The long saga of Justice Karnan has come to an unceremonious end. Now he is on the wrong side of the law. With the Kolkatta cops on a man hunt and Justice Karnan on the run… without any appellate remedy, Justice Karnan is bound to be put behind bars sooner than later.
Justice Karnan’s case is a classic case of what is wrong with the collegium system. It was the collegium which ensured that he achieved the impossible. A famous anecdote among the advocates of Madras High Court goes like this. After Karnan was made a HC Judge, people who assembled in a liquor outlet situated opposite to the Bar Council, said, “Finally one from our Bar has made it to the High Court”. But for the flawed collegium system a person like Karnan would never have made it to the Bench.
In the Express story on Justice Karnan’s elevation, former CJI K.G.Balakrishnan is quoted as saying “I met Karnan only after his selection. During my tenure as CJI, some 300 HC judges were selected. The CJI has no personal mechanism to look at the background of judges being selected to high courts”. But this is far from the truth. The real story behind the elevation of Justice Karnan is that he took care of former CJI’s brother KG Baskaran for a month when he was admitted in the Chennai Apollo for some ailment. Karnan was rewarded with judgeship for his courteous service rendered to KG Baskaran say an Advocate from Madras HC.
By sentencing Justice Karnan to six months imprisonment the SC has refused to look internally towards its own fault of selecting such an unscrupulous ane undeserving element as a High Court judge. No where in the world there exists a system of Judges selecting fellow Judges. But in a large democracy like India, the Supreme Court consistently shoots down any proposal to even tinker with their power of selecting their own.
In his lone dissent in the NJAC judgment, Justice Chellameswar has rightly described the collegium system. He wrote, “Transparency is a vital factor in constitutional governance…Transparency is an aspect of rationality. The need for transparency is more in the case of an appointment process. The records are absolutely beyond the reach of any person including the judges of this Court who are not lucky enough to become the Chief Justice of India. Such a state of affairs does not either enhance the credibility of the institution or does good for the people of this country,” Justice Chelameswar had written.
He found his fellow brother judges’ version of “primacy of judiciary” and total exclusion of the government from the judicial appointment process as “wholly illogical and inconsistent with the foundations of the theory of democracy and a doctrinal heresy.”
Justice Chellameswar followed it up with boycott of the collegium meetings, but the majority judges managed to ram their decisions down the throat of reluctant judges and the entire nation.
The ignominy Justice Karnan is facing today is of his own doing. Unlike what is claimed by him, it was not caste discrimination or bias which was the avowed triggering point of his subsequent tantrums. Justice Karnan’s primary grievance was that he was not given lucrative portfolios where he could mint money. His colleagues Justice V.Dhanabalan and Justice S.Manikumar who also happen to be dalits were given portfolios of importance and he was never assigned any significant portfolios in Madras HC was Karnan’s main grievance. In spite of making request to better portfolio with the then Chief Justices of Madras HC, Karnan’s request was never fulfilled. This was the triggering point and an incensed Karnan, first made headlines in 2011 when he alleged that his brother judges were discriminating him because he was a dalit. He sent a complaint to the National Commission of SC/STs but refused to reveal the names of the Judges who had allegedly mistreated him. From this point of time, Justice Karnan became a persona non grata among his peers.
However, Justice Karnan successfully mobilized dalit advocates behind him and managed to draw quite a crowd. When there was a litigation going on in one of the Division Benches regarding elevation of judges to High Court, Justice Karnan, while a sitting Judge of the Madras HC barged into the court hall where the proceedings were going on and asked the Bench to add him as a party and also remarked social justice was not followed in the elevation procedure.
When Justice M.Y.Eqbal was the Chief Justice of the Madras HC, Justice Karnan emboldened by a group of dalit advocates barged into his chambers and demanded a better portfolio. Though reluctant, Justice Eqbal realised the seriousness of the situation that Justice Karnan was mobilising dalit advocates who are sizeable in number and assigned Justice Karnan the responsibility of a vacation judge. As a vacation judge, bail and a lot of criminal matters came up before him. News of Justice Karnan as vacation Judge spread among the advocates and it was music to the ears of many criminals who can’t even dream of getting bail in a regular court. They knocked at the doors of Justice Karnan’s court for bail and other reliefs with utmost confidence.
One such case was the one relating to Chairman of Sri Ramachandra Medical College Venkatachalam. Venkatachalam was picked up by the CBI for purchasing a dozen foreign made luxurious cars from a smuggler without paying the dues to government. CBI arrested him and before he could be sent for remand he complained of chest pain and got himself admitted in the Government Stanley Hospital. Curiously, a Magistrate visited Venkatachalam and remanded him for a period of “three” days. Normally any magistrate would remand an accused for a period not less than 15 days. But, the Magistrate for reasons best known to him, remanded him for three days by presenting himself before Venkatachalam.
When Karnan took over as vacation judge, bail plea of SRMC Chancellor Venkatachalam came up for hearing. Instead of going into the merits of the case, Justice Karnan openly abused CBI and its officials for arresting Venkatachalam. “How can you arrest a man of his stature ? What evidence do you have ? Is he going to run away from the law ? Why did you arrest him ? ” Like this he hurled a volley of similar questions at the prosecution and granted bail to Venkatachalam without even waiting for a written reply from the CBI. It was quite obvious for everyone that Justice Karnan’s anguish over arrest was not genuine but faked. Subsequently, Justice Karnan had lamented to his family friend that they have cheated him in Venkatachalam’s case by giving him just 50 thousand. I heard subsequently, the middleman who fixed this deal took Justice Karnan for a ride.
