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RTI petitions yield confusing information on receiving complaints about judges of superior courts
It looks like confusion exists within the judiciary itself about ways of dealing with errant judges. Two different RTI queries have yielded contradictory answers from former Chief Justice of India YK Sabharwal and the Department of Justice on the procedure to deal with complaints received by Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and high courts against judges of higher courts.
In October 2011, RTI activist Subhas Chandra Agrawal filed a query with the Department of Justice, seeking information on commissions constituted to probe tainted judges PD Dinakaran and Soumitra Sen. He also asked about the benefits allowed to judges who resign before enquiry or impeachment proceedings start; and powers of the chief justice of a high court and the Chief Justice of India to receive complaints against judges of superior courts and taking action against them.
In reply, the CPIO (chief public information officer) on 12th November provided a detailed response to his queries. He clearly mentioned the duties of the Chief Justice of India and that of a high court on receipt of a complaint against a judge belonging to a high court or Supreme Court—elaborately describing the procedure of filing complaints, setting up of probe committees and initiating action of removal of the said judge(s).
However, the information clearly contradicts a statement made by former Chief Justice YK Sabharwal, which was quoted in an RTI response from Supreme Court Registry dated 21st April 2006. Mr Agarwal had asked the same question, the reply to which quoted an order by the then chief justice that said, “Neither Supreme Court or Chief Justice of India is the appointing or disciplinary authority with respect to judges of superior courts, including judges of high courts.”
While the process of removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high court can be done only by the order of the president, complaints can be received by the chief justice of a high court and the Chief Justice of India regarding errant judges, and if the complaint is against the chief justice of a high court, it can be received by the president or the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, who may initiate probe and set up enquiry commissions against the judge.
However, the removal procedure is very complex, and till date only two judges—Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court and V Ramaswamy of the Madras High Court has faced impeachment proceedings in Parliament. Only the former was removed successfully.
According to our Constitution, the Chief Justice of India is consulted by the president regarding appointment of judges of high courts, and the chief justice of a high court is also consulted for appointment of other judges of a high court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is also consulted regarding transfer of judges of a high court.
YK Sabharwal has been a controversial figure, and there are many allegations against him about misusing his authority in order to favour his sons who are in real estate business. Referring to his statement, Mr Agrawal said, “Since two responses from Department of Justice and Supreme Court seem to contradict each other, I appeal that CPIO at Department of Justice may kindly be directed to reveal an exact position about competence of Chief Justices of Supreme Court and high courts in regard of handling complaints against judges of superior courts.”