The Indian Express Delhi edition carried a news item titled, “Complaint against one judge said daughter took Tata quota seat for MBBS 12 years ago”. The news item says that the Madras High Court Chief Justice M.Y.Eqbal, during his stint as a Judge of the High Court of Patna had obtained a medical seat for his daughter Sadaf Khan in the year 2000.
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College which was taken over by government in 1977 admits students only by merit. The only exception was the quota of 4 students allotted to Tata Iron and Steel (TISCO). Tata Main Hospital, which was established in 1908, was permitting the students of MGM Medical College to train in the hospital and as a reciprocal arrangement, TISCO was allotted with four seats.
On 11 December 2000, J.J.Irani, Managing Director of TISCO, recommended the name of Sadaf Khan, daughter of Justice M.Y.Eqbal, under the discretionary quota meant for TISCO to the government of Bihar. Justice Eqbal was then a Judge of the High Court of Patna. This allotment is now haunting Eqbal and has become a spoke in the wheel of Eqbal’s elevation to Supreme Court.
Prasad, a former Principal and Medical Superintendent of Pataliputra Medical College & Hospital Dhanabad had sent a complaint to the Prime Minister and President against the elevation of Justice Eqbal to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court collegium cleared the name of Justice Eqbal along with two others in the first week of December and the warrant of appointment was expected in a week. But the news item in the Indian Express explained the inordinate delay. According to media reports, Prime Minister had raised certain queries on the elevation of Justice Eqbal based on the complaint of Prasad and the collegium had replied the query immediately. Sources say, the Collegium had examined those complaints and sent a reply to the PMO and, warrant of appointment is expected to come in a week, say sources.
Justice Eqbal’s case is a classic example of how, all human beings, including Judges, slither from their values for their wife, kin, family and relatives. If accepting a seat under discretionary quota from a steel conglomerate which is accused of destroying nature through its mining activity can be condoned, so is every action of any corrupt politician. But the action is of a Judge is always viewed under microscope than any other person in public life. Any action or inaction on the part of a Judge is always linked with the judgments he delivers. People are waiting to make all kinds of insinuations and allegations against a Judge at the drop of a hat. This makes the life of a Judge not only difficult but also puts them in a tight spot. Propriety will always be thrown at a judge whenever he crosses the lakshman rekha.
In the case on hand too, any sort of insinuations can easily be made against Justice Eqbal. After accepting the nomination of his daughter to the MGM Medical College, by TISCO, Justice Eqbal had delivered many judgments involving TISCO. Though there is no evidence that he had favoured TISCO in any of the litigations, propriety requires him to recuse himself from hearing the cases involving TISCO, as long as he was in the High Court. Any person who has basic knowledge of politics and economy clearly see through the design of TATA which has numerous axes to grind in judiciary and politics. The allotment of an MBBS seat to the daughter of a sitting High Court Judge is always attached with strings. There is no such thing as free lunch.
Even the tenure of Justice Eqbal as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court is less than mediocre. The first matter heard by Justice Eqbal as the CJ of Madras High Court was a significant one. An Advocate filed a PIL for a direction to the Union Government to arrest Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda, who was on a state visit. Douglas Devananda has been declared as a proclaimed offender by a Sessions Court in Chennai, for his involvement in a murder case. When the matter came up on a Friday, Justice Eqbal simply adjourned the matter to Monday by which time, Douglas left India comfortably.
Except the judgment of Justice Eqbal on the Uniform School Education system, no judgment is worth mentioning. Legal experts feel that Justice Eqbal had always procrastinated in decisions concerning politically sensitive matters or would transfer the matter to some other Division Bench. One case worth mentioning is that of the alleged rape of Irular Tribal girls by a group of policemen. On a PIL filed for a CBI investigation and arrest of the policemen, the DGP of Tamil Nadu filed a reply that the four young tribal women were taken to police station by 9 pm in the night and were let off in the morning. The mere admission by the police of taking the girls after sunset to police station alone is enough for ordering the arrest of the policemen. But the matter which came up before the Division Bench headed by Justice Eqbal in February 2012, was not listed for hearing after a couple of hearings. The Nerkundram Housing Scheme meant for All India Service Officers, who were allotted luxury flats for a song, was also challenged by way of a PIL. But after the initial hearings, this PIL too was not listed further.
Whenever there are Public Interest Litigations which had political overtones, Justice Eqbal would conspicuously post the matter to another Division Bench. While the Supreme Court continues to take serious views about ‘fake encounters’ Justice Eqbal never heard or passed orders on any PILs regarding fake encounters, but always transferred the matter to his brother Judges. Though the allotment of cases among judges is the exclusive prerogative of the Chief Justice, shying away from taking up or deciding on sensitive matters is not the quality of a good Judge.
The handling of Justice CS.Karnan by Justice Eqbal is a good example of how he was ineffective in matters of administration. Justice Karnan, who was reportedly asked to go on leave following certain allegations of corruption, threw his trump card before Justice Eqbal. Advocates belonging to dalit community had reportedly stormed Justice Eqbal’s chambers and requested him to allot portfolio to Justice Karnan. Immediately after a couple of days, Justice Karnan was again allotted with the same portfolio. Justice Karnan, being a Judge of the High Court had called reporters and cameramen to his chambers and made childish allegations that based on his community his brother judges had teased him. For this sole reason, Justice Karnan should have been transferred to High Court of Sikkim. But Justice Eqbal allowed Justice Karnan to continue with his travesties which went to the extent of threatening a staff member in open court that he would be booked under the Prevention of Atrocities against the SC/ST Act for making certain comments against Justice Karnan.
