and subsequently he was reduced to a lower rank. His writ petition challenging the punishment was dismissed by the High Court. He then went in appeal to the Supreme Court.
What the three-judge bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta and Justice D K Jain ruled was incredible, to say the least. It said: “this court on several occasions has disapproved of the practice of initiation of disciplinary proceedings against officers of the subordinate judiciary merely because the judgements or orders passed by them are wrong. The appellate and revisional courts have been established and given powers to set aside such orders. The higher courts after hearing the appeal may modify or set aside erroneous judgements of the lower courts. While taking disciplinary action based on judicial orders, High Courts must take extra care or caution.” The bench set aside the Allahabad High Court judgement and directed that the appellant be immediately posted to the cadre of district judge and paid all monetary benefits due to him.
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