Efforts by Pakistan newspapers to trace him in India have proved futile
Intense speculation about his whereabouts Questions raised on propriety of swearing in acting Chief Justice
ISLAMABAD: There is intense speculation in Pakistan surrounding the whereabouts of Justice Rana Bhagwandass, the seniormost Supreme Court judge after Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, who is said to be on "holiday" in India.
As the next in line, Mr. Justice Bhagwandass, a rare Hindu in Pakistan's higher judiciary, should have been sworn in acting Chief Justice after the removal of Mr. Justice Chaudhary. Instead, Justice Javed Iqbal, second in line, became the acting Chief Justice. The legal community has raised questions of constitutional propriety, and the Chief Justice too raised the matter in his written application before the Supreme Judicial Council.
In his objection, Mr. Justice Chaudhary said that under the Constitution, a reference against the Chief Justice in the Supreme Judicial Council could be heard only by the next senior judge without his being appointed Chief Justice, and in the circumstances, only Justice Bhagwandass could conduct the inquiry. The Government said Mr. Justice Bhagwandass could not be sworn in as he was out of the country and due to return only on March 23. No one is sure exactly where he has gone in India or whether he will come back as scheduled.
When the question arose why Mr. Justice Bhagwandass, who has an impeccable reputation and has officiated several times in the temporary absence of Mr. Justice Chaudhary, could not have been asked to cut short his holiday and return, considering the important issues at stake, the Government said the senior judge was out of telephone contact.
The legal community, Opposition parties and political analysts are also asking whether the removal of the Chief Justice had become so urgent for President Musharraf that it could not have awaited Justice Bhagwandass's return, or whether it was the intention to do it while he was away.
A petition was filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday asking it to direct the Government to declare the whereabouts of Mr. Justice Bhagwandass Efforts by Pakistan newspapers to trace him in India have proved futile. While some media reports say he is on a pilgrimage in Rajasthan, others believe he is in Lucknow. His wife told a newspaper from her home in Karachi that her husband never carried a cellphone.