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Call to stop tainted judges’ pay

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The Chief Justice of India should have powers to take action against corrupt judges, including stopping payment of their salary, G.B. Pattanaik, who retired as the Chief Justice today, has said.

All that the Chief Justice can do at present is to recommend “impeachment” of a judge. He can also ask a judge to proceed on leave or not accept any judicial work, but the judge concerned could defy the order, Pattanaik told The Telegraph.

After an inquiry committee found three Punjab and Haryana High Court judges guilty of misusing their offices, Pattanaik has asked one to go on leave. As another is set to retire in a couple of months “no action” has been taken. The third has been “deprecated”.

Constitutionally, “removal” of a judge is possible only through a vote in Parliament. This leads to MPs sometimes taking sides along regional lines and “there is this north, south, east or west aspects”, Pattanaik said. He was hinting at an earlier attempt to impeach Justice Ramaswamy on charges of corruption, which was scuttled by MPs from the south.

“The government could amend the service conditions of the judges so that the chief justice can stop the payment of salary to the judge concerned,” Pattanaik suggested. “I have to see whether the Constitution has to be amended for this or a simple amendment to the service conditions of the judges is enough.”

The three tainted Punjab and Haryana High Court judges — Justice Amar Singh Gill, Justice Mehtab Singh and Justice Singhal — were “prima facie” involved in the state public service commission scam. An inquiry committee, as per the “in-house” procedure established by the Supreme Court, found that the three had misused their offices.

But all that Pattanaik could do was to ask Gill to go on leave “till retirement”, “deprecate” Mehtab and “exonerate” Singhal.

“Here, too, a judge, who in fact has not defied the Chief Justice of India’s direction and proceeded on leave could still sleep at home till retirement and enjoy the salary and all the perks. So, if the salary and perks are cut, the judge concerned himself would quit office,” Pattanaik said.

Perks for a judge include a palatial bungalow, personal and official staff, official car and other privileges.

Asked if giving the chief justice the right to block pay would not amount to vesting too much power in one individual, Pattanaik said: “Let there be a committee to effect stoppage of salary to the judge concerned. This committee could have the Chief Justice of India as a member.”

On allegations of “immoral” conduct against a few Karnataka High Court judges, Pattanaik said there was no report from the inquiry committee, which was of the opinion that there was lack of evidence and witnesses did not come forward to depose.

“Give us some clue... you people publish reports about certain incidents... why don’t you give us some clue at least'” he asked.

But would the press be protected from contempt of court' “Certainly you will be protected. If you, the press, go to a chief justice and give him some evidence or even a clue, no chief justice of any high court is going to put you in trouble,” Pattanaik asserted.

As there was no report on the Karnataka judges, their transfer to some other high court could not be opposed by lawyers on the ground that “tainted judges” were being transferred to their court, he said. Pattanaik added that he saw “no reason” in the agitation of Guwahati lawyers who had protested the transfer of two Karnataka judges to Gauhati High Court.

“Then you have to scrap the ‘transfer’ chapter from the Constitution itself. How can you say ’don’t transfer this judge or that judge to our high court’'” Pattanaik asked.

The National Judicial Commission, too, would not be able to solve the problem, he said. “When a five-judge collegium could not meet as often as it should, how will the judicial commission, with the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, the chief justice and others as members be able to'” Pattanaik asked.

As an immediate remedy, the chief justice or a committee including the chief justice should be empowered to stop the salary and perks of a judge found conclusively to be corrupt, Pattanaik repeated. Only then would there be tangible action.

Pattanaik also opined that “truth is no defence” in contempt cases “may not be” the correct proposition. The judge concerned should also be able to “rebut” the charges. A “methodology” should be developed so that the contemner gets a chance to defend himself with the “truth” and the judge gets a chance to “rebut” it.

The outgoing chief justice described his 46-day tenure as “tense”. “There were corruption cases against judges. I was to take a decision and there were so many other difficult decisions. Now I am relieved,” he said.

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