The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking SIT probe into an alleged case of bribery in the name of judges, saying such a plea has raised unnecessary doubts over the integrity of judges.
It all started when the matter pertaining to an alleged bribery scam in which retired Orissa High Court Judge IM Quddusi was arrested, among others, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) lodged an FIR. The FIR said, Quddusi allegedly used his influence to help Uttar Pradesh-based Prasad Education Trust in "settling" a matter involving their plea to set up medical colleges pending in the Supreme Court.
The trust owned one of the 46 medical colleges barred by the central government from admitting students. The accused were subsequently granted bail, but the same was not challenged by CBI. Following granting of the bail, two parties (advocate Kamini Jaiswal and the NGO Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms represented by Bhushan) filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of an SIT to investigate the allegations, with a retired judge monitoring the same.
On Thursday (November 9), a Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justices J Chelameshwar and Abdul Nazeer, referred the Public Interest Litigation, in the matter, to a five-judge bench, scheduled to conduct a hearing on Monday. However, the case took an interesting turn on Friday (November 10), when another Supreme Court bench comprising the current CJI, Deepak Misra, pronounced the order by Justice J Chelameswar null and void. The matter was then heard by a three-judge bench comprising of Justices A K Agarwal, A M Khanwilkar and Arun Mishra, where the petitioners refused to argue on the merits of the case, citing the presence of Justice AM Khanwilkar on the bench, since he was one of the judges who had heard the controversial medical college case. More drama unfolded as the matter was being heard by the bench and they raised questions on propriety and "forum shopping" by the petitioners.
However, some key highlights of the judgment passed today raise doubts. In its judgement, the Supreme Court said, "There cannot be registration of any FIR against a High Court Judge or Chief Justice of the High Court or the Supreme Court Judge without the consultation of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India and that independence of judiciary cannot be left at the mercy of the CBI or that of the police is a red herring.”
Furthermore, Justice Arun Mishra left no stone unturned while pronouncing the judgement, he said, "The FIR is not against any judge in SC and neither is it possible to register FIR against a judge. The senior counsels attempted forum shopping to seek a favourable order and it was unethical of them to do so. They did not verify the position of law and unnecessary doubt was raised on this institution. Proper verification of facts were not made before filing this petition. We expect that good will shall prevail in this institution. Let us unite and work together for the welfare of this great institution. We are not initiating contempt procedure and the matter should stop at this. We have also observed that even we are not above the law.”
Refuting special investigation team (SIT) probe in the medical college bribery matter, the apex court defended itself completely and questioned the basis of the allegations. The court said, "No judge can be held responsible for what may, or has happened in the corridors, or for ‘who purports to sell whom’. The alleged actions of a retired judge of a high court, allegedly assuring and promising, a ‘favourable’ decision in the aforesaid circumstances of the case which was then pending before this court, in the aforesaid circumstances and has assured favourable orders, begs the question, and we wonder, as to what favourable orders have been passed. As is apparent from the aforesaid narration of facts, there was no favourable order granted by this court in favour of the medical college for the current academic session 2017-18, rather its inspection for considering confirmation of letter of permission for the next yearn 2018-19 had been ordered".
The issue related to "Conflict of Interest " which questioned the CJI's involvement in the case was also lucidly clarified by the apex court. "There is no conflict of interest in such a matter. In case Judge is hearing a matter and if he comes to know that any party is unscrupulously trying to influence the decision making or indulging in mal-practices, it is incumbent upon the Judge to take cognizance of such a matter under Contempt of Courts Act and to deal with and punish such person in accordance with law as that is not the conflict of interest but the purpose for which the entire system exists. Such things cannot be ignored and recusal of a Judge cannot be asked on the ground of conflict of interest, it would be the saddest day for the judicial system of this country to ignore such aspects on the unfounded allegations and materials. It was highly improper for the petitioner to allege conflict of interest in the petition filed that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India should not hear on judicial side or allocate the matter on the administrative side,” it said.
The judge vs judge issue and the contest of intra-judicial authority seems to have gone back to the dark cave. This showdown in the apex court has now received its happy ending or as some may call it good riddance from high voltage drama.