Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi: The NDA government said on Monday that they were surprised and intrigued by the conspicuous silence of the then PM Manmohan singh over allegations made by former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju that three ex-Chief Justices of India made `improper compromises` during UPA rule in retaining a judge in Tamil Nadu under corruption cloud, as per sources.
The Central government also said that as per propriety Manmohan Singh should reply to the allegations, but added at the same time that the present dispensation could not enquire the role of the judge as he was no more.
At the same time sources also said that according to the BJP-led government at the Centre the revelations made by Katju underlined the urgent need for alternative mechanism for judicial appointments.
A controversy erupted today over an allegation Katju, who is due to retire as Chairman of Press Council of India in October, that three ex-Chief Justices of India made compromises during UPA rule in retaining a corrupt judge.
The allegation on how an unnamed additional judge of Madras High Court was given extension at the instance of UPA-I government owing to pressure from an ally, a `Tamil Nadu party`, apparently DMK, and then confirmed as a permanent judge led to an uproar in Parliament by AIADMK MPs even as questions were raised by parties like Congress on its timing.
Katju made the charge while alleging how the three former CJIs - Justices RC Lahoti, YK Sabharwal and KG Balakrishnan - made `improper compromises` in allowing the judge to continue in office despite an `adverse` Intelligence Bureau (IB) report on allegations of corruption against him. There was no immediate reaction from the three ex-CJIs, PTI reported.
"These three former CJIs made improper compromises. Justice Lahoti who started it, then Justice Sabharwal and then Justice Balakrishnan. These are CJIs who can surrender. Is a CJI going to surrender to political pressure or not going to surrender to political pressure?," Katju, who became the Chief Justice of Madras High Court in November 2004, told TV channels.
Katju, who was a Supreme Court judge from 2006 to 2011, was appointed as the PCI Chairman on October 5, 2011 and is due to retire on October 4 this year.
"The fact is that they (ex-CJIs) did succumb," Katju said when asked what made them `succumb` to political pressure.
"When there was an adverse IB report saying that this man is corrupt what was the justification of extending his term as a HC judge. All the CJIs made improper compromises," he said
"There was no justification for giving him another term of one year and then Justice Lahoti retired. Justice Sabharwal also I think once or twice gave him term as additional judge and then he also retired. Justice Balakrishnan made this judge permanent judge although he transferred him to another High Court," he said.
Katju said he came to know that the reason for all this was that at that time the UPA-I government was dependent on allies for support and one of them was a `Tamil Nadu party`, one of whose leaders was given bail by the additional judge when he was a district judge.
"That leader was a solid supporter of this corrupt judge," he said, adding pressure was sought to be put on the Manmohan Singh government so that there was no threat to it.
Asked why he was making this disclosure several years after this episode, a rattled Katju said the timing was "immaterial" and instead the matter should be probed to find out whether it was correct or not.
AIADMK, an arch rival of DMK, forced adjournment of the Rajya Sabha twice during Question Hour over Katju`s allegations.
In the Lok Sabha, the AIADMK charged DMK and the erstwhile UPA government with "interfering" in the appointment of the judge under question.
Katju said when he was heading the Madras High Court he got many reports that the additional judge concerned was allegedly indulging in corruption prompting him to request the then CJI Justice Lahoti to get a secret IB inquiry made.
He claimed that the IB report found the allegations to be true and said the judge should have been sacked.
The PCI Chief said since the two-year term as additional judge of that person was coming to an end he presumed he would be discontinued as judge.
"But to my utter shock I came to know he was been given another extension when an adverse IB report was there."
Katju said that the additional judge was not a permanent judge and that they he may or may not be confirmed.
Katju said the matter had come to a three-judge collegium of the apex court of which Lahoti and Sabharwal were among the members and it was recommended that the addtional judge should not be continued in office.
He said on coming to know of the recommendation of the collegium the `Tamil Nadu-based party` reportedly objected to it.
Katju said the information he got was that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at that time leaving for New York to attend the UN General Assembly session.
At the Delhi airport, he was told by ministers of the `Tamil Nadu party` that by the time he returned from New York his government would have fallen as their party would withdraw support to the UPA (for not continuing that additional judge). Katju, however, said he had no personal knowledge about this.
Katju said the reports he had was that Singh panicked, but he was told by a senior Congress minister not to worry, and that he would manage everything.
That minister then went to Justice Lahoti and told him there would be a "crisis" if that additional judge was discontinued, he said.
On hearing this, Justice Lahoti sent a letter to the Government of India to give another term of one year as additional judge to that "corrupt judge", he claimed.
Katju wondered whether Justice Lahoti consulted his two Supreme Court collegium members and concluded it was in these circumstances this "corrupt" judge was given another one-year term.
Congress leader HR Bharadwaj, who was the Union Law Minister at that time, claimed that no "undue favours" were given to the judge because proper procedure was followed.
"So far as political threats to a coalition government is concerned there were always pressure(from allies) on appointment of judges which I never yielded," he said.
With PTI inputs