TIMES OF INDIA SEPTEMBER 29,2009
It has been a long, hard summer for the judiciary and there is no respite on the horizon. From a heated debate about the declaration of judges’ assets, it has stumbled directly into an ugly controversy regarding the elevation of P D Dinakar. As reported in The Hindu on September 16, a letter of complaint by several lawyers from the Chennai Bar has made allegations against him relating to “land grabbing and other irregularities”.
Cue the claims and counter-claims . The report reveals that eminent lawyers like Fali S Nariman and Shanti Bhushan have weighed in on the complainants’ side. Dinakaran himself has denied the allegations of course, saying, as quoted by Nagendar Sharma and Satya Prakash in Hindustan Times on September 17, “I come from a rich agrarian family… My legal career is an open book and I do not need to indulge in such wrongdoings”.
The Dravida Kazagham and certain advocates of the Madras High Court have mounted a more unusual defence on his behalf. A September 23 Financial Express report reveals that that they “have counter-charged that he was a victim of a vilification campaign, for being ‘a South Indian and a Dalit’.”
The most interesting aspect of the entire affair is the way it has gone beyond a specific allegation of corruption to re-examine judicial accountability as a whole. As Vinay Sitapati points out in the Indian Express on September 21, “a collegium of the five senior-most Supreme Court judges shortlist nominees themselves, then decide among these names. There is no political oversight – either executive or legislative – nor is there a forum for the public to air grievances”.
Nariman has been particularly vocal, raising several important issues in an interview with Shekhar Gupta carried in the Indian Express on September 21. Among the more troubling points he makes is that “the greatest problem with our courts, high courts particularly, is the problem of caste. If you are a lawyer belonging to a particular caste appearing before a judge of such and such caste, you will either lose or win depending upon your caste”. He goes on to push the idea of a judicial ombudsman as a check built into the system to “inquire into the complaints against High Court judges and Supreme Court judges. Keep it to himself, quietly consult the Chief Justice, take his views and move in a particular direction”. There are opponents to this point of view, such as former CJI J S Verma. Ajmer Singh reports in Mail Today on September 22 that Verma believes an ombudsman would challenge the CJI’s authority, and instead recommends a “national judicial commission, headed by the vice- president and with members from the executive and judiciary”. While the collegium debates what to do about Dinakaran, the only consensus seems to be that there are serious lacunae in the Indian judicial system.