The Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced the sitting Calcutta High Court Judge C S Karnan to six months imprisonment, an incident the first of its kind in the history of Indian judiciary.
It’s also the first time a serving judge is facing imprisonment on charges of contempt. A seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar announced the verdict. Karnan who was to retire on June 11, will now be spending the remaining of his service term in jail. Justice Karnan, a Dalit, has been in the news for quite some time. His main accusations are severe Dalit discrimination and corruption that exists in the judiciary. Karnan also argues that the Supreme Court moves against him was part of this discrimination. He was appointed the Madras High Court Judge on March 30, 2009. He filed a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) in November 2011 alleging that he was being harassed and victimized by the fellow judges because he was a Dalit. P L Punia, the Chairman of NCSC forwarded the complaint to the then Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia. There have been allegations of Karnan barging into a court room in Madras High Court while a division bench was hearing a public interest litigation related to the appointment of judges in January 2014. He had hurled allegations of caste-based discrimination in the appointments saying that the ‘selection’ of names was ‘not fair’. The Supreme Court had sharply condemned his actions in March 2014. The Madras High Court Chief Justice R K Agarwal consequently, wrote to Supreme Court Chief Justice P Sathasivam asking for Karnan’s transfer following which he was transferred to the Calcutta High Court. Karnan reacted by ‘staying’ the transfer order.
He wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing 20 top court judges of corruption and urging an inquiry into judiciary. The Supreme Court had then initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Justice Karnan. But he responded by banning travel of Supreme Court judges and ordering a handover of their passports to the police. The apex court while considering the contempt of court case on March 31, ordered a medical examination on Karnan by a board of doctors in Kolkata. The judge retaliated by issuing a warrant against all the Supreme Court judges. The apex court taking up a case against a High Court Judge, High Court Judge passing judgements against Supreme Court Judges in return, the top court ordering a medical examination of the High Court Judge and he hitting back by issuing arrests of all top court judges, and finally the Supreme Court sentencing the High Court Judge to six months in jail- such unusual and strange happenings have been taking place for a while and is likely to tarnish the credibility and sanctity of the Judiciary.
Several moves of Justice Karnan are absolutely eccentric and unbefitting a person in a top post. He has violated the laws and the modus operandi that are essential for the successful functioning of any system. At the same time, the questions he posed and the criticisms he raised isn’t out of place. Even if Karnan is arrested, some of the criticisms he raised would certainly remain. They do not come from Karnan alone. P D Dinakaran, the retired Sikkim High Court Chief justice had posed similar questions. He resigned following the impeachment proceedings against him. He in his letter to the then President Pratibha Patel, Dinakaran had asked if his circumstances of birth in the ‘socially oppressed and underprivileged section of the society’ was the reason for his ‘misfortune’. Nobody has so far been known to have answered Dinakaran. The Supreme Court has also banned the media from highlighting Justice Karnan's statements. How it would match the highly valued democratic policies we take pride in, cannot be comprehended. The judicial systems including the Supreme Court should essentially undergo an introspection.