Friday, December 17, 2010

We Deserve someone better as NHRC Chairman

Justice K.G.Balakrishnan, now heading the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), seems determined to lend all his might to drain out the peoples’ confidence in the higher judiciary in India

The controversy involving Justice Balakrishnan was revived in the public domain only after a Division Bench of the Madras High Court found serious wrong doing on the part of R.K.Chandramohen and directed that he be suspended from the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu. But for that, the question as to whether the former CJI foreclosed a case, involving serious allegations against A.Raja, even at the cost of letting the majesty of the law and the courts be eroded. One is obliged to Justices F.M.Ibrahim Khalifullah and M.M.Sundaresh for their order on December 7, 2010.

Coming to the issue, Advocate Chandramohen, who is also chairman of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu, had walked into Justice Regupathy’s chamber, on June 12, 2010, in an attempt to pressure the judge and obtain an anticipatory bail in favour of his client (a medical doctor and his son, a medical college student, accused in a marksheet scam and a murder). The advocate invoked the name of A.Raja, then a Union Minister, as someone interested in having such an order and held out his mobile phone to the judge saying that the minister was on the other end and wanting to talk. Justice Regupathy refused to entertain the lawyer.

No one knew about all these until the judge, provoked by the same lawyer in open court, said that he would reveal all that happened in his chamber. This was when the same case came up for hearing before Justice Regupathy on June 29, 2009. To be fair, the judge did not reveal the minister’s identity. But anyone who knew the father-son duo seeking anticipatory bail could conclude that it was Raja and it was discussed all along the corridors and the quadrangle area where advocates engage in tittle-tattle.

The media reported all that was said in the open court the following day. And that led to two things. Justice Regupathy wrote about all that happened in his chamber to Chief Justice Gokhale on July 2, 2009. And Justice Gokhale forwarded that letter along with a note to Justice Balakrishnan, the CJI at that time, on July 5, 2009. Even while none among us knew that Justice Regupathy had named Raja as the minister whose name was invoked by the lawyer, the Chief Justice of India knew that even then. He did not act. Justice Balakrishnan had another opportunity to act when a memorandum by MPs to the Prime Minister on the same issue was forwarded to him. He did not act. His own letter to Justice Gokhale, on August 8, 2009, mentioned about the media reports and about ``a Union Minister’’.

Justice Balakrishnan was a powerful person then. He had the powers to order a case of contempt suo mottu. He did not. He had the authority to order an investigation then and there and as the apex court is doing now in the 2G case, such an investigation could have been monitored by the court. He did nothing. It is possible that he knew the truth that Raja was not just ``a union minister’’ but one who had the courage to defy the Prime Minister too and decide on changing the rules in his ministry. Or he may belong to the league that believes that Raja being a Dalit must be allowed to do all that he wants and being a Dalit must render him immune from the law of the land; an argument that is peddled every time a Dalit wielding power is suspected of wrong doing and this was witnessed in case of Raja too.

But then, Justice Balakrishnan had refused to act, in defence of the majesty of the law and the courts, even on other occasions. He sought to brush aside documents showing wrong doing by Justice P.D.Dinakaran and did all that was possible to have him elevated to the Supreme Court. He refused to see the truth, as presented by a committee of judges, on the infamous Provident Fund scam involving High Court judges in Uttar Pradesh. Justice Gokhale, incidentally, was one of the judges who investigated into the scam and reported to Justice Balakrishnan. The former CJI did not see something rotten involving a particular judge in Chandigarh. Justice Balakrishnan, as Chief Justice of India, refused to part with information – as to whether the judges in the Supreme Court had filed their assets statement – under the RTI.

Justice Balakrishnan, as Chief Justice of India, instructed the Registry of the apex court to turn a litigant before the Delhi High Court against the order by the Chief Information Commissioner that the information whether judges had filed their assets statement be disclosed. When the Delhi High Court ordered in favour of the CIC, Justice Balakrishnan had the apex court to file an appeal. And when the appeal too got disposed of by a Full Bench of the Delhi High Court, Justice Balakrishnan ordered the Registrar General of the Supreme Court of India to file a Special Leave Petition against the order of the Delhi High Court before the Supreme Court of India.

The fact is that while abdicating from his duty when it came to protecting the majesty of the law and the courts in case of Raja, Justice Balakrishnan did act with promptness when it came to achieving the contrary. No wonder that he said what he did on December 8, 2010; that he did not know that the minister involved was Raja. But then, he seemed to have presumed as much impunity as he had until May 2010! Justice Gokhale’s access to the records in the CJI’s office as much as his own interest to clear the air of the ``erroneous impression’’ about his role in the matter has now brought the truth that Justice Balakrishnan knew that Raja was the minister allegedly involved as early as in July 2009. And yet, on December 8, 2010, the former Chief Justice of India specifically denied any knowledge of this.

It is not possible to reverse all that had happened. But then, we the people of India, have the right to have a man of integrity and standing at the helm in the NHRC. Past conduct may not be a ground for the removal of a member or the chairman according to the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. But then, moral principles certainly have a mightier force. In any case, we came to know that Justice Balakrishnan’s statement on December 8, 2010 (that the identity of the minister was not disclosed to him), was not the truth only when Justice Gokhale presented his own case with documents and the least he can do now is to vacate his office at the NHRC.


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