New Delhi, March 16: The judge-tampering controversy is unlikely to die a natural death like its predecessor.
Justice S.N. Variava, who disclosed yesterday that someone had approached him to find out whether a judge in a fodder scam case could be changed, has taken suo motu cognisance of the matter and listed it as the first item to be heard in open court tomorrow.
When the hearing begins, a plea is expected to be raised before the court to reveal the identity of the person who contacted the judge.
Justice Variava had said it was someone from 'the high court', presumably the one in Patna where a special court is hearing a disproportionate assets case against Laloo Prasad Yadav. The judge, who presides over a bench that is hearing a bail cancellation plea against Laloo Prasad, has sent an 'oral notice' to the minister's counsel, B.B. Singh.
Variava initiated the move to pursue the issue after a 'chamber decision' (closed-door meeting with fellow judges of the bench), Singh told The Telegraph. 'The court officer of the judge sent me the message that the judge in a chamber decision has taken suo motu cognisance of the issue and that the matter will come as the first item for hearing tomorrow,' Singh said.
'We will press for the disclosure of the identity of the person who approached the judge and seek action against him or her,' he added.
This is the first time that a judge has decided to follow through a disclosure as explosive as this.
In 1996, Justice J.S. Varma, who was hearing the Jain hawala case, had said in court that 'someone' had approached him but the matter was not pursued further.
There was an opinion among judicial circles then that though such revelations have a deterrence value, it would be far more effective if the matter was pursued vigorously and those who tried to influence the judiciary were exposed and brought to book.
By pressing ahead with the issue, Justice Variava has opened a new chapter in Indian judiciary. Bar Council of India counsel T. Raja said the matter is in the 'exclusive domain' of the judge.
However, the council will discuss the issue. 'Depending upon tomorrow's development and the type of action that Justice Variava would initiate, we will watch the developments keenly and discuss the issue,' Raja said.
He suggested that the person who approached the judge might have done so hoping that the judge will recuse himself from the case. Such tactics are used to 'remove judges who cannot be convinced, confused, coerced or corrupted', Raja added.
The controversy echoed in Parliament, too, with law minister H.R. Bhardwaj saying that the government would not allow anybody to 'browbeat' the judiciary 'this side or that side'.
But the minister said the government has no role to play and it is up to the judiciary to order an inquiry. 'We will welcome an open inquiry, a judicial inquiry, into the matter,' he told the Rajya Sabha.