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.