Fall Season At August Office





The pressure has for long been mounting on K.G. Balakrishnan, former chief justice of India, to quit his post as chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) with the revelation that his brother and two sons-in-law are in possession of unaccounted-for wealth. Many jurists, including former judges of the Supreme Court, are asking why, considering that all that wealth seems to have been acquired during his January 2007-May 2010 tenure as CJI, he has neither come clean nor resigned so far. This when the income tax department too has confirmed that the former CJI’s relatives are in possession of black money.

Though the income tax department hasn’t yet put a value to those assets, according to estimates submitted to the apex court by a petitioner, advocate Manoharlal Sharma, the properties involved alone are worth Rs 15 crore. On February 19, Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia not only admitted Sharma’s PIL seeking a judicial inquiry into the assets of Balakrishnan and his relatives, he summoned attorney-general Ghoolam Vahanwati to enquire about a more damning complaint against the  former CJI, filed by Dr Mohammed Furqaan, a Delhi-based doctor and activist.

Furqaan’s complaint was filed on May 4, 2010, and copies were sent to the vice-president, the Lok Sabha speaker and Justice Kapadia. It alleges that a judgement by Balakrishnan in a family dispute involving a corporate house headed by two brothers was influenced through a common contact, Yusuf Ali, a Dubai-based NRI businessman. Ali is alleged to have mediated between Balakrishnan’s relatives and the brothers affiliated with the corporate house. Ali’s website, incidentally, has a picture of him with Balakrishnan and another of him with one of the brothers. The vice-president’s office had forwarded Furqaan’s complaint to the Union home ministry, which in turn sent it to the CBI. The Kochi office of the CBI is on the job.

There is concern in the legal fraternity about the accusations against Balakrishnan. “These are very serious allegations,” says J.S. Verma, a former CJI. “Going by Furqaan’s allegations, if there are  pictures of the Dubai-based businessman with him and the leader of a corporate house, whose case he heard, it is even worse. He should not keep quiet; he should speak up to clear the allegations. And if there’s nothing against him, he should ensure that people levelling charges against him are booked. Otherwise, the law should take its course against him.” There are other questions from Sharma, who has filed the pil: How can Balakrishnan head the NHRC when there’s a probe against him, and how can he hear cases when he himself faces so many allegations? It’s a question, Sharma says, of people’s faith in the commission.

One of Balakrishnan’s sons-in-law, P.V. Srinijan, a lawyer who was associated with the Youth Congress, is also being investigated by the vigilance & anti-corruption bureau of the  Kerala government, based on a complaint from one Shamir Valavattu of Mattancherry, Kochi. Among the properties acquired by Srinijan—during 2008-11—are expensive flats and riverside plots. E.T. Lukose, I-T director-general (investigations), told Outlook these assets—some of which were listed at values below current market assessment—were being probed by his department too. More complaints have been filed against Balakrishnan and his relatives in the last three months: George Battukulam of Malayalavedi, an NGO, filed one in Thrissur, in January, and there’s another, filed in Thiruvananthapuram by one Francis Pradeeplal. As Hosbet Suresh, a former judge of the Bombay High Court, says, “The number of complaints against Balakrishnan certainly calls for some serious thinking. I’m glad the Supreme Court has taken note of the matter and asked the government to keep it informed about the status of the investigations.”

He also makes a larger point—that although there were some complaints before, such as those against Y.K. Sabharwal, another former CJI, involving property deals in Delhi, they were unfortunately never taken up in earnest, creating the impression that if anyone raises a voice against judges, he would run the risk of inviting contempt proceedings. “Every single complaint should be looked into in order to uphold faith in the judiciary.” It’s something judges ought to think about.

‘I Don’t Want To Share My PAN Card Details’

Former CJI defends himself against charges that his relatives have acquired assets disproportionate to their known sources of income.

Former CJI K.G. Balakrishnan spoke to Outlook to defend himself against charges that his relatives have acquired assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. Excerpts:

A complaint demanding a CBI probe and a PIL demanding a judicial inquiry is pending against you and your relatives. Is there a campaign against you?

Yes. This is a campaign to malign my image.

The Supreme Court has asked for a status report on the investigations following the complaint.

I do not want to say anything more as the matter is subjudice.

Why did you refuse to share your income-tax returns after an RTI was filed in this regard?

Asset declaration was an information required to be made public. I declared my assets. The language I used in the reply is: “I would not like to share my personal details like PAN details etc.” These are my personal details. I don’t want to share them. I have nothing to hide.

Your son-in-law P.V. Srinijan also refused to disclose his income-tax returns. Shouldn’t he have done that?

He is a different individual. These questions should be asked to him. I have no idea about the reasons behind his refusal.

The PIL seeking a judicial probe levelled many allegations.

It is not appropriate to talk about these issues now. The matter is before the court.

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