The Times of India in an exclusive report, published a detailed story regarding dismissal of three judges of subordinate judiciary and denial of extension of 8 judges. The reason for dismissal of most of these judges are corruption and malpractice.
The services of subordinate judges are periodically reviewed when they reach the age of 50, 55 and 58. During such reviews, the performance, reputation, integrity of such judge are reviewed and the Administrative Committee of the High Court and later a full court arrives at a decision whether to extend the services of a judge or retire him prematurely.
According to Rule 56 (2) of the Tamil Nadu Government fundamental rules, such review is being conducted for all government servants in all departments at the age of 50 and 58. But in all the departments this is a routine exercise and a formality. Unless a government servant is medically invalid, no one is sent on compulsory retirement.
However, in judiciary this rule is seriously implemented based on performance and integrity. By this procedure the full court has recommended premature retirement of 8 subordinate judges according to Times of India report.
Corruption does exist in the subordinate judiciary and there is no iota of doubt about it. The subordinate judges after they enter into the service are lured by temptations. Judges with grit and conscience pass this fire test and maintain their integrity. Greedy judges fall prey and mar their career. Some get caught and most escape. The High Court is right in collecting information about the subordinate judges from various sources, analyze this information and take a call on the future of the judges. Without such a check and balance, it would literally be impossible to stem the rot of corruption in the lower judiciary.
Whether this process is fool proof is debatable. However, now allegations have come up that such punitive actions are not done in a fair and judicious manner but whimsically. Not by High Court, but by the Registrars who handle such issues.
In an earlier article in Savukku, it was highlighted how 14 directly recruited District Judges (DJ) have challenged the Madras High Court’s full court decision which was subsequently endorsed by the collegium of Supreme Court. It was also pointed out how Judges belonging to this batch are holding key positions and influencing the decision of High Court with regard to subordinate judiciary.
After the previous article, more information started flowing regarding the way subordinate judiciary are being treated by the powers that be.
In 2011, a total of 17 were recruited as Direct District Judges. One Sivakumar, resigned from the post for personal reasons. One Mr. Anburaj, another District Judge was sacked following corruption charges. Anburaj, who was made to hold additional charge of Principal District Judge of Dharmapuri took up the bail plea of a doctor involved in a kidney racket and granted bail. Following enquiry, he was sacked. One more judge of the same batch, one Mr. Nandakumar, was sent out following womanizing charges. The surviving 14 District Judges serve in various capacities across courts in Tamil Nadu. Ms.Poornima, who is the first petitioner in Supreme Court challenging the decision of the Madras High Court is now holding the post of Registrar (Vigilance). Several subordinate judiciary officers allege that while Poornima swiftly takes action on complaints against any subordinate judicial officer and ensure that there is proper enquiry and follow up action, she is suppressing complaints against her batch-mates.
One such example is the case of former Thoothukudi District Judge Mr.Suresh Vishwanath. In July 2016, Suresh Vishwanath abused a train ticket examiner in an inebriated condition and its video recording was widely circulated in social media. However no enquiry was conducted and no action was taken
In June 2019, the Madras High Court formed Judicial Recruitment Cell for the purpose of recruiting all class-4 employees across the state. Following this, District Judges who were hitherto making recruitments on their own for the posts of night watchmen, gardeners, office assistants, etc. were stripped of their power.
Two years ago, a notification was issued by Thoothukudi Principal District Judge for making recruitments of OAs, Night Watchmen, etc. However, due to complaints of favouritism, the recruitments were stopped midway.
DJ Suresh Viswanath who felt handicapped after the High Court constituted Judicial Recruitment Cell, used this earlier notification to make recruitments on his own. To ward off any allegations, he constituted a committee headed by him and the Chief Judicial Magistrate Bhavathy Ammal and Sub-Judge Selvam as members. The remaining two being his subordinates do not have much say in the recruitments. Recruitments were made for the posts of Office Assistants, Ameena, etc.
A legal officer, who is a relative of a minister of Tamil Nadu cabinet acted as a middleman in these recruitments say sources from the Bar of Thoothukudi. Amounts not less than 5 lakh rupees were collected from people who were selected. To take his pound of flesh, the legal officer got his ‘advocate clerk’s wife’ appointed as Office Assistant in Thoothukudi court. Recruitments were made whimsically without following any norms.
Most of those selected as Office Assistants were women. Normally in such recruitments, list would be called for from the local Employment Exchange and local people would be given preference. But, a widow who is a native of Srirangam, Trichy was recruited by Suresh Vishwanath.
Advocates who are privy to such recruitment say, most of the newly recruited women Office Assistants were posted either in the residence of Suresh Vishwanath or in his court. There are several instances of sexual harassment. When a few women resisted his amorous advances, they were threatened with sacking by the Judge add sources from Thoothukudi. Fearing retributive action, none is coming forward to make complaints. In one instance, Suresh Vishwanath is alleged to have told a woman OA, “I have recruited you precisely to satisfy my needs. If you resist, I will cease your probation”. An office assistant belonging to minority community, was subjected to acute harassment by Suresh Vishwanath. But how would a poor class IV employee file complaint against the mighty Principal District Judge ? The issue was buried quietly.
In this regard, several members of Thoothukudi Bar, have sent complaints against Suresh Vishwanath to the Madras High Court.
These complaints, which are supposed to be processed by the Registrar (Vigilance) of the High Court – Ms.Poornima, were never placed before the concerned High Court Judge or committee, it is alleged.
