Kavita Kumar (ILS, Pune)
“One of the major contributors to encouraging corruption is judiciary,” – (Justice Hegde , former Indian Supreme Court Judge)
Taking note of the above statement made by Justice Hegde ,corruption is rampant in the highest House of justice and therefore judiciary needs ‘cleansing’ for the positive growth of the nation and delivery of justice to the people of our country
In recent years, pressure to avoid corruptive practices within the judiciary, has been intensified with the introduction of the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill 2010 which lays down enforceable standards for judges. The Bill
requires judges to declare details of their assets and liabilities and more importantly it creates mechanisms to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity.
In the author’s personal opinion, it may be a little early to predict the lasting impact of this Bill but the move for the same began way back in (August 2009) when all the hurdles related to the clearance of the Bill were looked upon in great detail. The then( Chief Justice of India) Hon’ble Justice K.G Balakrishnan was quoted saying “Failure to declare or declaring false details can be presumed to be a misconduct on the part of the judge and this can be a ground for removal of the judge”.( Press Trust of India Chennai, 25th JULY 2009)
Just 48 hours after the Supreme Court judges unanimously passed a landmark resolution to disclose their assets publicly on the official Supreme Court website, the then Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan expressed his reservations on the matter, fearing that the information associated to the disclosure of assets could be misused. In consonance with what the
Ex CJI K.G Balakrishanan stated, it creates a cloud of suspicion whether it was a deliberate effort to hide personal and potentially embarrassing details in the light of recent allegations of disproportionate wealth being raised against him. On the contentious issue of whether the office of the CJI is within the purview of RTI( Right To information Act , 2005) it was a straightforward `No‘ from him as he believed that most of the information held in the office were confidential and cannot be divulged to the public.
Regarding the issue of whether the appointment of the ex CJI K.G Balakrishnan as the chief of NHRC was the best possible choice, when his tenure as the Judge of the Apex court was plagued by controversial decisions and a plethora of allegations were being raised against him is a deeply contentious issue.
The list of allegations that have been levelled against Justice Balakrishan are endless. It all began in December 2010 when Justice H. L. Gokhale, accused K.G Balakrishnan of misrepresenting facts to conceal the misdeeds of the sacked DMK Telecom minister A. Raja who had attempted to influence Justice R. Reghupathy of the Madras High Court on behalf of two murder accused known to the DMK minister. Following this, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India , Prashant Bhushan had made a sincere request towards Justice Balakrishnan asking him to step down as the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) on moral grounds. On the (3rd JANUARY 2011), a judicial probe was ordered against son-in-law of the Ex CJI, P.V Srinijan, on the grounds of amassing wealth worth crores of rupees disproportionate to his known source of income. The State Home Secretary was instructed to start the investigation meanwhile the Advocate General of Kerala asked Justice Balakrishnan’s brother KG Bhaskaran to resign from the post of Special Government Pleader, on the ground that the latter had undervalued properties registered in his name.
Hon’ble KG Balakrishnan, who earlier opposed the disclosure of the judge’s assets, also asked the Income Tax Department not to reveal his I-T returns . A Kochi-based RTI activist had filed a petition in January ( news published on 15th Feb 2011 IBNlive.com) seeking information on Justice Balakrishnan’s tax returns but according to the Ex CJI, “disclosure of such information did not serve any public interest, and instead amounts to an invasion of privacy”. The IT Department further rejected the appeal filed in by the Ex CJI in furtherance of which Justice Balakrishnan filed a letter dated 5th FEBRUARY ( year not mentioned) (15th FEBRUARY 2011 new published) stating that disclosure of information sought is exempt from disclosure under certain circumstances as per mentioned in Section 8(i) of the Right To Information Act 2005 which states.
“Information which relates to personal information, disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual are completely exempt from disclosure unless the Central Public Information officer or state Public Information Officer of the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justified the disclosure of such information,”.
Different civil society groups had made various complaints against Justice Balakrishnan to the United Nations. On (23rd MAY 2011) an enquiry was to be conducted by the UN against the corruption charges made against the NHRC Chairman and former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan. Even after the shocking revelation by a fellow judge that former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan could be “approached” for fixing cases, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief refused to step down, justifying his stance of being right . Instead, Justice Balakrishnan hit back, accusing Justice Shamshuddin of being ‘approachable’. While the Opposition demanded an investigation, the Centre continued to distance itself from the controversy. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia asked the Attorney General G.E Vahanvati to submit a status report but nothing happened. The Central Bureau of Direct Taxes (CBDT) decided to investigate charges of financial misconduct, which if proven, would have be sent to the President for the removal of CJI as the Chairperson of the NHRC. The CBDT investigation put a big question mark over Justice Balakrishnan continuing as NHRC chairman. In legal as well as in political circles, the view was that he should quit to at least save the credibility of an important organisation which addressed human rights issues like the NHRC .
