Former SC judge demands probe into assets of ex-CJI’s son-in-law

Konakuppakatil Gopinathan Balakrishnan, Chief ...

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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM/KOCHI: Barely weeks after firefighting the controversy over a central minister trying to influence an HC judge, former chief justice of India K G Balakrishnan has come under the spotlight again. Demands have emerged from several quarters for a probe into the assets of Balakrishnan’s son-in-law, P V Sreenijan, an advocate and a leader of the Youth Congress in Kerala.

The move comes in the wake of reports claiming a “baffling increase” in Sreenijan’s assets in recent years.

Former Supreme Court judge Justice V R Krishna Iyer demanded that a high-powered panel be deputed to inquire into the charges against Justice Balakrishnan’s family. In a statement, Iyer requested the President to seek Balakrishnan’s resignation from the post of chairman of National Human Rights Commission.

He also demanded a probe to find the truth about Balakrishnan’s statement regarding then Madras High Court chief justice H L Gokhale’s letter that a central minister had tried to influence a judge of that court.

Reiterating the demand, CPM youth wing state president M B Rajesh said a probe was necessary as the needle of suspicion also pointed to the former CJI. “These allegations have the potential to affect the credibility of the judiciary which is why we are demanding a thorough investigation,” Rajesh said.

In an affidavit filed before the state election commission in 2006, Sreenijan, who contested as a candidate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front had stated that he and his wife possessed only Rs 25,000 in cash. The couple had 23 gold sovereigns and 29.32 cents (a measure of land in Kerala) of land in Thiruvankulam, a Kochi suburb.

However, all that seems to have changed since, as revealed by a TV channel. The report quoting the 2009 income tax papers of the duo says that Sreenijan and his advocate wife K B Soni, had annual income of Rs 25 lakh and Rs 15 lakh, respectively. Soni is the daughter of the former CJI.

The couple also entered into three property deals, which are under a scanner. These involve more than 2.5 acres of riverside land in Sreenijan’s name in Thrissur, 20 cents in the couple’s name in Elamakkara in Ernakulam district and a commercial space in Kochi.

Allegations are that the documented price of these properties was much less than the existing market rates. For instance, the land in Elamakkara in Kochi is shown as purchased at a price of merely Rs 30 lakh while its current price is worth crores of rupees.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala said he had not received any complaint against Sreenijan. However, he had seen the news and would inquire into what has been claimed.

Sreenijan did not respond to repeated calls on his cellphone.

Read more: Former SC judge demands probe into assets of ex-CJI’s son-in-law – The Times of India


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Contrary to the prime minister’s recent assurances – and despite valid concerns from corporate leaders regarding phone tapping in light of the Niira Radia tapes – it is astounding that the government has asked telecom companies to enhance their tapping capabilities. The Department of Telecommunications has asked operators to put in place systems that would enable them to tap 1 per cent of their subscribers simultaneously and make provisions for as much as 5 per cent – at least 35 million subscribers according to conservative estimates. If followed through, the directive will have the effect of turning the country into a surveillance society. Given the grave implications, increased phone-tapping powers should not be granted when reason demands a healthy balance between privacy and security concerns.

What is worse is that the directive demands that private telecom companies provide the infrastructure needed for surveillance. This is a serious blow to accountability. In most countries phone-tapping technology is developed, controlled and implemented by the government, which at the end of the day is accountable to the people. However, if the primary responsibility of putting in place such systems were to be with private companies, it would leave the door wide open for manipulation and indiscriminate large-scale tapping. Even today it is unclear who leaked the Radia tapes and what the real motivation was. Unbridled powers to tap phones would not only make it difficult for corporations to conduct their affairs with any degree of confidentiality, but also hurt foreign investment in India.

The government’s authority to tap phones draws its legal validity from the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act. Following the landmark PUCL vs Union of India case in 1996, the Supreme Court had laid down certain procedural guidelines to conduct legal interceptions. This included making the home secretary of the union and state governments the sanctioning authority. It also provided for a high-level review committee to investigate the relevance of such orders. But such caution has been thrown to winds in recent directives from government bodies as well as phone tapping incidents that have come to light.

The right to privacy is one of the most fundamental entitlements of a democratic society. Diluting it is tantamount to moving towards a totalitarian regime reminiscent of the Soviet Union. Stringent safeguards are needed to ensure that phone taps are carried out in exceptional circumstances with adequate checks and balances. Otherwise we are heading, as Ratan Tata recently suggested, towards a banana republic.