It is the right decision, but one that took a bafflingly long time to arrive at. The procrastination of the collegium of judges headed by the Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, in virtually withdrawing its controversial August 27 recommendation to elevate Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran to the Supreme Court has done incalculable harm to the image of the judiciary. The delay was accompanied by a surprising attempt to pass the buck, with Chief Justice Balakrishnan requesting the Centre to conduct an independent probe into certain allegations against Justice Dinakaran, which the Law Ministry politely — and quite correctly — turned down. With the Centre rejecting the recommendation to accommodate Justice Dinakaran in the Supreme Court, the sustained campaign against his elevation by members of the bar, and the impeachment process set in motion by Opposition MPs in the Rajya Sabha, there was considerable pressure on the collegium to withdraw its recommendation. It would have been far better if the collegium had taken a quick decision on merits rather than give the impression that it was forced to act in the face of an escalating controversy.
The allegations against Justice Dinakaran remain unproven as of now. Yet they are extremely serious and two reports from a district collector have lent credence to at least the ones relating to land encroachment in Tamil Nadu. His refusal to resign in the face of the ugly controversy and erosion of public confidence has called attention once again to the need for a quick, fair, and effective statutory mechanism for enquiring into judges’ conduct and suggesting appropriate action. The process of impeachment is cumbersome and uncertain, and is often overwhelmed by political considerations. No judge has ever been impeached and the uncertain nature of the process stood out in 1993, when the motion against Justice V. Ramaswami was defeated, with the Congress abstaining. In the light of the Justice Dinakaran controversy, Law Minister Veerappa Moily has suggested a Judges Standards and Accountability Bill. The in-house enquiry system put in place by the Supreme Court has proved wholly inadequate, and a more effective mechanism is needed to enquire into charges against judges. The question of removing a judge always invites another: why was he or she appointed in the first place? Proposals to set up a broad-based and independent National Judicial Commission with the power to appoint, and enquire into the charges against, judges have been made time and again. The Justice Dinakaran controversy is a warning that no further time should be lost in putting in place a more transparent appointment process and in strengthening judicial accountability.
Keywords: Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Dinakaran, Karnataka High Court, Supreme Court collegium, Law Ministry, land encroachment, Justice V. Ramaswami, impeachment, Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, judiciary