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Why Did The Modi Govt Not Impeach Allahabad High Court Judge Over Corruption Charge?

A view of the Allahabad High Court. (ANI Photo)

With the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) reportedly seeking sanction from the Allahabad High Court to prosecute its former judge SN Shukla for corruption, it could re-open the debate over why the Narendra Modi government didn’t pursue the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra to impeach the judge on charges of misconduct and judicial impropriety.

According to reports, the CBI has sought permission from the Allahabad High Court to charge-sheet Justice Shukla as an accused in a corruption case.

For over two years, the Centre sat on the CJI’s recommendation to initiate impeachment proceedings against Justice Shukla even though he was indicted by an in-house committee of judges headed by current Supreme Court judge Indira Banerjee, who was the then  Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, constituted by the CJI.

The committee, also comprising then Sikkim High Court Chief Justice S K Agnihotri and Madhya Pradesh High Court Judge PK Jaiswal, had in January 2018 concluded that there was “sufficient substance” in allegations against him. Eventually, the judge retired without ever going through the impeachment process or holding court for over two and a half years – the longest period ever when a sitting judge was not allotted judicial work – since work was withdrawn from him due to the seriousness of charges against him.

The inquiry committee had concluded that Justice Shukla had “disgraced the values of judicial life, acted in a manner unbecoming of a judge”, lowered the “majesty, dignity and credibility of his office” and had acted in breach of his oath of office. He, however, was allowed to retire and continues to draw all his post-retirement benefits too.

The main charge against the controversial judge is that in 2017, a bench headed by him arbitrarily gave relief to medical colleges debarred by the Union government from admitting students for two years. It was later found that not only did the bench headed by Justice Shukla pass the controversial order, he later even went to the extent of making unilateral changes to an order passed by his bench to provide undue benefit to the erring colleges, without consulting the other judge sitting with him.

The matter, later investigated by the CBI, came to be known as the Medical Council of India (MCI) Scandal and resulted in the arrest of former Orissa High Court judge I.M. Quddusi and some middlemen for their alleged involvement in attempts to “buy relief” from the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court.

After receiving a communication from the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court with regard to serious charges against Justice Shukla, the then CJI Dipak Misra wrote to Justice Shukla to resign or seek voluntary retirement. The judge, whoever, refused to do either.

CJI Misra’s successor – Ranjan Gogoi – later wrote to the President and the Prime Minister saying, “As the allegations against Justice Shukla were found by the committee to be so serious as to warrant the initiation of proceedings for his removal, he cannot be allowed to resume judicial work in any high court. In these circumstances, you are requested to consider further action.”

Under the Judges (Enquiry) Act, 1968, after the CJI writes to the President and the Prime Minister for removal of a high court judge, the Rajya Sabha chairperson has to initiate the process for impeachment of the judge. In Justice Shukla’s case, nothing of this sort happened. 

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Maneesh Chhibber is a Contributing Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.

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