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Should not judiciary be like Caesar's wife?
January, 15th 2007

Mr Y. K. Sabharwal who has just laid down office as the Chief Justice of India has taken the unusual step of talking to the media in a forthright manner on topics such as the relationship between the judiciary and the other branches of the government, the case involving the sealing of commercial establishments in Delhi, the mounting arrears of cases, the law being powerless against politicians involved in criminal offences, appointment of judges, corruption in the judiciary and so on. Presumably, he has so elaborately put his views in the public domain in the expectation of comments from the perspective of the people at large.

Fighting corruption

They would have liked Mr Sabharwal to have come down heavily on judicial corruption and made it abundantly clear that the judiciary, like Caesar's wife, should be above suspicion and that the behaviour of the judges should not only be irreproachable, but seen to be so. Instead, his responses are disappointing both on the question of fighting corruption and putting judges to the most exacting tests of propriety and prudence. On corruption, he contents himself with the somewhat bland observation that "We must be tough in dealing with corruption in all institutions, including the judiciary. Actions are being taken wherever required."

Having regard to the high pedestal in which the people place the judiciary, dispensing justice becomes the most sacred service-cum-duty imaginable.

Hence, it will not do to equate the judiciary with other run-of-the-mill institutions. Indeed, in the case of judges, the moment the shadow of suspicion falls on any of them, and the allegations are found plausible on a quick sounding of the litigant public, they should be got rid of without going through the usual rigmarole governing other categories of public servants.

Mr Sabharwal could have explained with some hard facts what stringent measures were in place to weed out judges not only for not observing the strictest canons of integrity and probity, but also for failing to observe the highest standards in personal and official life. This would have convinced the nation that the safeguards devised by the Court are salutary and effective.

Air of suspicion

Mr Sabharwal has also sought to `clear the air of suspicion' (as he puts it) over the recommendation for elevation of Justices Vijendar Jain and Jagdish Bhalla as Chief Justices of certain High Courts. The suspicion in regard to Justice Jain arose from the fact of his having agreed to allow, on the request of a brother Justice Arun Kumar, the use of his residence to conduct the marriage of the grand-daughter of one Hari Ram and his deciding three years later in Hari Ram's favour a civil dispute between him and his brother. The collegium of the Supreme Court accepted Justice Jain's statement that he did not know anything about Hari Ram.

The reason for the suspicion in respect of Justice Bhalla was the purchase by his wife of some land (it is not clear whether this was within the jurisdiction of the Court of which Justice Bhalla was a Judge) for a price less than the market price. Since, in the view of the leaders of the Allahabad Bar, there was no truth in the allegation, the collegium saw nothing wrong in recommending his name.

Is it possible that someone would permit a marriage of the grand-daughter of a total stranger to be conducted in his house without at least being aware of some minimum particulars about him? As regards Justice Bhalla, would it not have been better to have ascertained what the prevailing prices were from the Registrar's office and whether the vendor was a party in any case before the Allahabad Court?

There is no clue available on both these counts from Mr Sabharwal's interview.

B. S. RAGHAVAN

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