Though there are examples of High Courts taking suo motu cognizance of any atrocity or human rights violation reported in the media, Justice Eqbal took suo motu cognizance in only a very few instances. One instance was the death of a 6 year old school girl Shruti from the hole in the school bus. Following Justice Eqbal’s suo motu cognizance, the Tamil Nadu government swung into action, and the owner of the School was promptly arrested and put behind bars. Within a few weeks, Ranjan, another student was drowned in the swimming pool of Padma Seshadri School. Not only Justice Eqbal failed to take suo motu cognizance of the incident, but he failed to pass orders on a PIL filed to include the proprietor of the school viz. Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy as accused. Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy is a close friend of Ms.J.Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu Police which is known for its nepotism and discrimination, not only failed to book Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy, but also booked the person who cleaned the swimming pool and the Dean of the School under bailable sections and hoodwinked the court and the world. Justice Eqbal, who only a couple of week ago had taken suo motu cognizance of a child’s accidental death due to negligence, was conspicuously silent over the death of Ranjan. After the initial hearings, the PIL was never listed.
To tame the continuous agitation of the people of Idinthakarai against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Jayalalitha’s government clamped 144 in and around the area of agitation. Under the guise of 144, a virtual curfew was imposed on Koodankulam and people were prevented access even for essential commodities like food, milk, etc. Children were prevented from going to schools and power was cut off. Three PILs were filed against the 144 order. Justice Eqbal, who was expected to uphold the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, toed the line of government and upheld the 144 order and made Jayalalitha heave a sigh of relief.
Justice Eqbal’s credibility hit an abysmal low when he himself appointed Office Assistants to High Court without following any of the rules governing the appointment of staff to High Court. During September 2012, based on an information that more than 100 posts of Assistants in Madras High Court are about to be filled up on the recommendation of Judges, a PIL was filed. Disposing of the Writ Petition, Justice Eqbal observed that recruitment to the post of Assistant would be made only after following the rules and after making proper advertisements. Sources say, after the PIL was filed, all the names recommended and suggested by the Judges were dropped and action was taken to fill up the Assistant vacancies, in accordance with rules.
In spite of this Public Interest Litigation, 55 Office Assistants were appointed to the High Court, without notifying the vacancies through advertisements or following the prescribed rules in this regard. Sources say, Justice Eqbal himself had nominated 3 persons for appointment as Duffadars, of which 2 are from Bihar. Sources also say that all the 55 names were finalized by the appointment committee headed by Justice D.Murugesan who is now the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and Justice Elippe Dharma Rao. All the Judges of the Madras High Court except Justice K.Chandru, had their share of the pie. Though the appointments committee finalized the names, it was Justice Eqbal who had a final say in this matter. The information oozing out from the corridors of Madras High Court reveal that two PILs challenging the appointment of Office Assistants filed in this regard, about two weeks back are not numbered and kept pending in the Registry on the instruction of Justice Eqbal.
Around an year back, an Advocate, named Udhayabanu, a self styled ‘dalit champion’ went to the Personal Assistants section to check an order pronounced in the open court. The PAs to Judges are not required to read out the order to any advocate. But, in practice, out of courtesy advocates approach these PAs and would be allowed to take down the operating portion of the orders. Udhayabanu who went to the PA section, picked up a wordy quarrel with a steno and started using unparliamentary language and abused the entire stenos. Certain words used by Udhayabanu could never be written. Stenographers, with tears went to the chamber of Chief Justice Eqbal and complained about the incident. Eqbal who has the powers to direct the Registrar General to file a police complaint about the intrusion and high handed behavior of the advocate and abuse of a female member of the staff, consoled the staff and sent them back. To add insult to the injury, Eqbal invited the said rogue advocate Udhayabanu to deliver a lecture on the 150th year celebrations of the Madras High Court.
Justice Eqbal is a Judge who would not hesitate to bend the rules and commit a wrong was established by his action of allotting a space and building for the Tamil Nadu Advocates Association. The Tamil Nadu Advocates Association (TNAA) was founded by advocate Prabakaran, who founded it to overcome his humiliating defeat in the Madras High Court Advocates Association election. The TNAA’s application for recognition was rejected by a Full Court decision on 29.04.2009. No association other than the associations which are recognized by the Madras High Court is eligible for a space inside the High Court. But Justice Eqbal, conceded to the request of Prabakaran and allotted a building inside the High Court campus by setting a bad precedent. Sources say, advocate Prabakaran, who is very close to the ‘CJI in waiting’ Justice P.Sathasivam, considered getting allotment of building as a prestige issue. Justice Sathasivam, who is the second senior Judge in Supreme Court next to the CJI had pressurized Justice Eqbal to allot a building to Prabakaran. Only after a sizeable number of advocates prepared a representation and met Justice Eqbal, a notice was served on Prabakaran regarding the cancellation of building and the building which was being renovated by Prabakaran was sealed. But so far no final decision has been taken and the allotment order is yet to be cancelled.
With this reputation, Justice M.Y.Eqbal is all set to be elevated to a place which was adorned by legal legends like Bhagwathi, Krishnaiyer, H.R.Kanna and others.
In this age of globalization and liberalization, it might not be a sin to curry a small favour from an MNC. But still, society expects Caesar’s wife to be beyond reproach.