Justice Markandey Katju sparks controversy, Congress says why rake up issue now

New Delhi, Jul 21: Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju’s allegations of corruption in judiciary snowballed into a major controversy on Monday with parties demanding a probe into the matter as well as questioning the timing of the disclosure. The issue also rocked both houses of parliament.

The Congress tried to distance itself from the controversy, asking why the issue was being raised now, but former law minister H.R. Bhardwaj admitted that UPA-I was under pressure from DMK to grant extension to a Madras High Court additional judge, Justice Ashok Kumar. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, however, did not comment on the controversy highlighted by Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, but sources said they “were intrigued by the conspicuous silence” of former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Katju in his blog had said that an additional judge of the Madras High Court was appointed during the UPA regime despite an Intelligence Bureau report revealing charges of corruption against him. He went on to say that the judge had “solid support” from an influential politician in Tamil Nadu as he had once granted bail to the leader. He said all this happened when he was the chief justice of Madras High Court in 2004.

Katju also said that then prime minister Manmohan Singh was going to New York to attend the UN General Assembly when he was told by the Tamil Nadu party that his government would fall as they would withdraw support to the UPA for not continuing the additional judge. He also alleged that Manmohan Singh “panicked” but was told by a senior Congress minister not to worry and things would be managed.

He also said that the Supreme Court collegium had first suggested that the judge should be discontinued as a high court judge after his two year term was over following the adverse IB report. But, Katju said, the decision was later changed and the judge got extensions. Katju in his blog did not name the political party or the additional judge.

In an interview to news channel CNN-IBN, Bhardwaj agreed that there was pressure from UPA’s key ally, but the government did not buckle down and followed the procedure in granting one-year extension to Justice Ashok Kumar. The issue found echo in parliament with the Rajya Sabha being disrupted as AIADMK members raised the issue of corruption in judiciary.

As soon as the upper house met, the AIADMK members were on their feet raising the issue. Chairman Hamid Ansari first adjourned the house for 10 minutes and then till noon. In the Lok Sabha, AIADMK members sought an inquiry into the allegations by Katju charging DMK and the erstwhile UPA government with “interfering” in the appointment of judges.

Raising the issue during zero hour, AIADMK leader M. Thambidurai demanded a probe into the allegations. “It is a serious matter … the previous government and the DMK interfered in the appointment of a corrupt judge.” Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati termed the charges as serious and demanded a probe into them.

“The allegations levelled by Katju are serious and I think they should be investigated. If there is any element of truth in them, there should be action. There should not be any political interference in the appointment of judges,” she told media persons. The Congress, however, doubted Katju’s intentions behind the revelations. Congress leader Rajiv Shukla said: “After more than a decade, you are raising this issue… It has no relevance. I take it as an attempt to defame judiciary.”

Former law minister M. Veerappa Moily said: “I have no comments… these are all matters to be dealt by the collegium… Today after 10 years raking up the same issue, I don’t know what is the logic and reason behind this.” Party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “We have noted the statement of a former Supreme Court judge. We all must exercise restraint in matters relating to apex judiciary, collegium. The statement appears after nine years of alleged event. It refers to four-five different persons whose separate clarifications have not been received.”

DMK’s Kanimozhi said: “I don’t understand why this has been raked up after so many years.” Communist Party of India’s D. Raja said: “Everybody knows about corruption in judiciary. If Katju had exposed it then, the point he is making now would have been more forceful. Now after so many years, after you have retired, after the government has changed, there is no significance in what he has said. He should have spoken then.”

“Problems about the appointment and transfer of judges existed and that was why we had been demanding a National Judicial Commission,” he said.