Judges bribery case: Why the crisis seems far from resolving
The court said the conduct of Prashant Bhushan was 'unethical' and amounted to 'forum shopping'.
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The dust seems to have settled, at least for now. The Supreme Court today (November 14) dismissed the PIL filed by advocate Kamini Jaiswal seeking an SIT probe into the medical college admission scam case. (An FIR in the case by the CBI had named unknown public officials and allegations were made against the chief justice of India, Dipak Misra.)
The three-judge bench led by justice RK Agarwal held that the conduct of senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan was unethical and amounted to "forum shopping" - a practice adopted by litigants to get their cases heard by a particular court for a favorable judgment.
The court went on to say that Bhushan repeatedly made allegations without verifying the facts. It was of the opinion that Bhushan's conduct was contemptuous. However, it did not initiate contempt proceedings against him and others.
The court, in its order, said the FIR was not against any judge and the law currently does not permit that an FIR can be filed against a judge. It also held that the allegations against the CJI are baseless and there was no need to seek his recusal.
Justice Arun Mishra, reading the order, said that the CJI is competent to assign the matter and observed that seeking recusal of Justice Khanwilkar was further damaging to the institution.
The SC said damage has been done to the institution and unnecessary doubts raised on it for no reason. The court said it was not initiating contempt proceedings against Prashant Bhushan or Kamini Jaiswal in the hope and expectation that the bar and bench shall stand united.
It ended by saying that whosoever and however powerful and mighty is not above law, not even the judges or the Supreme Court.
What happened on November 13
In a hearing that lasted for over 90 minutes on Monday (November 13), the three-judge bench of justices RK Agarwal, AM Khanwilkar and Arun Mishra heard the plea of Jaiswal seeking an SIT probe into the medical examination scam.
Justice Mishra on the bench raised questions of impropriety on part of Prashant Bhushan alleging him of "forum shopping". The bench questioned Bhushan as to why he took the CJI's name when there is no direct allegation against him.
Mincing no words, justice Mishra observed, "You mentioned the case on Wednesday and then again mentioned a similar plea on Friday. Did you want a specific judge to hear the matter? Did you want the matter to be heard by only court number 2? Who should hear the matter is decided by you? Are you exercising the power on behalf of the CJI?"
Justice Mishra also expressed his concern over the image of judiciary and the eventual loss of respect due to the ongoing events at the Supreme Court.
"...Senior lawyers of this court casting aspersions on the CJI? Damage is already done to the institution. Everyone is looking at the institution with suspicion. Everyone is doubting this court," observed justice Mishra.
The court told Bhushan point blank, "Is it not per se contempt the way CJI's name has been drawn into the controversy? Any person can claim to a client that they can influence the judges. Do the judges become liable?"
After being repeatedly accused of contempt, Bhushan responded, "We mentioned the matter again on Friday because there was a last-minute change in the listing of the first petition. Court number 2 is the senior-most court after the CJI. We believed that CJI should not have heard this petition. We believe that CJI should have recused himself from the case both on the judicial and the administrative side."
Bhushan went on to question the bench and asked, "Would heavens have fallen had the five senior-most judges heard the case?"
The war of words continued with justice Mishra responding, "No attempt to shield any individual. All courts are similar and all courts are equal? Why did you want the case to be listed before one specific judge?"
Bhushan interjected, "If all courts and judges are equal then what was the need to overrule justice Chelameswar's order?"
Bhushan, accompanied by his father Shanti Bhushan, argued extensively and told the court that the bench led by justice Agarwal is not fit to hear the case.
"This bench should not hear the case since one of the judges [justice Khanwilkar ] in this bench also heard the MCI matters."
Attorney general KK Venugopal, who made a surprise entry from the judge's forum, began by clarifying that it is impossible to enter the jam-packed courtroom through ordinary doors.
He argued that the Supreme Court today is facing a crisis which has been brought by this case. There is a crisis of confidence. It is wrongly submitted in the petition that the CJI cannot hear the case.
"It is per se contempt to say that judges are so amenable. It brings the administration of justice into disrepute. Allegations made are irresponsible, intemperate and reckless. The bar and bench has been split because of this case. Peace and harmony need to be restored for the institution," argued Venugopal.
The hearing ended with an open warning to Prashant Bhushan when he insisted that the FIR by the CBI is sensitive and puts serious allegations. Bhushan went on to say that the matter has been continuously dealt by CJI bench in Supreme Court and even the current bench is not fit to hear the case.
In a possible warning, justice Mishra said, "Mr Bhushan you are aggravating the situation. You have not taken the cue from the attorney general (the A-G argued on how contempt of court can be initiated against petitioner). You have filed two identical pleas, it's a deliberate attempt to scandalise this court."