Corruption does not necessarily involve exchange of money. Any illegal favor for mutual advantage is corruption. The Oxford Dictionary defines corruption as “destruction or spoiling of anything”. When official conduct destroys established norms of governance it is corruption.
Former Supreme Court Judge Justice Mr. Markanday Katju recently made an allegation that created uproar in the media and in parliament. In brief, he alleged that an acting chief justice in Tamil Nadu protected a corrupt fellow judge because of his proximity to a political party. Justice Katju after obtaining permission from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC) instituted a secret IB investigation against the corrupt judge. Chief Justice of India (CJI) Justice Lahoti later informed Justice Katju that the probe had confirmed his suspicions about corruption.
Thereafter, according to Justice Katju, the SC collegium did not act against the corrupt judge because politicians prevailed on three former Chief Justices of India to not act against the offender because the political party supporting him threatened to dislodge the central government by withdrawing support in parliament. Predictably such a serious allegation by a retired SC Judge against former Chief Justices of India created a huge sensation. Members in parliament flayed the previous government for subverting the judiciary. Media channels did likewise.
Some former judges have rubbished Justice Katju’s allegations. Others have criticized him for speaking up so late when no remedial action can be taken. Politicians are cornering the former UPA government for influencing the judiciary. The BJP lashed out at Mr. Manmohan Singh and his cabinet for being “blackmailed” by political allies. One judge praised Justice Katju for acting as a whistleblower to clean up the judiciary.
It seems the critics have missed the most damaging aspect of Justice Katju’s revelation.
Is Justice Katju a whistleblower or accomplice of the former Chief Justices of India? The corruption by politicians and their propensity to bend rules causes little surprise. It is standard political conduct in India. But what might one say about the conduct of the judiciary? If Justice Katju’s allegation is correct did not three former Chief Justices cover up corruption? One former Chief Justice has already denied Justice Katju’s version.
Responding to a TV questioner about why he did not speak up at the appropriate time Justice Katju irritably dismissed the question for being irrelevant. He said that the media should focus only on whether or not what he said was true. He abruptly ended the interview. Was Justice Katju right?
What media critics and politicians seem to overlook is the possible criminality of the conduct by judges. Section 10 of the Prevention of Corruption Act states:
“Whoever, being a public servant, in respect of whom either of the offences defined in Section 8 or 9 (defrauding the state) is committed, abets the offence, whether or not that offence is committed in consequence of that abetment, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but may extend to five years and shall be liable to fine.”
In other words if there is knowledge of corruption being committed and a public official does not act he or she becomes an abettor. The former accused Chief Justices however have not yet accepted the allegations of Justice Katju, while one has openly rubbished them. But can Justice Katju deny his own allegation? If not, how can he evade the fact that by remaining silent when the alleged events occurred he became an abettor of corruption if Section 10 of the Prevention of Corruption Act is followed in letter and spirit? Did not, if that be the case, Justice Katju incriminate himself?
That is the question troubling this writer. It is for legal experts to address this question.