Apex court seeks status report on K.G. Balakrishnan

Supreme Court Friday asked Attorney General G. Vahanvati to submit the status report on the home ministry’s investigation into a complaint alleging former chief justice K.G. Balakrishnan possessed wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income.

An apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatantra Kumar gave the attorney general 14 days to file the status report on the complaint against Balakrishnan, who is chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

The court told the attorney general that a complaint was filed before President Pratibha Patil, who in turn forwarded it to the home ministry for further action.

The court asked the attorney general that it wanted to know the status of action taken by the home ministry.

One M. Furquan, in a letter to the president May 4, 2010, alleged, “Justice Balakrishnan is a very corrupt man and he should not be appointed the NHRC chairman”. He also sought investigation against Balakrishnan on the grounds that he had amassed wealth and his son had travelled to Dubai nine times in the last one year.

Times have changed for K.G. Balakrishnan

Four years ago, the sleepy village of Kaduthuruthy, 30 km from here, was basking in the glory of one of its sons, a humble Dalit who went on to become the 37th chief justice of India.

K.G. Balakrishnan assumed the office of Supreme Court chief justice four years ago — Jan 12, 2007 — and remained there till May 12, 2010.

Today Balakrishnan’s reputation has taken a beating after allegations of wealth amassment by his two sons-in-law and his brother K.G. Bhaskaran, special government counsel who has since quit the post. How times have changed!

Life was tough for Balakrishnan from his early days. His father earned a mere Rs.15 as a clerk in the Kerala High Court and had to support eight children.

But Balakrishnan worked hard and went on to rank first in the master’s course in law from the Government Law College in Ernakulam (Kochi).

It was in 1985 that Balakrishnan became a judge in Kerala High Court and in 2000 he was only the 11th Keralite to become a judge in the apex court.

Balakrishnan became chief justice of India in 2007 and, after retirement, took over as chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

All was well. But then things fell apart.

Retired apex court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer unleashed a scathing attack against Balakrishnan after media reports came out on the magnitude of the suspected corruption.

One of his sons-in-law, P.V. Srinijin, a former Youth Congress office-bearer who was a Congress candidate in the 2006 assembly polls, has come under heavy attack from several quarters.

Srinijin’s statement of assets filed before the polls showed that he was virtually ‘poor’. But over a span of around three years, he and his immediate family owned a number of properties and a fleet of vehicles.

After the controversy surfaced, the Youth Congress ordered an inquiry. But before the inquiry started, Srinijin put in his papers.

Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, not one to let go an opportunity to get at the opposition Congress party, ordered a vigilance probe into the issue.

What surprised many was not Achuthanandan getting into the act, but the stoic silence from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the party’s media mouthpieces.

This got many tongues wagging that Balakrishnan was benevolent towards party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan – an accused in the SNC Lavalin case – and that explained the party’s silence.

Faced by a tirade from several quarters, CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury had to finally say something. He said the allegations against Balakrishnan were of a serious nature and that there should be an appropriate inquiry.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) was more vocal. State CPI secretary C.K. Chandrappan has demanded on several occasions that Balakrishnan should quit his office at the NHRC.

‘In a democracy, judiciary has a position that should always be held in high esteem and the Balakrishnan issue has dented it,’ said Chandrappan.

Opposition legislator P.C. George of the Kerala Congress (Mani), however, said he need not resign and can go on leave instead.

George said: ‘Remember the ISRO spy scandal. The then chief minister K. Karunakaran had to resign but later the apex court ruled in his favour and said the entire case was a fabricated one. But Karunakaran did not get his chair back.’

Leading lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj reacted by writing that a probe under the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1952 is possible and will help in making matters known to the public.

‘The Balakrishnan episode is a strong case for judicial reformation in the country. The method of selection of judges by the collegium should be abolished. A legislative activism towards a constitutional amendment on these lines is the need of the hour,’ said Raj.

Ex-judge asked me not to complain against Balakrishnan: Iyer

Stepping up pressure for a probe into graft allegations against former chief justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, retired Supreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer Monday said a former high court judge approached him recently to persuade him not to raise the matter with the prime minister.

‘He (the judge) requested me that I should not complain to the prime minister against Balakrishnan. I will not name the judge who visited me,’ Iyer told a TV channel here.

Iyer surprised many when he held a press conference Dec 27 and demanded an investigation into how Balakrishnan’s son-in-law P.V. Srinijin, a Congress leader and a lawyer by profession, had acquired huge wealth in the past three years.

Since then, reports of large scale amassing of wealth by Balakrishnan’s kith and kin have appeared in the media.

Acting on a complaint, Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan has asked the vigilance department to initiate a probe against Srinijin.

Lawyers at the Kerala High Court also said Srinijin did not have a full fledged practice.

Balakrishnan is currently the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and has come under fire from several quarters, including senior apex court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe Monday.

State secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) C.K. Chandrappan Monday said the allegations, if proved true, were a shame for the judiciary.

Senior Congress leader V.M. Sudheeran demanded that retired judges too should come under the purview of the proposed judicial accountability bill.

V.R. Krishna Iyer was the law and irrigation minister in the world’s first elected Communist government in 1957 led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad in Kerala.

He was appointed a judge of the Kerala High Court in 1968 and elevated to the Supreme Court in 1973.

He was a member of the apex court bench which passed a landmark ruling directing the government to provide free legal services to the accused in custody.

He retired from the apex court in November 1980.