Former CJI KG Balakrishnan's word of caution on Justice Muralidhar's shift from Delhi High Court
Former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has said the government should have been a “little careful” while issuing the “midnight” order transferring Justice S. Muralidhar from Delhi High Court to the high court of Punjab and Haryana.
The former CJI’s comment comes amid a row over the timing of the judge’s transfer and claims that the move was to punish an “honest and courageous” judicial officer.
The Union law and justice ministry had issued the transfer order on February 26 — the day a bench headed by Justice Muralidhar expressed “anguish” over Delhi police’s failure to register FIRs against alleged hate speeches by three BJP leaders.
The government has said the transfer had nothing to do with any case as the Supreme Court collegium had already made a recommendation to this effect, and the judge had also given his consent.
Justice Balakrishnan, who was speaking to PTI over the phone on Friday, said it was mere coincidence that the final transfer notification was issued on the day Justice Muralidhar passed the order on the hate speeches because the shift had already been contemplated by the Supreme Court collegium a week ago.
“I don’t know on what date the transfer issue came up before the collegium,” he told the news agency.
The former CJI said Justice Muralidhar’s transfer had nothing to do with the observations he made while hearing the Delhi violence case but added: “When the situation in the country is so volatile and media and others are active, the government should have been a little careful while issuing such a midnight transfer order as there are chances of people thinking otherwise. The people could interpret differently.”
Moreover, Justice Balakrishnan said, Justice Muralidhar did not take up the Delhi violence case on his own.
As the high court’s chief justice, Justice D.N. Patel, was on leave that day and he being the third senior judge, Justice Muralidhar had headed that particular bench which heard the case, the former CJI said.
Justice Balakrishnan also said he did not think that Justice Muralidhar was asked to join on the next day itself in Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Normally, when such a transfer order is issued, a joining time of not less than seven days is given to enable the transferred judge to prepare himself for the new posting, Justice Balakrishnan added.
An NGO — the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) — had on Thursday condemned the transfer of Justice Muralidhar, claiming the move was to punish an “honest and courageous” judicial officer.
The government’s notification stated that the President took the decision after consulting the Chief Justice of India. It, however, does not mention when Justice Muralidhar has to take charge of his office.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Justice Muralidhar was transferred following the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium, asserting that a “well-settled process” had been followed.
The CJAR said it was aware that Justice Muralidhar’s transfer had been recommended by the collegium on February 12 but the rushed manner in which the government had issued the notification could not be ignored.