Former Suprme Court judge Markandey Katju’s allegations in a newspaper article that three former chief justices had compromised their positions and succumed to the pressures of the executive, and elevated a 'suspect' additional judge of Madras High Court, seems to have given the BJP government a handle to pursue its proposal of overhauling the system of appointing judges.
What has surprised many is that Justice Katju chose this time, 10 years after the incident to make the allegation. Katju was then chief justice of the Tamil Nadu High court and had stalled the appoinment of this judge. His article now has given rise to suspicion that he was trying to curry favour with the new government. Katju, who has been a particularly loud chairman of the Press council of India, was seen by the BJP as a man close to the Congress. Arun jaitley had then termed him as being "more Congress than the Congress."
Katju, however, rubbished this suggestion when he told dna: "Go into it and find out the facts. Don't ask me about timing."
Former chief justices, however, did not support Justice Katju. Former Chief Justice G B Pattnaik told dna: “It is unbecoming of a former judge to make such comments at this stage. He could have done it at that time. Why was he waiting for so many years. Although I don't support the then Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan who had granted confirmation to the Tamil Nadu judge but it is too late for such revelation.”
Justice V N Khare recounted his tenure as CJI and also as senior judge in the collegium saying “There was no interference from the executive.”
Meanwhile, former law minister H R Bhardwaj admitted that he was approached by DMK leaders, On Katju’s statement, Bhardwaj said “ The way he is talking in public that is unbecoming of a judge.”
The government has so far refrained from commenting on the matter, but sources said it is of the view that the allegations underline the need for setting up an alternative mechanism for judicial appointments. The BJP government is in favour of setting up a Judicial Appointments Commission which seeks to scrap the present collegium system of appointing judges.
For the first time this year the judicial collegium had recommended seniors from the Bar overthrowing the convention of appointing Supreme Court judges only from the bench. The BJP government promptly struck out the name of senior advocate Gopal Subramanian, since he had appeared against Amit Shah in the Gujarat encounter death cases.
Katju is now in the Congress’s line of fire with party leaders dismissing the allegations as an attempt by him to get close to the present regime. “I take it as an attempt to defame judiciary," party leader Rajiv Shukla said.
Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and D Raja of CPI questioned the timing of allegations and asked what Katju did when the alleged corrupt judge was elevated.