Former PM, SC judges yielded to pressure, says Markandey Katju

Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju's charge that three ex-CJIs allowed a tainted judge to continue in office, allegedly at the instance of the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, again echoed in Parliament today.

According to Katju, after receiving the adverse IB report against the additional judge, Chief Justice R C Lahoti called a meeting of the three-Judge collegium, consisting of himself, Justice Y K Sabharwal and Justice Ruma Pal, which, after perusing the IB report recommended to the Government of India not to extend the two-year-term of that additional judge.

Manmohan Singh's office allegedly intervened to compel the then Chief Justice to give an extension to the corruption-tainted judge, even as top judges of the Supreme Court had made it clear that they were against it.

The PMOs office is reported to have been pressured by UPA's Tamil Nadu partner (DMK at that time) to send a note to the collegium of Supreme Court judges to extend the term of the judge at the Madras High Court.

When the Supreme Court judges refused to budge, the then law minister H R Bharadwaj allegedly again wrote to the collegium stressing that government was backing the judge.

R C Lahoti who was the Chief Justice at that time cleared the extension of the judge but didn't confirm him. However he attributed his decision to the "sensitivity of the government on the issue".

Chief Justice RC Lahoti's note, which, inter alia, said: ''…While the opinion of the collegium is clear....however in view of the sensitivity in the perception of the government, the matter can be postponed for being further enquired into. Justice S Ashok Kumar may be given an extension for a reasonable time as additional judge."

In an interview to Zee News following the Katju revelations, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said, "Then law minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj has to explain everything. So, I have nothing to say on it."

The Times of India reported that Manmohan Singh had openly batted for a corrupt judge, who has been identified as the late S Ashok Kumar. According to the report, the PMO had sent a note the law minister on 17 June 2005, stating, "The Prime Minister has directed that clarifications be sought by the ministry of law and justice as to why the names of Justice S Ashok Kumar and Justice NR Kannadasan have not been recommended (for confirmation as additional judge). The proposal be resubmitted (to the collegium) with the clarification".

Meanwhile, Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam, which is at the centre is claiming benefit of anonymity as "Katju has neither named the party nor the judge.''

A spokesman of the party said, "He has named UPA and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, so let the Congress react."

He dismissed the allegation as "sweeping wild charges made with ulterior motives," and sought to know why Katju was raking up the scandal now. "Katju has made this charge against UPA after it demitted office. He must explain the reason for his silence all these years. Remember that he came to his present position during UPA regime," he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday asked former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress to answer allegations of "improper compromises" by three ex-Chief Justices of India during UPA rule, saying the matter was "unfortunate".

"Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress should come forward and answer the allegations of how different constitutional bodies, including the Judiciary, were misused for political reasons. It is unfortunate and a matter of serious concern," BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

Katju, who is now chairman of the Press Council of India, said he has been prodded by comments on his Facebook page asking him to post some of his experiences in Madras High Court.

Katju, who became the Chief Justice of Madras High Court in November 2004, had told TV channels yesterday, ''These three former CJIs made improper compromises. Justice Lahoti who started it, then Justice Sabharwal and then Justice Balakrishnan. These are CJIs who can surrender. Is a CJI going to surrender to political pressure or not going to surrender to political pressure?''

Balakrishnan rejected the allegations as ''completely baseless and not factually correct".

"There has absolutely not been any political pressure of any kind during my tenure of three and half years as chief justice of India. So where is the question of compromise (of judicial independence)?" Balakrishnan said. All procedures were followed in the judge's case, the NHRC chief said. The Rajya Sabha had to be adjourned on Tuesday as fierce protests broke out over Katju's allegations.

A judge can't be confirmed unless the chief justice of the concerned high court gives a positive report, he said. "Unless a good report comes, we will not confirm." Balakrishnan dismissed Katju's claims as "silly", refusing to join issue with Katju on this score.

Katju, who was a Supreme Court judge from 2006 to 2011, was appointed as the Press Council of India chairman on October 5, 2011 and is due to retire on 4 October, this year.

Katju got off on an adverse note with journalists as the Press Council chairman casting aspersion on their intellect, but subsequently made up by crusading for their protection from threats in the exercise of their professional duties (See: Press Council chief calls journalists dumb; seeks more powers)  and  (Journalists don't need brains, media tells Press Council chief Katju).