The Indian Mainstream Media Continues To Damn Justice C.S. Karnan While His Pronouncements Stand Censored


Co-Written by Dr. P.S Sahni & Shobha Aggarwal

“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

– James Baldwin,

Articles published in the mainstream media continue to damn Justice Karnan. Permit us to refer to one such article titled “SC right in convicting Karnan, wrong in gagging him, media” (The Times of India, 15.05.2017). The writer Dhananjay Mahapatra, associate editor with The Times of India, has spent about twenty seven years in journalism, twenty two of which have been on legal beat. The article states:

“His (Justice Karnan’s) January 23 letter to constitutional functionaries outside the judiciary seeking probe against twenty sitting and retired SC and HC judges forced the apex court to suomotu initiate contempt proceeding.”

Does Mahapatra think that writing such a letter is a reason enough to force the Supreme Court to initiate contempt proceedings? For a High Court judge as also for a citizen it is the fundamental duty enshrined in the Indian Constitution to develop a spirit of enquiry and reform. Justice Karnan was imbibed with such a spirit. Why should such a letter merit suomotu contempt proceedings? Shouldn’t it actually merit an enquiry against those twenty judges?

Juxtapose Justice Karnan’s letter with that of former Supreme Court Justice P.N. Bhagwati’s shameless letter sent to the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi on January 15, 1980 comparing her “coming back to the reddish glow of a golden sunrise”:

“May I offer you my heartiest congratulations on your resounding victory in the elections and your triumphant return as Prime Minister of India? It is a most remarkable achievement of which you, your friends and well wishers can be justly proud. It is a great honour to be the Prime Minister of a country like India.”

To this Justice V.D. Tulzapurkar of the Supreme Court had aptly commented on March 22 1980:

“If judges start sending bouquets or congratulatory letters to a political leader on his political victory, eulogising him on assumption of high office in adulatory terms, the people’s confidence in the judiciary will be shaken.”

Justice Bhagwati later rose to become the Chief Justice of India on 12 July, 1985.The same Justice Bhagwati sided with the majority judgement in holding that there was no remedy against detention – or even executive killing – in the infamous ‘habeas corpus’ case during the Internal Emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi.Post-retirement Justice Bhagwati was honoured by the Times of India by appointing him as its Ombudsman concerned with judging the newspaper’s news and editorial columns. It is apparent what sort of letters written by judges find approval with the Times of India and which do not!The habeas corpus case or the ADM Jabalpur case was called by the New York Times as a case close to the Indian Supreme Court’s utter surrender to an absolutist government.

Secondly, Dhananjay Mahapatra states:

“The accident happened when Justice Karnan was selected as a judge. It is not clear from the collegium files what great qualities were seen in him by nine judges of the SC and Madras HC to recommend his appointment as an HC judge eight years ago.”

The collegium files are supposed to be confidential unless some sitting judges of the Supreme Court chose surreptitiously to share it with a media source through whom an article was sought to be planted against Justice Karnan. The Supreme Court collegium comprises of five senior most judges who hold confidential meetings to discuss appointments and transfers of judges. The proceedings of the collegium are inaccessible both to public and history, barring occasional leaks.If some sitting judge of the Supreme Court has indulged in leaks it is scandalous and merits contempt proceedings against the concerned judge.

Thirdly,it is expected that the Times of India could at least have been sensitive to the efforts of Justice Karnan in exposing corruption in higher judiciary. Justice Karnan staked his career and has an onerous responsibility on his shoulders. The Times of India is expected to be even more sensitive as one of its own staffer Mr. Abhinav Garg had faced contempt proceedings initiated against him and was made to tender an unconditional apology in the Delhi High Court in view of a news item  published in the Times of India dated 17 May, 2016. The journalist had merely quoted from the communication sent by a complainant to the Chief Justice of India on 30 March, 2016 elaborating on the case disposal rate of a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court. The Times of India should appreciate how difficult it is to speak the truth about judiciary without inviting the contempt charge and then being made to apologise unconditionally or face the risk of being jailed.

Fourthly, Dhananjay Mahapatra has himself faced the accusation of contemptuous reporting and should be empathetic to what Justice Karnan is going through. On 15 June, 2013 Times of India published an article by Dhananjay Mahapatra titled, “In Vacation, SC Bench late by an hour”. The article had a shoulder headline: Justice G S Misra and CJI (Chief Justice of India) are habitual late comers.

Justice Gyan Sudha Misra wrote a long rejoinder duly published in the Times of Indiaon 19 June, 2013. Justice Misra called the article in question as irresponsible and contemptuous reporting denigrating the image of the institution of Supreme Court; Justice Misra felt that it was written at the behest of a motivated lobby which needs to be investigated; the Judge called the style of the article as derogatory; Justice Misra commented on Dhananjay Mahapatra’s prejudice and penchant for cheap publicity; the judge opined that the article was written to intimidate the judiciary in general and composure of the judge in particular.

Mr. Mahapatra commented at the end of Justice Misra’s rejoinder that the story was based on facts and that he stood by it. It is in the same spirit that Justice Karnan stands by his complaint against corruption in higher judiciary. It needs exceptional courage to send a petition in writing on an official pad to the Prime Minister of India urging for an enquiry against twenty judges of higher judiciary against whom charges of corruption were leveled. This petition dated 23 January, 2017 was duly signed by Justice Karnan. The Prime Minister’s office forwarded the letter to the Chief Justice of India, who set up a seven judge Constitution Bench. On 8 February, 2017 this bench issued a contempt notice to Justice Karnan. Rest is history!

By sentencing a sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court to six months imprisonment the Supreme Court has undermined the entire scheme of the Constitution of India. The order is against the basic structure of the Constitution viz independence of the judiciary, riding on which the Supreme Court had arrogatedto itself the power to appoint judges. Such a system of appointment exists nowhere else in the world. After establishing supremacy over executive in the appointment of judges the Supreme Court is now trying to subjugate the State High Court judges.

[Dr. P.S. Sahni & Shobha Aggarwal are members of PIL Watch Group which is mandated to closely watch the accountability and ethical standards of judiciary and conduct of judges. Email: [email protected]]


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Your honour! Stifling his right of expression Punishing him with incarceration Is nothing different from anticipation But continued centuries of strangulation Of justice generation after generation !

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