A judge is being chased by the police so as to get him to comply with a Supreme Court order to imprison him for six months for contempt of court. His whereabouts remain undisclosed. By any reckoning, this is an amazing situation, perhaps even unheard of in the lurid annals of potboiler cinema. Needless to say, it brings no glory to India's judicial institutions. The highest court of the land cannot get a HC judge, in this case
C S Karnan, to abide by an order of a seven-member Bench; what message does this send out to the common citizen?
With the legislature and executive already subject to open criticism (and rightly so), the citizens should have been spared this ungainly spectacle of the SC caught in a wrestling match with one of its own. There’s no denying that disciplinary action was needed against a judge who was bent upon breaking all possible norms. But why was action not taken earlier? Was waiting for things to balloon out and then awarding the maximum sentence—six months imprisonment, no less—the only answer?
Soumitra Sen was the first Indian judge to be impeached. An SC committee had referred his case to Parliament for impeachment. Why was a similar procedure not adopted for Justice Karnan? The violations were, after all, related to propriety. Karnan presented a picture of ‘non-compliance’, challenging the functioning of the courts in Chennai and Kolkata, levelling loose and wild allegations against top judges and playing his Dalit card to the hilt.
He cynically took recourse to the idea of caste persecution to cover up his failings. He did it so often as to not only alienate brother judges, or shake the people’s faith in the judiciary, but to deplete the very possibility of genuine and necessary caste critiques. What we get instead is a media gag. The cloud around the opaque collegium system thickens: The question of selection criteria, the minefield of caste politics—this was the worst way to address anything.