Unprecedented: Calcutta HC judge Karnan faces contempt

In an unprecedented step, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar decided on Tuesday to initiate contempt of court proceedings against sitting Calcutta High Court judge C S Karnan for continuously levelling allegations against the Madras High Court chief justice and other judges.

Supreme Court of IndiaThe SC has listed the contempt proceedings for Wednesday and the case will be heard by a bench headed by the CJI and comprising six other senior judges - Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph.

This is the first time that a constitutional bench has initiated contempt of court proceedings against a judge of the higher courts. There have been times however when the CJI, after receiving inquiry reports against a sitting judge, has recommended to Parliament to initiate proceedings for the removal of the erring judge.

Karnan had plunged the Madras HC into a major crisis in 2015 by threatening contempt of court proceedings against Chief Justice Sanjay K Kaul, who has now been recommended by the collegium to be appointed as a judge of the SC. Karnan had accused Kaul of interfering in his judicial work and sought a CBI probe into the alleged forged educational qualification of another HC judge.

The controversial judge has also alleged that he was a victim of caste bias as he was a Dalit and had accused the Madras HC chief justice of harassing him. Subsequently, when he was transferred, Karnan "stayed" the order of the SC, advising the CJI not to interfere in his "jurisdiction", before relenting and accepting his transfer.

The outcome of the proceeding against the judge is keenly awaited, as it raises several questions. If the SC finds the judge guilty of contempt, will it send him to jail? If he is found guilty and sent to jail, will he automatically lose his job as HC judge or will the bench make a recommendation to Parliament for his removal?

Constitutionally, the only process for sacking a judge of the SC or HC is through a removal motion passed by a two-thirds majority in each House of Parliament. To date, no judge has been removed by Parliament though such motions were initiated thrice. The caste angle to the case also threatens to generate a controversy if matters reach Parliament.

A removal motion against Justice V Ramaswami was defeated in Parliament in May 1993 with the help of abstaining Congress MPs. Sikkim HC Chief Justice P D Dinakaran resigned in July 2011 ahead of the initiation of a removal motion against him in the Rajya Sabha. Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta HC argued his case unsuccessfully before the Rajya Sabha, which passed the motion for his removal, but Sen resigned before the Lok Sabha could take up the motion.

Apart from the contempt of court action against Kaul, Karnan had also threatened to ask the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to initiate a detailed inquiry against the HC chief justice for harassing him, a Dalit, and also slapping a case against the chief justice under stringent provisions of the SC ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act.