It is not always that this website, committed to exposing the corrupt, gets an opportunity to acknowledge individuals who in a firm, consistent and sure manner are helping make the judiciary in Tamil Nadu a cleaner and more humane place for the states citizens.
Ever since he has taken up the onerous mantle of the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, has exhibited in a series of uninhibited yet calibrated moves that he is serious about cleaning up the judiciary in the state.
Apart from displaying that rare quality that mark him out to being his own man, Sanjay Kishan Kaul has shown that he is not prone to bend, unlike some of the predecessors, to extraneous political interests in the state.
Since taking charge in July last year as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, he has in the period of less than a year, gained the trust of cynical court watchers like this website.
By working within the ambit of the service rules that govern the appointment of the judicial officers especially at the lower levels, the Chief Justice has managed to embark on a clean up operation that has woken up the corrupt in the lower judiciary and marking them out as wanted people with numbered days.
Before Savukku brings out the series of corrupt lower judicial officers who have justly fallen to this clean up inititative by the Chief Justice it is important to understand the service rules that govern the appointment of Judicial Officers in our country.
The history of reviewing the performance of the Judges goes back to a judgment of the Supreme Court rendered in All India Judges’ Association case delivered by Union of India reported in AIR 1992 SC 165 in which it was sought to improve the condition of the subordinate judiciary all over India. Till 1938, the retirement age of government servants including that of the subordinate judiciary was 55 years. The first central pay commission set up in 1946 recommended raising the retirement age to 58 but the government rejected the recommendation saying that replacement of old people with younger people would be in the interest of better efficiency.
The matter of retirement was again reviewed in 1962 following the recommendation of the second central pay commission and the government decided to accept the recommendation to raise the retirement age from 55 to 58 following shortage of trained personnel in various departments.
The Judges’ Association in their review petition before the SC inter alia sought upward revision of their retirement age to 60. A three member Bench headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra while raising the retirement age of judges up to 60, observed thus. “There is, however, one aspect we should emphasise here. To what extent the direction contained in the main judgement under review shall stand modified. The benefit of the increase of the retirement age to 60 years shall not be available automatically to all Judicial Officers irrespective of their past record of service and evidence of their continued utility to the judicial system. The benefit will be available to those who, in the opinion of the respective High Courts, have a potential for continued useful service. It is not intended as a windfall for the indolent, the infirm and those of doubtful integrity, reputation and utility. The potential for continued utility shall be assessed and evaluated by appropriate Committees of Judges of the respective High Courts constituted and headed by the Chief Justices of the High Courts and the evaluation shall be made on the basis of the judicial officers’ past record of service, character rolls, quality of judgements and other relevant matters.
The enhancement of the superannuation age to 60 years coupled with the provision for compulsory retirement at the age of 50 years does introduce a change in the service condition of the existing personnel. There may be judicial officers who are not desirous of availing of the benefit of the enhanced superannuation age with the condition of compulsory retirement and may like to opt for retirement at the age of 58 years. In such cases, the concerned officers should intimate in writing their desire to retire at the age of 58 years well in advance and in any case before they attain the age of 57 years. Those who do not do so will be deemed to have exercised their option to continue in service till they attain 60 years of age subject to the liability of being retired compulsorily at the age of 58 years according to the procedure for compulsory retirement laid down in the Service Rules”.
Thus came the system of reviewing the performance of a member of subordinate judiciary at the age of 50, 55 and 58. Indeed its a Damocles’ sword over the head of every subordinate judge who desires to retire at the age of 60. But hitherto, this exercise use to be customary and very rarely a judge is sent out before he reaches 60. Such a practise has given an impression to the lower judiciary that service up to the age of 60 is their right. But the incumbent Chief Justice has decided to prove them wrong.
Despite the pressures of allegations of communal bias and other considerations, the Administrative Committee of the Madras High Court has with the unwavering support of the Chief Justice managed to weed out the black sheep at the lower level of the judiciary.
Normally the administrative committee of the Madras High Court consists of first seven judges who will take a call on giving an extension to a Judge or not and subsequently it will have to be endorsed by all the judges. Sources indicate that there was huge opposition to the grant of extension beyond 58 years of age to a few lower court judges which resulted in voting by the High Court Judges. Finally caste and communal factors were overcome and the corrupt district judges were sent packing by a slender majority.
And this History was scripted when, in what was previously unthinkable in the history of Tamil Nadu’s judiciary, more than half a dozen judicial officers at the level of District Judges have been sent packing in the last two months.
Despite this clean up initiative skeptics point out that the CJ’s actions in this regard were arbitrary and whimsical. The judicial officer who did not want to be identified said that no opportunity whatsoever is being given to the affected persons. Most of the grounds on which the judges are sent home are flimsy. He also suspects a conspiracy behind this action. He says if inconvenient persons are removed by way of penal action, a select few who are favourable to may be elevated to the High Court. Such action will result in a bevy of anonymous petitions which will affect the independence of the judiciary. The judges will become hesitant to deal with controversial cases.
The judicial officer also mentions that those who joined government service after 2003 are not eligible for pension and hence such a situation will only make the officers to make hay while the sun is shining. When asked what was the remedy to this, he said an opportunity or warning may be given to the erring officer and if he fails to correct himself, then penal action can be taken.
But is the grievance of the judicial officer true ? And is there a caste or communal bias in the punitive action taken by the Madras High Court ?
There is not a shred of truth in these allegations.
Savukku is happy to list out the details of Sanjay Kishan Kaul’s own Swach Judiciary initiative and wishes him god speed and its unstinted support in this movement.
