Justice Muralidhar clears the air on his transfer from Delhi HC to Punjab & Haryana HC

Advocates during the farewell party of Justice S. Muralidhar at the Delhi High Court in New Delhi on Thursday, March 5, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Justice S. Muralidhar on Thursday cleared the air over the controversy on his transfer from the Delhi High Court to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, saying he had replied to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde’s communication that he was fine with the proposal and had no objection.

The controversy erupted after the Centre issued Justice Muralidhar’s transfer notification close to midnight on February 26 — the day a Bench headed by him pulled up the Delhi police for failing to register FIRs against three BJP leaders for their alleged hate speeches which purportedly led to the recent violence in northeast Delhi.

Justice Muralidhar, 58, who received a grand farewell on Thursday from a huge gathering that included judges and lawyers, said he wanted to clear the confusion on his transfer and narrated the sequence of events from the time he received the Chief Justice of India’s (CJI)communication till February 26.

The Supreme Court collegium, headed by the CJI, had in a meeting on February 12 recommended the transfer of Justice Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Justice Muralidhar was number three in the Delhi High Court, his parent high court as a judge.

Explaining the transfer process, he said the five-member collegium sends to the Centre a recommendation that a judge of a high court should be transferred to another high court. The judge concerned is not at this stage under orders of transfer. That happens only when the collegium’s recommendation fructifies into a notification.

“In my case, the collegium’s decision was communicated to me by the CJI on February 17 by a letter which sought my response. I acknowledged receipt of the letter. I was then asked to clarify what I meant. As I saw it, if I was to be transferred from the Delhi High Court anyway, I was fine with moving to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

“I, therefore, clarified to the CJI that I did not object to the proposal. An explanation for my transfer reached the press...on February 20 quoting ‘sources in the Supreme Court collegium’, confirming what has been indicated to me a couple of days earlier,” he said.

The CJI’s letter, dated February 14, was delivered to Justice Muralidhar on February 17, the day when the family’s pet Labrador Sakhi breathed her last.

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He said February 26 was perhaps the longest working day of his life as a judge of the Delhi High Court, where he has spent 14 years on the Bench.

He said it began at 12.30 a.m. with a sitting at his residence with Justice A.J. Bhambhani, under the orders of Justice G.S. Sistani, to deal with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Rahul Roy seeking safe passage of ambulances carrying the injured riot victims.

“When I received a call at my residence from the lawyer for the petitioner, I first called Justice Sistani to ask what should be done, knowing that the Chief Justice (CJ) was on leave. Justice Sistani explained that he, too, was officially on leave the whole of February 26 and that I should take up the matter.

“This fact is stated in the order passed by the Bench after the hearing. Later that day, upon urgent mentioning, as the de facto CJ’s Bench, Justice Talwant Singh and I took up another fresh PIL on the CJ’s board seeking registration of FIRs for hate speeches. After the orders passed on that day, the above two PILs remained on the CJ’s Board,” he said.

Justice Muralidhar ended the speech saying the notification which was issued close to midnight on February 26 did two things.

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“First, it transferred me to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Second, it appointed me to a position from where I can never be transferred, or removed and in which I shall always be proud to remain. A ‘former judge’ of arguably the best high court in the country. The High Court of Delhi,” he said, following a standing ovation by all the judges and the gathering, including his family members, former judges, lawyers, court staff and media persons.

Justice Muralidhar’s mother, wife Usha Ramanathan, former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan and former Delhi University VC Upendra Baxi were also present.

Bidding adieu to Justice Muralidhar, Delhi High Court CJ D.N. Patel said his absence would be felt institutionally as well as personally.

Delhi government Standing Counsel (Criminal) Rahul Mehra termed Justice Muralidhar as a “highly intellectual, courageous, upright and incorruptible judge” and sang the Bengali song ‘ekla chalo re' to describe him.

Mr. Mehra said he joins the Delhi High Court Bar Association in “strongly condemning” Justice Muralidhar’s transfer.

A controversy had erupted in 2018 when Justice Muralidhar had quashed the transit remand order by a trial court and directed the release of rights activist Gautam Navlakha from house arrest in the Koregaon-Bhima violence case.

In October 2018, a Division Bench headed by Justice Muralidhar had also convicted 16 former policemen of Uttar Pradesh in the Hashimpura massacre case. He was also heading the Bench which in the same year had awarded life imprisonment to Congress leader Sajjan Kumar and sent him to jail in one of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

Justice Muralidhar began his law practice in Chennai in September 1984 and he shifted to the Supreme Court and the Delhi HC in 1987.

His pro-bono work included the cases for the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy and those displaced by dams on the Narmada river.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 12:30:31 AM |

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