TIMES OF INDIA
NEW DELHI: Acknowledging that certain individuals with doubtful integrity were elevated within the higher judiciary, former Chief Justice of India JS Verma — who had envisaged the collegium system of judicial appointments — said a national commission should be put in place to ensure greater transparency. This comes on the back of growing pressure for greater transparency and accountability in judicial appointments.
Justice Verma – who wrote the 1993 Supreme Court judgment that was institutionalized in the form of a collegium – said his judgment had not been properly implemented and errors had occurred because of “improper working”. Asked if the greatest error was that “the wrong sort of person has either been elevated or made it to a Chief Justice”, he bluntly responded, “Correct”.
Asked in an interview on TV news channel CNN-IBN if, as CJI in 1997, he had first recommended and then withdrawn approval for a High Court judge to be made chief justice of an HC, Justice Verma said, “Well, the prime minister rang me up and said he’ll clear it, because it has come from me, but he had disturbing reports about his integrity. I said don’t clear it, send it back to me. I withdrew the recommendation and also told two of my colleagues in the Supreme Court who had recommended his appointment that this is not the thing to be done and I also rang up that particular judge himself and told him I’m withdrawing your recommendation.”
When asked whether one of his successors, Justice A S Anand, who knew about the incident, later promoted the judge and whether the judge was Justice Ashok Agarwal, Justice Verma responded, “Well, let us not take names”.
Justice Verma added that several people whom he had not considered suitable were elevated after he retired, giving credence to the belief that judicial appointments were not as fair and transparent as made out to be.
In another revelation, the former CJI cited the case of Justice M M Punchhi, whose impeachment had been sought by the campaign for judicial accountability. Justice Verma said he was willing to permit the allegations to be probed but the political executive refused to allow this. When asked if former PM Inder Kumar Gujral refused to accept that an FIR be lodged against Punchhi, Justice Verma said, “Well, that’s what he clearly said. And also the President, who did not say it directly, he said it through the prime minister. That was all I could do.”
Underlining his willingness to have Punchhi probed, Justice Verma explained, “Because the allegations, if proved, were serious and therefore they required to be investigated, so that one could know whether they were true or not.” He acknowledged that Justice Punchhi was later elevated to CJI despite facing what he called “serious allegations”.
Justice Verma was also clear in his stand against former CJI K G Balakrishnan‘s continuance as National Human Rights Commission chairman. Asked if Balakrishnan should demit office in the face of allegations of financial irregularities, Justice Verma said, “He should have demitted long back and if he doesn’t do it voluntarily, the government should persuade him to do that, otherwise, proceed to do whatever can be done to see that he demits office.”
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