After some initial reluctance, the Centre has accepted the Supreme Court collegium's recommendation that Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran be transferred to the Sikkim High Court. Evidently, the collegium effected the transfer from a large high court such as Karnataka to the smallest high court in the country as a show of displeasure over Justice Dinakaran's defiance of all canons of judicial propriety and sticking to office amidst a welter of corruption and land-grab charges. While the move might solve the immediate problem in Karnataka, where Justice Dinakaran has been facing determined opposition from the bar and not taking up judicial work, can it be justified in principle? The Sikkim High Court is not a bustling hive of judicial activity but how can a person considered unfit to preside over the Karnataka judiciary be regarded suitable to head any other high court? The transfer order contains the disturbing implication that the dignity of the Sikkim High Court is less important than that of Karnataka for the collegium, which is exactly what angered the bar association and fuelled protests in the hill State when the proposal was mooted this April. The collegium's proposal was a knee-jerk reaction to Justice Dinakaran's refusal to heed its advice to go on leave. It also exposes the helplessness of the panel in this situation, for while — following the Supreme Court judgments in the Second and Third judges cases — it has assumed the authority to make binding recommendations to the executive on the appointment and transfer of judges, it has no control over the functioning of the judges themselves. At the same time, it draws attention to a longstanding lacuna in dealing with errant judges — the absence of a speedy and efficient statutory mechanism, short of the unwieldy constitutional, and ultimately political, process of impeachment.
Impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice-designate of the Sikkim High Court are under way, with a notice admitted in Parliament and a three-member Rajya Sabha committee examining the charges. But there is still a long way to go before the various steps required under the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968, are taken and the impeachment motion comes up for vote in Parliament. Law Minister Veerappa Moily has announced that the draft Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, which contains many measures to strengthen the functioning of the judiciary — including a much less cumbersome mechanism to deal with errant judges — will be tabled in Parliament in the monsoon session. It has been delayed long enough and the Centre must ensure that it is passed quickly.