By this time, news was spreading fast in Madras HC that Justice Karnan can be ‘approached’. A couple of journalists covering Madras HC talked to me, if there is any case pending before Justice Karnan, they can fix it. Such was the reputation he enjoyed in the corridors of Madras High Court. Immediately after vacation, Karnan was posted to an insignificant portfolio again. Karnan who had tasted power and money as a vacation judge became even more aggressive in his seeking a better portfolio.
Its no secret that Justice Karnan’s allegation of caste bias and discrimination is a facade to mask his corrupt intentions. The CBI had registered a case against a firm known as Surana Gold Trading Corporation in 2013. Following the registration of the case, the premises of Surana corporation was raided. During the raids, the CBI stumbled upon 400 Kgs. of gold bullions. All the gold bullions were promptly seized and the premises was seized. 400 Kilos of gold was worth 125 crores at that time and the business of Surana Corporation, a listed company was on the brink of collapse. Surana people were moving heaven and earth to retrieve the gold. They brought down Senior Counsel U.U.Lalit, (now a Supreme Court judge) to argue the case and get back the gold. By this time, I got wind of these developments. Justice Karnan was then holding the portfolio of Criminal Revision, before whom this matter was bound to come up. I regularly followed this case and was present during every hearing in the CBI court in this regard. In spite of the arguments of UU Lalit, the Special Judge of the CBI Court, Yusuf Ali, a man known for his integrity refused to be moved. During the course of the arguments, when UU Lalit was not present, an Advocate named Krishnan, who was the counsel on record for Surana, openly threatened the CBI Judge and asked him to dismiss the matter so that he can move the High Court. He went to the extent of alleging that the Judge was taking sides with the CBI. The temerity of Advocate Krishnan was due to the fact that Justice Karnan will be hearing the appeal. Judge Yusuf Ali, dismissed Surana’s petition. I was closely following the proceedings and got wind of the information that a deal had been clinched with Justice Karnan. Information is that even the Special Public Prosecutor for CBI too had been roped in.
I continued to cover the proceedings and wrote an article narrating the court proceedings giving enough indication that Justice Karnan was in the loop and he was likely to release the 400 Kilos of gold. On the day when the Surana matter was about to be heard by Justice Karnan, the matter was not in the list. Justice Karnan was very eager to hear the matter and pass orders in favour of Surana. When the proceedings commenced in Karnan’s court, more than 150 advocates were present. Going through the list of cases before him, Justice Karnan found that Surana case was not listed. Karnan became furious. Immediately he summoned the Section Officer of the posting section. Karnan could not express his anger that Surana case had not been listed. Instead, he started abusing the section officer Lakshmanan that he was making unwarranted comments concerning Justice Karnan’s caste. In open court he threatened the section officer that he would file a complaint of SC/ST attrocity against Section Officer Lakshmanan in the nearby Esplanade PS and would ensure his arrest. Lakshmanan broke down in tears. An embarrassed Karnan asked him to get out. This incident incensed me further and I continued to write about Surana case indirectly hinting that Justice Karnan had been bought over. My articles did have an impact and Justice Karnan dismissed the plea of Surana several months after reserving orders. The CBI officials thanked me profusely.
This incident is not an isolated one. Justice Karnan is in the habit of calling up High Court staff in the middle of the night in an inebriated state and issue oral orders of dismissal. Terrified High Court staff would try to meet him and beg his forgiveness. But Karnan would never meet them the next day. This is Karnan.
Now who should be blamed for selecting such a person as a Judge for one of the chartered High Courts ? Is it not the collegium ? Is it not the senior judges ? The senior judges in the SC should introspect and be ashamed of themselves for making such a selection and should come out in the open and declare that they had made a mistake. But, by sentencing Justice Karnan to imprisonment and gagging the media, they are not only trying to hide their mistakes but also trying to justify a flawed system.
The Supreme Court’s action of sentencing Justice Karnan to imprisonment and gagging the media is an action of a frustrated group of old men. Whenever there is an attempt to bring in the legislature in the process of selection of judges, the SC judges shoot it down. If there is an attempt to formulate a process for enquiring into allegations of corruption against judges, the SC kills it. There is absolutely no system are method to enquire into allegations against judges of HC and SC. Justice Karnan deserves to be condemned. But what if his allegations against other judges are true ? Did the SC ever made even a slightest attempt to probe the allegations ? Justice Karnan did not invent allegations against judges of Madras HC out of thin air. These are discussed animatedly among the legal circles of the Madras HC. Such gossips could hold more than a grain of truth in them. Is there any such method to probe these allegations ?
The judgment of Justice Kumarasamy of the Karnataka High Court acquitting Jayalalitha and her coterie is an outright a classic example of corruption. No High Court judge with a sane mind would deliver a judgment based on glaring mathematical errors and acquit a person. It is an outright case of corruption. The SC should have stepped in immediately after the details of mathematical errors came out. It should have suo motu stayed Kumarasamy’s judgment. But the SC was a mute spectator and allowed Jayalalitha to contest an election based on this erroneous judgment and sat on the appeal till Jaya was dead. Even after her death, SC failed to take any action on Justice Kumarasamy or order a probe. Kumarasamy, if rumours are to be believed, is sitting on 300 crores apart from his sizeable pension. If Karnan deserves to be sent to jail, why not Kumarasamy ?
What prevented the SC from referring Justice Karnan’s issue to the parliament ? What will happen if there is a debate ? The fact is that the SC is afraid of a debate and wants to ensure that there is absolutely no debate and Karnan is condemned without any reasonable enquiry. Such actions happen in banana republics but not in a democracy. By sentencing Justice Karnan to a summary sentence and gagging the media, the SC has ensured that they are a law unto themselves.
It is true that Justice Karnan deserves no sympathy. But by sentencing him to prison without fair trial and protecting the corrupt… are Judges above the law?