Case I – V P Ravindran. He had the ignominy of being sent out at the age of 55. The author of this article is privy to various instances of corrupt practises by this Judge. When he was Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Egmore, he was dealing with CBI trials against Sathya Sai Medical College and Adi Parasakthi Medical College. The case of the CBI is that both the colleges were being run without adequate infrastructure and faculty. The cases were registered following the arrest of Medical Council of India Chairman Ketan Desai in a bribery case. The CBI investigation found that doctors working in the Port Trust of India and various other hospitals acted as ‘one day professor’ in the above said two private medical colleges on the day when the MCI Inspectors conducted inspection in the college for extraneous considerations. The CBI provided irrefutable evidence and filed its charge sheet. The author of this article received prior information that VP Ravindran is about to deliver judgment discharging all the accused in both the cases and the matter was published in savukku. Following the publication, the judgment was postponed by a month. But, an emboldened Ravindran, in spite of the complaints went ahead and discharged all the accused. The appeal filed by the CBI in this regard is pending. Seeing the writing on the wall, Ravindran opted out and resigned his post.
Case II – Ganesan who was District Judge Tiruppur. Apart from various corruption charges, the main allegation against Ganesan is bribery charges in the appointment of class IV staff to the District Court. For recruitment of Office Assistants, Masalchi, etc. the District Judge has absolute discretion and after calling for list of candidates from the Employment Exchange he is free to make the appointments after following due process of law. Being the District Judge, Ganesan and his stenographer will prepare the questions for the test to be conducted. After receiving bribe, Ganesan will furnish copies of the question paper to the candidates who have greased his palm. The results of the test is obvious. Those who received question papers earlier will come out with flying colours and others naturally will fail miserably.
Case III – Sethumathavan who was sent out at the age of 58 as District Judge, Labour Court is a classic case of abuse of official position. When Sethumadhavan and his wife had a tiff with their elderly neighbours, Sethumadhavan using his official position influenced the local police station and ensured that the elderly couple were arrested in a false case and remanded to judicial custody. Following a complaint by the elderly couple to the High Court, an enquiry was conducted which resulted in his early exit.
Case IV – The Principal District Judge, Thiruvallur Zafarullah Khan who was sent out at 58 was before a couple of years, recommended for elevation to the Madras High Court. Though there is no corruption charges against him, he is a known womaniser from his early days of Magistrate. Sources indicate he won’t spare a single woman staff in the court.
Case V – Former District Judge Thiruvannamalai Naganathan is also sent out for womanising. When he was a district judge, he had tried to rape the woman constable posted for security and the woman constable with physical injuries had to run out of his house, crying and make a complaint to the district SP. When this incident happened, Thangaraj, Magistrate Conoor was arrested and remanded following a complaint by a woman sub inspector. There was a huge stand off between the police and the judiciary and due to this turbulent situation, Naganathan was spared. But, nemesis always catches up.
Case VI – The case of Ramamurthy, District Judge of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Court is another classic case of abuse of caste and power. Ramamurthy belong to Thanjavur District and he belongs to Kallar community. The Madras HC Judge Nagamuthu, former Advocate General and present ADMK leader of Rajya Sabha Navaneethakrishnan aka Vandu Murugan are childhood friends. Ramamurthy is also a distant relative of VN Sudakaran, estranged foster son of Jayalalitha. In spite of being a relative, Ramamurthy continued to conduct the trial against Sudakaran in the NDPS case. On the day of judgment, an anonymous letter making allegations against him was received by him following which he recused himself, which prompted the HC to post the case before some other judge.
Recently the post of Law Secretary in the Government of Tamil Nadu fell vacant and the Mannargudi Mafia wanted Ramamurthy to be appointed as Law Secretary. They sought a panel of District Judges to be appointed and the HC sent three names. But the Mannargudi Mafia wanted only Ramamurthy’s name and returned the list. This reportedly angered the CJ and Ramamurthy was sent packing.
Narendra Modi’s call for Swach Bharat has found an echo in Tamil Nadu Judiciary. It seems, the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Sanjay Kishan Kaul is determined to clean the judiciary of its corruption.
Savukku has continuously been exposing about the corruption in both the lower and higher judiciary for quite some time. Be it the issue of quick bail granted to the bookies in IPL or the collection spree of some judges under the guise of Mega Lok Adalat, savukku named and shamed the concerned. But instead of conducting an enquiry into the allegations, the judiciary ensured that the website savukku is blocked repeatedly.
The grievance raised by a member of lower judiciary that there may be frivolous allegations and anonymous petitions do has merit. Any person aggrieved by a wrong judgment can easily tarnish the image of a Judge by sending anonymous petitions with wild allegations. But, apart from their sources, do the High Court Judges have any mechanism to make discreet verification about the veracity of allegations against a judge ? The answer is a sad NO.
The High Court Vigilance Cell is a poorly staffed body, with a sanctioned strength of an Additional SP and an Inspector with jurisdiction all over Tamil Nadu. Is it humanly possible for these two police officers to conduct discreet enquiry over hordes of petitions ? The Madras High Court may consider asking the government for sanction of more posts and strengthen the Vigilance Cell and arm it with more infrastructure to make the mission ‘Swach Judiciary’ more successful.
Cleansing the judiciary of corruption is indeed a welcome move. But the High Court judges should send out a strong message that no information without proper verification would be acted upon and honest judges have nothing to worry. As long as the independence of the lower judiciary is not affected, the ‘Swach Judiciary’ initiative would continue to flower under Judicial Officers like Sanjay Kishan Kaul.