Former law minister HR Bhardwaj, who served from 2004 to 2009, on Monday admitted that a district judge who was appointed as additional judge of Madras high court in 2003 and was later confirmed despite adverse intelligence reports, had significant political backing.
However, Bhardwaj, who was law minister when the controversial judge was given extensions and later made permanent, denied Justice Markandey Katju’s claim that the judge got a seat on the bench because UPA government succumbed to the pressure from an important ally.
“There is no control over judiciary … Records will bear out that judiciary is fully insulated,” Bhardwaj said as he revealed that besides the UPA partner, a group of scheduled caste/scheduled tribe MPs also lobbied the government for the controversial judge.
His claim was disputed by Justice (retired) PK Misra, who was a judge of Madras high court during the relevant time. The former HC judge wrote to TOI to assert that the law ministry had indeed written to the SC to reconsider after the collegium rejected the judge concerned.
“The collegium had recommended for confirming seven other additional judges (not six as indicated in the article). Then, the sordid saga as described in the article occurred and Justice RC Lahoti, without reverting to the collegium, on his own, recommended for extension of tenure of all the eight additional judges including the judge concerned,” said Justice Misra, who is currently chairman of Goa Human Rights Commission.
“The important question to be answered by the three eminent chief justices is as to why they had succumbed to such political influence? Did they not fail to discharge their responsibility as trustees?” he asked.
Justice Katju, who retired as an SC judge and is chairman of Press Council of India at present, had claimed in his article that an ally from Tamil Nadu — widely seen as a reference to DMK — arm-twisted the UPA government into elevating the district judge to the HC.
“Government always faced political pressure over judicial appointments but never gave in to them,” Bhardwaj said when asked about Justice Katju’s claim.
He added, “Around 18 SC/ST MPs met me in 2004 and complained about injustice to the additional judge. I remember telling the DMK that I will not recommend his promotion, but will refer the matter to the CJI,” he said.
He claimed that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not ever discuss the issue with him.
Justice Katju had claimed that Singh was told by a minister from the Tamil Nadu ally that if the tainted judge was not given an extension, the UPA government would fall.
Bhardwaj said when it emerged that the judge had close links to a particular party, he was transferred out to the high court of another state by the then CJI.
The former law minister also claimed that he never received any adverse report against the judge in question.