Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Nepotism in judiciary: Now there is a petition in Supreme Court!

Justice DY Chandrachud

Nepotism has often been alleged in giving jobs to people related to powerful politicians, bureaucrats and moneybags in the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu & Kashmir. 

Another bastion, that of higher judiciary, has now come under scrutiny as far as appointments at different levels are concerned. 

A petitioner has alleged in the Supreme Court that undue favours have been given in appointments to judicial posts to relatives of past and some present J&K High Court judges, and some powerful judges in the lower judiciary. Be it a judge in lower judiciary, or a clerk in the high court, the appointments have been made on extraneous considerations, the petition alleges.

At the first glance, it seems the apex court has taken cognisance of the stink that is rising from J&K and about which whispers were commonly heard. Among top bureaucrats, policemen, top lawyers and officials of the Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry. Some of these appointments were made in the two wings of the legislature, the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council as well, according to a Senior Lawyer who refused to be named. It was a question of who will bell the cat since the higher judiciary (read high court judges) is deemed all powerful and nobody wanted to take them on. This petition can bring certain uncomfortable facts to the fore and bring disrepute to many past judges, he explained.

A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Das heard the petition on Friday and passed interim orders for taking things further. In a significant order, the Bench asked Chief Justice of J&K and Ladakh High Court Justice Pankaj Mithal to file an affidavit on the issue. It is rather unusual and rarest of rare cases, as they say, for a sitting HC Chief Justice to get an order of this nature on the judicial side from the apex court.

“A significant averment has been made in the PIL about relatives of the existing members of the staff as well as former and present High Court judges getting engaged as staff in the legal offices,’’ the Bench said, while seeking a response within six weeks. In an apparent effort to insulate the affidavit from other judges of the high court, the SC ordered something unprecedented: “The High Court shall file its counter affidavit within six weeks. The concerned registrar shall get the affidavit vetted by the Chief Justice alone.’’ 

The petition has been filed by NGO, J&K People’s Forum, through 73-year-old Syed Nasrullah Shah. The petition alleges that all appointments from 2007 onwards smack of nepotism. Whether these appointments were made on ad hoc basis, or through advertisements, the petitioner said. This left little room for the general public to aspire and be appointed whether in the high court, subordinate judiciary, state judicial academy and legal services authority, it added. However, the cut-off date of 2007 seems rather odd as nepotism of this nature was seen earlier also in these appointments, according to a former Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM)

“Two sons and a daughter of the HC Staff Association came to be appointed, five close relatives of Justice Bashir Ahmad Kirmani, relatives of retired HC judges Mansoor Ahmad Mir, Nissar Ahmad Kakroo, M K Hanjura stand appointed. Wife of a CJM was similarly appointed. An orderly Ali Mohammad Bhat got all his three sons recruited and later one of his grandsons was also appointed,’’ the petition said. 

Incidentally, Justice D Y Chandrachud would become the 50th Chief Justice of India (CJI) on November 9, and remain in that post for over two years. On that day, a record will get created of the first father-son duo occupying the top judicial post in India. Albeit after a gap of nearly four decades as his father, Justice Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud was the 16th CJI from February 1978 to July 1985, for over seven years. As such, this is a petition which may cause considerable embarrassment to some former high court judges.

(Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000. He edits epaper.earthnews.in, a newspaper from Jammu presently.)

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