"Committee not bound to accept Rajya Sabha motion as it is"
The Centre on Tuesday justified in the Supreme Court the preliminary investigation conducted by the three-member committee before framing charges against Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court P.D. Dinakaran.
The committee, headed by Supreme Court Judge Aftab Alam, was constituted to probe the charges contained in the motion admitted by the Rajya Sabha for the removal of Justice Dinakaran. Acting on two writ petitions filed by him, the Supreme Court had stayed the proceedings before the committee.
During the resumed hearing on Tuesday before a vacation Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and C.K. Prasad, Additional Solicitor-General P.P. Malhotra submitted that since the committee had been constituted for investigation into the grounds contained in the motion, it was empowered to conduct a preliminary probe for framing definite charges.
Earlier senior counsel Amarendra Saran, appearing for Justice Dinakaran, opposed the Centre being heard, saying “the Union of India has no lis [dispute] or no interest in the matter.” However, Justice Singhvi told counsel that “we are only seeking his assistance” and permitted him to address the court.
Mr. Malhotra said: “The information, at the stage of the motion may be vague. Because it is a serious matter and you [committee] are going into the conduct of the Judge, definite charges can only be framed after collecting further materials and verifying evidence.”
He said investigation contemplated under the Judges Inquiry Act “presupposes collection of materials to verify whether the charges in the motion are factually correct or incorrect. Only after a preliminary enquiry the committee can go deeper into it and frame definite charges. Once definite charges are framed and if anyone is aggrieved, the committee has the power to amend the charges if he was able to prove that the charge was beyond the scope of the enquiry.”
Senior counsel for the committee U.U. Lalit and counsel A. Radhakrishnan submitted that the committee was not bound to accept the Rajya Sabha motion as it was admitted and justified the preliminary probe conducted before framing charges. Mr. Lalit said while the motion mentioned 12 charges, the committee had framed 14 charges but the gravamen of the charges “comes from the motion.” He said none of the 14 charges was beyond the motion.
Explaining further, Mr. Lalit said: “The motion is the gene and gives a gist of everything. What the committee has done is it conducted a preliminary enquiry to find out whether the charges in the motion are correct or not.”
He pointed out that the charges against Justice Dinakaran were possession of agricultural holdings beyond the Land Ceiling Act in Kaverirajapuram in Tiruttani taluk in Tamil Nadu and illegal encroachment of government lands depriving Dalits and the poor of their right to livelihood and assets disproportionate to known sources of income.
Counsel said that what Justice Dinkaran had shown in the Income Tax returns was that he derived income through sale of groundnuts, vegetables and mangoes grown on these lands. But in the preliminary investigation, it had been established that these lands were not capable of producing groundnuts, vegetables or mangoes and he had tried to show income generated by other means as agricultural income.
When income shown in Income Tax returns as agricultural income was not derived from agriculture, would the committee be powerless to go into it, counsel asked.
In respect of another charge on disproportionate assets, Mr. Lalit said that in the column ‘receipt of gifts' in the IT returns it had been stated that Justice Dinakaran received gifts to the tune of Rs. 108 lakh and on preliminary probe it was found that income derived directly from other sources was masqueraded as gifts.
Arguments will continue on Wednesday.