During the first week of December, a Magistrate in Thoothukudi, hit a stenographer with an object, and the woman staff suffered bleeding injury. When the staff went and made a complaint to Suresh Vishwanath, Principal District Judge, the highest judicial authority in a District, he kept mum and failed to console the staff. His inaction led to the staff filing a police complaint. After the Madras High Court got wind of the matter, the concerned Magistrate was placed under suspension and Suresh Vishwanth was transferred and kept on compulsory wait.
A member of the Thoothukudi bar, on condition of anonymity, spoke about Suresh Vishwanath. “Suresh Vishwanath has all the vices, which a judicial officer should not have. He is highly corrupt and his womanizing activities are known to the entire legal fraternity in the district. We have sent several complaints to the High Court. We have been sending complaints for more than a year. So far no action was taken against him. We smelt something wrong. Finally, we met Justice Bharathidasan of Madras High Court, who is the portfolio judge for Thoothukudi district. Only after we apprised him about the activities of Suresh Vishwanath, he was placed on compulsory wait. If written complaints by members of the bar with evidence is ignored by the Vigilance Cell of the High Court, how would we have faith in the High Court”, he wondered. Advocates from Thoothukudi meeting Justice Bharathidasan was independently confirmed through another source.
Suresh Vishwanath was transferred out of Thoothukudi on 6 December 2019. He was relieved on 8 December 2019. After he was relieved, Suresh Vishwanath visited Thoothukudi court on 13 December 2019. He issued transfer orders to 3 woman Office Assistants working in his residence by ante-dating. Why he was so particular in accommodating those three woman OAs in a places of their choice, that too after he was relieved from the post, is not clear.
Apart from this transfer order, he has issued transfer orders for 10 staff members of Thoothukudi judiciary, including a promotion. The transfer / promotion orders were dated 4th December 2019 by Suresh Vishwanath. However, records show, the 10 staff members were working in their previous stations till 9th December 2019. If they had been issued with transfer orders on 4th December, they would have been relieved in a couple of days.
Normally judges from the subordinate judiciary in District Judges cadre, who are mired in allegations will be posted as Judge of Permanent Lok Adalat, which is considered as an inferior post. Several members of the legal fraternity were expecting Suresh Vishwanath to be posted in one of the District’s Permanent Lok Adalat. But, Suresh Vishwanath is posted as District Judge of the newly opened Labour Court at Hosur. Since Hosur is a huge industrial area, posting of Suresh Vishwanath as a Labour Court judge is considered as a reward.
A member of the lower judiciary, wondered why such preferential treatment for these direct district judges. “Even on anonymous petitions, people like us are placed under suspension, charge sheeted and terminated in some cases. Suresh Vishwanath is a blot to the judiciary. Why is he treated with kid gloves”
Mr. Suresh Vishwanath and Ms. Poornima are close friends as both hail from same Nilgiri District and belong to same batch. He is one of the petitioner in Supreme Court along with Registrar Vigilance, Ms.Poornima.
It is said, in the last meeting of Administrative Committee of High Court, one of the item was to discuss about the complaint against Mr.Suresh Viswanath. But complaints of serious nature were withheld and only a complaint of his lapse in passing order, was placed before the committee. Another complaint about Suresh Vishwanath purchasing a palatial house in Coimbatore was also not placed before the Administrative Committee.
Unless the Registrar Vigilance places a complaint before the Administrative Committee, it would be impossible for any High Court Judge to know about the existence of such complaint. Why the numerous complaints against Suresh Vishwanath were suppressed from the High Court judges by Registrar Vigilance Ms.Poornima is worth pondering.
The charge that Registrar (Vigilance) and Registrar General are suppressing vital complaints against their batchmate judges from the High Court judges, could not be easily ignored. After all Caesar’s wife should be beyond reproach.
Recently, about Mr.Suresh Viswanath, the Hon’ble High Court of Madras at Madurai bench has observed in case reported in K.Umayavel vs. State on 27 April, 2019-(https://indiankanoon.org/doc/53659337/) as follows;
“However, in the present case, the learned Sessions Judge has completely lost his judicial mind and without perusing the 164 statement of the victim girls and without perusing the relevant materials, granted bail in the case of heinous offence under POCSO Act, which cannot be accepted. Further, the Hon’ble Apex Court in its order makes it very clear and directed the second respondent to surrender first and thereafter, to apply for bail, after giving 48 hours notice to the Public Prosecutor. However, the learned Sessions Judge, circumvent the order of the Hon’ble Apex Court and without understanding the order of the Hon’ble Apex Court, the trial Court entertained the bail application accepting the surrender of the defacto complainant and granted bail without applying his judicial mind.”
The above observation by the Hon’ble High Court is about Mr.Suresh Viswanath, Principal District judge, who was holding the full additional charge of Mahila Court, wherein he released the accused in POCSO case violating the directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court. Though it is reported that explanation has been called for from Judge Suresh Vishwanath, there is no progress.
The High Court has the responsibility of removing suspicions of nepotism from the members of subordinate judiciary. Brewing of suspicions among the subordinate judiciary is not a sign of a healthy judiciary. The learned lordships know the adage “justice should not only be done but manifestly seen to be done.” If members of subordinate judiciary feel that justice is not seen to be done, then it is really a sad state of affairs.
PS : After the publication of the previous article regarding judiciary in savukku, one judicial officer close to the direct recruit District Judges, posted in a WhatsApp group of Civil Judges that, savukku website is a banned site, a warrant is pending against the author and forwarding the link of savukku articles is an offence.
Savukku site was indeed blocked in 2014 by a High Court judge and subsequently the matter was closed. The judge who blocked it later regretted after his retirement. Savukkuonline.com is a legitimate website without any legal hurdles. No warrant whatsoever is pending against its author. And the learned judge who is spreading rumour and threatening his colleagues may please refrain from indulging in such dirty tricks.