COMMENT OPIATE TAHILRAMANI SUPREME COURT
By Tathagata Satpathy, ex-MP
THE SUPREME Court collegiums’ decision to transfer Madras High Court Chief Justice Tahilramani to a smaller high court in the North-East had created a sensation in legal circles, and also a media blitz that embarrassed the apex court a few weeks ago. Disclosures that came thereafter from high levels hinted that the collegium had valid reasons to arrive at such a decision. Tahilramani sought a reconsideration of the transfer order and when the apex court stuck to its decision, she put in her resignation and marched out. Now, another set of supposed revelations have been leaked out.
In what could be seen as an arbitrary manner, the Supreme Court did not think it necessary to explain the transfer. It’s quite understandable that the apex court cannot be expected to come up explanations for transfer of judges. However, this shroud of secrecy that has been followed by the higher judiciary in India since Independence has slowly started to erode public confidence on that majestic institution. No one may doubt that the former Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani could be inefficient, corrupt or mischievous. Given this premise, it is also necessary to give justice to the former Justice.
It is a known and accepted fact that superior judges have had many allegations leveled against them in the past few years. Reports of misdemeanors of judges are not uncommon in India. The recent allegation of a woman employee of the Supreme Court had surprised many. The manner in which that allegation was hushed up also raised eyebrows. Apart from this, the public revolt of four judges against the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra had also been a subject of debate for a long time. The government seeking to thwart the collegium system and the manner in which Supreme Court judges have constantly deflated Parliament’s wishes have not gone unnoticed.
We are not intellectually equipped to judge the judges. It’s not possible to say who was correct or wrong when the judiciary itself gets embroiled in controversies.
The case of Tahilramani is one such controversy. She, obviously, has been a long-serving judicial officer. Her pronouncements in matters that came up to her while she served in the Bombay High Court are not unknown. Her judgements definitely hurt the interests of the powers-that-be of today. Maybe because her presence was uncomfortable at Bombay high court, she was transferred to another huge high court – the Madras High Court. If Tahilramani, as is being made out now, was lazy and corrupt, then how come she managed to steadily climb the slippery steps of the judicial ladder to adorn such important seats?
The obvious thought that comes to mind is that if a person is guilty of any misdeed, that person would be very aware of what s/he has done. The misdeeds would take up major mind-space, especially in the mind of a senior judicial executive. Now, when one reads allegations against her for which the CJI has asked the CBI to investigate, vis-a-vis her personal accumulation of wealth and properties, it is not easy to justify either side.
Had the former judge been so very guilty, it can be presumed that she would be scared of a chance of her wrongdoings being discovered. Normally, such an individual would not dare to challenge the ultimate judicial authority even if so much dirt was stuck to her. It can be presumed that a judge guilty of corrupt and inefficient practice would prefer to meekly accept a so-called downgrading and continue to remain protected. But Tahilramani defied not only the political establishment but also her own judicial bosses. The people are also aware as to how organisations like the CBI, ED and the IT Department are being constantly used – and more so today — by those at the helm of authority to harass anyone who stands up for the truth anywhere.
If Tahilramani was so corrupt and inefficient, the Supreme Court collegium could have suspended or got her impeached to ensure that such a bad character does not get to sit anymore in the high seat of judicial power.
Unfortunately, the judges of the Supreme Court did not deem it fit to initiate any action against her except her transfer. If thought out on a logical platform, Tahilramani might seem more wronged against than having committed wrongs. The way she stood up and resigned demonstrated her determination, which can only be derived from a great inner strength. The action that has been launched against her now may seem an afterthought to control the damage that her resignation has wreaked on the system.
Admittedly, however, these are not issues for us commoners to sit in judgment over. However, as common citizens of a free and democratic country, it’s difficult to avoid having one’s own assumptions and presumptions, when faced with such situations as Tahilramani has faced now.
—The writer is a former but long-serving Member of Parliament and runs a media group that produces Dharitri, the Oriya daily, and Orissa Post, the English newspaper, based out of Bhubaneswar. –IHN-NN