Indian judges may perhaps be classified into three categories – the good, bad and the greedy. Without any shred of doubt, the recently retired Chief Justice of India Sathasivam could be said to fall in the last.
He recently courted controversy when he told the media during his visit to Coimbatore that the verdict in Rajiv killers’ case would be delivered before 25th of April, when he was to retire.
Predictably the DMK patriarch was quick to react. Karunanidhi, who never criticizes judiciary, made a direct attack on Justice Sathasivam. While addressing a public meeting, he said, “With the polling (in the state) scheduled on April 24, many share the fear the comment on a such a sensitive case could have political repercussions, and has triggered an intense debate among the legal fraternity. The consequences of the CJI making such a statement in public should be considered. Taking an appropriate decision on this will protect juridical principles, and will be for the good of all.”
An office-bearer of the TNCC filed a complaint with the Election Commission against the CJI. Nowhere in the history of Indian judiciary, a complaint was filed with the EC against a sitting CJI.
Interestingly Justice Sathasivam has always enjoyed a good relationship with politicians. Grapevine has it that it was at the instance of Jayalalitha that he was appointed to the High Court, back in January 1996. He was transferred to the Punjab & Haryana High Court in April 2007. But within a short span of four months, even without becoming the Chief Justice of any High Court, he was elevated to the Supreme Court directly, thanks to his close relationship with Karunanidhi.
DMK Chief Karunanidhi using his clout with the then CJI K.G.Balakrishan, ensured that Sathasivam reached the SC with time enough to go on to become the CJI too. Sources in legal circles say that Karunanidhi was furious that Sathasivam who owed his position to him had joined hands with his arch rival Jayalaltihaa and gave a teaser about the judgment with a view to helping her in elections. After all it was her government that had chosen to release all the seven serving various terms in the Rajiv assassination case, evoking goodwill among large segments in the state. It was a Sathasivam-led bench that had first commuted the death sentence on three of the accused, and if it was to endorse the state government’s decision to release forthwith all the convicted, and thus at the time of voting, quite possibly the Tamil goodwill could translate into votes in a big way. Hence Karunanidhi’s desperation.
It is pertinent to note that the matter of commutation of Rajiv Killers’ death sentence was transferred out of Madras HC, following a petition in SC that the climate in TN is not conducive to hear the case due to the vitiated atmosphere. In spite of this, Justice Sathasivam chose to publicly comment about the judgement he was about to deliver.
But following Karunanidhi’s outburst, Sathasivam developed cold feet. He referred the matter to a larger Constitutional Bench and also order the stay on the release of the seven would continue. Sources also add that there was pressure from Congress quarters too. Perhaps hoping to bag a coveted post on retirement, Sathasivam yielded.
But then, to be fair to him, he is not an exception. Closer to their retirement, almost all judges start lobbying for some lucrative posting or other post-retirement. In their anxiety to end up in a tribunal or some commission, the judges go to any length to please the political masters.
In 2012, addressing BJP’s legal cell, former Law Minister Arun Jaitley said, “This clamour for post- retirement jobs is adversely affecting the impartiality of the judiciary of the country, and time has come to put an end to such an unhealthy trend”. He went on to add that when he was Law Minister in the BJP government, he would always be apprehensive when meeting a judge who was on the verge of retirement – for they would in all probability thrust their bio-data in his hands.
Endorsing the views of Arun Jaitley, senior advocate Prasant Bushan, while replying to a question, said, “Such an unseemly situation prevails because the power of assigning these post retirement jobs is with the government. The government can patronize judges by giving them jobs when they retire and thus effectively compromises their integrity. But if this selection process is entrusted with an independent body, there should be no problem. For instance, what we have argued in the case of Lokpal is that there could be a selection committee consisting of seven people, out of which only two would be from the political class, those who could have conflict of interest i.e. the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition; but the other five would be from outside the political class.”
Most High Court judges enjoy all the fancy paraphernalia that go with their job – from the reverential Lordships during the hearings to the turbaned valet carrying a mace, ‘sh-sh’ing, clearing the path of the Majesty, it is all an almost out-of-the world experience for these otherwise ordinary mortals. And so as retirement stares in their face, they become unsettled. The prospect of joining the ranks of the ‘lesser breed’ is certainly disagreeable, and so they start jockeying for some position or other that could help them retain some semblance of their previous exalted position, not to mention the financial rewards involved.
Justice Jyothimani, while serving in the Madras High Court, was hearing a batch of petitions against Koodankulam nuclear power plant in which the Ministry of Environment and Forests was also a party. Marathon hearings were held for over a month.
And even when the trial was on, Justice Jyothimani, throwing all norms and decency to winds, applied to the Ministry of Environment and Forest for appointment as a member of the Green Tribunal !!!!. . Sources say that the ‘venerable’ judge stayed in Delhi for some time and made some hectic lobbying on his own behalf.
Needless to add he succeeded, while the petitions against the nuclear plant were thrown out by the bench headed by Mr Jyothimani.
Subsequently a PIL was filed challenging the impropriety of His Lordship’s actions, but in vain.
Not all are swayed by considerations of post-retirement needs though. Justice Chandru who retired recently was offered the membership of the Information Technology Tribunal, but he said ‘No.’ Some such offer came the way of Justice Suguna a little later, but she too refused.
Even more impressively, Justice Chitra Venkataraman spurned a chance to become a member of the Company Law Board – a very lucrative position that.
This is why these judges stand tall among their peers and fall into the first category of the good”. The rest are only bad and greedy.
To go back to our very own Sathasivam, it is said he is now eyeing nothing less than the Karnataka Raj Bhavan. Leaving nothing to chance, he is said to have hosted dinners to both Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and BJP’s Arun Jaitley separately. He is also known to be in touch with AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha, holding out hopes that that he would be in a position to help her out in her assets case at Bengaluru, if only he is made Karnataka Governor.
But then how many masters he can please? Poor man, by failing to deliver a favourable verdict in the Rajiv killers’ case, he might have forfeited Amma’s goodwill. And so he might have to content himself with just his pension benefits.