On (5th June 2011), A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by a Delhi based Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma against Justice Balakrishnan seeking a judicial inquiry and his removal as the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) over his family’s alleged disproportionate assets and land deals. In support of his demand, Mr.Sharma also quoted former Supreme Court judge, Justice VR Krishna Iyer’s statement to the media, seeking high level investigation into the alleged amassing of wealth by P.V.Srinijan , the son-in-law of KG Balakrishnan.
While old allegations still persisted, newer skeletons kept tumbling out of the closet and the problem for the NHRC Chairperson kept growing with each revelation. More reports of dubious land deals and more details of unaccounted wealth of his family members kept appearing in the press. His second son-in-law Advocate NJ Benny was in the news for the same reason. The state of Kerala ordered an investigation by the State Vigilance Department against P.V Srinijan on charges of possessing disproportionate wealth. The direction to look into these allegations was issued to Kochi Police Commissioner by the First Class CJM A.M Basheer on aprivate complaint by the petitioner Francis Pardeeplal who sought an enquiry against the three family members( P.V Srinijjan , M J Benny and K.G Bhaskaran). The directive for the same came days after a vigilance court in Thrissur admitted a petition filed by an NGO seeking a probe into the charges levelled against Balakrishnan’s family members.
While allegations against Justice Balakrishnan and his kin were making news for almost a year, things only took a serious turn when Supreme Court Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia admitted the petition of Mr. Sharma as well as took cognisance of a complaint by a Delhi-based doctor and activist Mohammed Furqaan, who alleged that a corporate family dispute between two brothers which the judge (
Ex CJI) had adjudicated was influenced by a contact in Dubai. A troubled phase for Justice Balakrishnan was approaching when the Income Tax department in Kochi found evidence against the family members of Balakrishnan having possession of wealth above their known sources of income.
An NGO, Common Cause, sought the removal of former CJI KG Balakrishnan as the NHRC chairman for his alleged misconduct, and informed the Supreme Court that a key document of the Centre dealing with the probe into the disproportionate assets case against KG Balakrishnan and his kin had gone “missing” from the apex court files and the counsel for the same Adv Prasant Bhushan expressed his surprise as to how a two page report on the status inquiry disappeared suddenly from the court. The needle of suspicion fell on the Ex CJI. The NGO then moved the apex court in January 2013, stating that the Centre had failed to take any decision on the complaint, despite the apex court’s order, which had on (MAY 10) last year asked the concerned authority to take a decision on the complaint. If there was to be any truth in the allegations, then it was for the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court, on the advice of Council of Ministers, for inquiry against the former Chief Justice of India.
On 24th February 2013 the Centre turned down the NGO’s plea for a Presidential Reference for removal of National Human Rights Commission Chairperson K G Balakrishnan, over allegations of misconduct during his tenure as Chief Justice and judge of the Supreme Court. The government felt that the Presidential Reference against him cannot be recommended for his “alleged instances of misbehaviour” during his stint at the Apex court as his conduct does not appear to be relevant ground for making a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court under under 5(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993.
All the accusations that were being raised against the EX CJI K.G Balakrishan as the Head of the National Human Rights Commission got further strengthened with over 15 complaints in total being filed against him from across the country. There is an Honest feeling among all concerned that the investigations should be speeded up so that the truth can be made public before forming opinions about an issue which is of paramount importance in the Legal Field . Meanwhile, everyone agrees that it will be in the national interest for Justice Balakrishnan to at least take a break from the NHRC till such time that the probe against him clears his name. A letter written by Deputy Secretary P. K. Ahuja states, “The functions of NHRC include to inquire, intervene and review the violations of human rights and to study and spread human rights literacy among various sections of society. These functions of the Commission cannot be said to be an elongation of the judicial functions which Justice Balakrishnan discharged in the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of India. So, considering all the views and opinions of the legal luminaries like Hon’ble Justice J.S Verma , Rachinder Sachar , ( former CJI Delhi Court), Senior advocate Prasanth Bhushan , former RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi and political leaders like Ravi Prasasd it would be desirable that the Hon’ble Ex CJI K.G Balakrishnan resign on voluntary basis to maintain the sanctity of such a high position till all the investigations are duly complied with.
While KG Balakrishnan has managed to pull along so far with allegations of corruption following his every step, all these contentions have some veracity, owing to the number of complaints filed and evidence adduced by the competent authorities. Allowing Justice KG Balakrishnan to continue as the Chairperson of the highest human rights commission of the country lowers the image of such an organization and that such a person was elevated to the position of the CJI makes one feel less sure of the judiciary. It is very easy to tarnish the image of the Judiciary by elevating persons with dubious integrity as a Supreme Court Judge but very difficult to restore the good image of the Judiciary that one loses in the process.