NEW DELHI: The government’s decision to confer the Nari Shakti Puraskar on Delhi High Court’s acting chief justice, Gita Mittal, and the acceptance of the award by the sitting judge has created a controversy, with some legal experts criticizing the decision on the grounds that it could become a potential conflict of interest issue. Justice Mittal, one of the 30 recipients of the award this year, is perhaps the first sitting judge to accept a government award.
Although judges have been conferred awards in the past, it has only been after their retirement. Two former chief justices of India, P N Bhagwati and M N Venkatachalaiah, were awarded the Padma Vibhushan after they retired. Another retired CJI, J S Verma, was awarded the Padma Bhushan posthumously, but his family declined the award.A retired judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice S N Dhingra, said, “It would have been appropriate had this award been turned down because as a judge, many times one has to pass orders against the government, and this award may affect her work.”
Justice Dhingra added that often judges get influenced by such awards. “This is a government award, but judges sometimes get other awards also, say awards from bar associations. And there are judges who are unable to rise above such awards. However, it depends on the personality of the judge as to how he or she lets that award affect her. She should rise above this award.”
Noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan too called the decision “totally inappropriate”. He tweeted: “Totally inappropriate for the govt to confer awards on sitting judges. Such practice will affect the Independence of the judiciary. Hope & expect the Acting Chief Justice to decline this.”
The award conferred by the women and child development ministry carries an appreciation certificate and a cash award of Rs 1 lakh. The ministry is a party to cases that Justice Mittal is hearing.Advocate Indira Jaising tweeted that Justice Mittal must be disqualified from hearing cases to which the government is a party.