The year 2009 was eventful and memorable for the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan. The Court faced several controversies, the notable being the collegium’s decision to elevate Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran as one of its judges.
This controversy was preceded by a clean chit to Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Nirmal Yadav in the Rs. 15-lakh cash-at-door scam. After 13 months, she was transferred to the Uttarakhand High Court.
It all began with the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Court’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) to provide information about whether or not the judges had filed declaration of assets. On an appeal from the CPIO, a single judge of the Delhi High Court stayed the Commission’s order. However, in his final order, the judge held that the Chief Justice of India was a public authority under the Right to Information Act, which meant “asset declaration is covered by the RTI Act.”
A Division Bench of the High Court reserved verdict on an appeal against the single judge’s order.
Within a few days of the High Court reserving the verdict, the CIC passed another order directing the Supreme Court Registry to make public the records relating to the appointment of three Supreme Court judges, who superseded their seniors. It also asked the CJI to disclose the name of the Union Minister who allegedly spoke to Madras High Court judge S. Regupathi over an anticipatory bail case. Curiously, the CPIO filed an appeal in the Supreme Court itself and got a stay on the order.
The CJI and the judiciary faced criticism from various quarters about why judges should shy away from disclosing their assets, though in the absence of a law they were not bound to do so. However, the judges yielded to the public and media pressure, and the full court of the Supreme Court, by an August 26 resolution, decided to put details of the assets of judges on the Supreme Court website. Accordingly, 23 judges, including Justice B.N. Agrawal who retired, disclosed their assets.
Justice Dinakaran was one of the five judges recommended for elevation. This recommendation could not come through because of allegations of land-grabbing made against him by the Forum for Judicial Accountability. Justice Dinakaran is allegedly in possession of 440 acres at Kaverirajapuram in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvallur district. Further probe by the Survey of India is awaited, even as impeachment proceedings were initiated by 75 Members of Parliament against Justice Dinakaran in respect of a series of charges.
Another controversy erupted a few days ago. The Law Ministry returned the file of Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court C.K. Prasad after President Pratibha Patil raised a query whether seniority was overlooked in the elevation of Justice Prasad of the Patna High Court cadre, who is junior to Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court Gyan Sudha Misra.
The President also wanted to know why no woman judge was being appointed to the Supreme Court for more than three-and-half years. The matter is yet to be resolved.
Notwithstanding the controversies, the Supreme Court passed several important judgments in politics, religion, human rights, matrimony, ragging and public interest. It came to the rescue of BJP candidate from Pilhibit Varun Gandhi by quashing the detention order passed by the Mayawati government under the National Security Act. Despite opposition from the State, the court ordered his release on parole to enable him to file his nomination for the Lok Sabha elections, and he was set free at last.
The Court permitted the Tamil Nadu government to instruct the Special Public Prosecutor in Bangalore conducting the trial in the wealth case against AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa to withdraw the London Hotel case, which was heard along with the wealth case, for paucity of evidence.
In the Sethusamudram case, the court granted two months to the Centre to spell out its stand on the expert committee’s report on an alternative alignment to the Sethusamudram ship channel without cutting across the Adam’s Bridge or the Ramar Sethu. The Court was not impressed with the Centre’s submission that it would need another 18 months to conduct the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for the alternative alignment suggested by the Supreme Court when it reserved the verdict on July 30, 2008.
The Supreme Court held that it was empowered to grant divorce by mutual consent under Section 13 B of the Hindu Marriage Act even if the wife or husband withdrew such consent during the proceedings in the lower court and prior to the passing of the decree.
“Under the existing laws, the consent given by the parties at the time of filing of the joint petition for divorce by mutual consent has to subsist till the second stage when the petition comes up for orders, and a decree for divorce is finally passed. It is only the Supreme Court, in exercise of its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution that can pass orders to do complete justice to the parties.”