Elusive For More Than a Month, Karnan Retires as High Court Judge
File photo of Justice C S Karnan. (Image: News18)
New Delhi: Justice C S Karnan retired on Sunday, after successfully frustrating for more than a month the Supreme Court order to arrest him and make him serve six months in jail for contempt.
With his retirement, an extraordinary chapter in the Indian legal history also ends. The Calcutta High Court judge, on May 9, had earned the dubious distinction of being the first and the only serving judge who was sentenced to a jail term.
On June 11, Karnan became the first judge who averted the execution of an order passed by a seven-judge bench of the apex court. And the second part is more worrying.
When Karnan was being held guilty under the Contempt of Courts Act, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, who was heading the seven-judge bench, said that he wanted to send out a message loud and clear that judiciary will not hesitate to act against even one of its own.
Senior lawyer K K Venugopal, who was assisting the court as amicus curiae, had suggested that the bench should let the HC judge complete his tenure but the CJI said there will be no separate treatment for a judge.
"We will create a blemish if we do not punish him just because he is a judge. Contempt has no different colours — for a common man or a judge. We cannot differentiate that he is a judge in acontempt case," Justice Khehar had emphasised.
The bench then directed West Bengal police chief to constitute a team to arrest Karnan immediately so that he serves his time behind bars.
But everything that happened after this order defies the very sanctity of judicial proceedings and makes all institutional virtue a suspect.
May 9 and still counting but the Supreme Court has still not passed its detailed order, specifying reasons why it held Karnan guilty of bringing disrepute to judiciary, judges and the judicial process. Even though the bench on May 9 said that the detailed order will follow, it is still in waiting.
To make the situation more intriguing, one of the seven judges on the bench, Justice P C Ghose, has retired on May 27. Therefore, if the detailed order was not prepared and signed by all the seven judges before Justice Ghose demitted his office, the sanctitude and legal correctness of the conviction would definitely not be unimpeachable and beyond questions.
All attempts by Karnan to seek a review of the order have also been snubbed by different benches of the top court on several occasions. But none of these benches ever bothered to ask the West Bengal police chief about compliance of May 9 order regarding Karnan's arrest.
Further, nobody has heard from the West Bengal police why Karnan could not be arrested till date although almost every alternate day, his signed letters, petitions and affidavits are being filed and distributed by his lawyers at various fora.
At the end of all this, we have 30 days:
* When the SC could not deliver a detailed judgment even though one of the judge on the bench retired
* When a sitting HC judge could not be tracked down by a special police team that has been camping in Tamil Nadu on the instructions of WB DGP
* When the Supreme Court didn't question the DGP about the whereabouts of Karnan even once although his lawyers kept seeking review of the order
* When Karnan retired, warding off his arrest as a HC judge, which could mean his removal from office not by the Parliament but under the contempt powers of the Supreme Court
One would wonder whether Justice Karnan's retirement without arrest is a good news or bad news for the Supreme Court bench, which created history by its order but fell short of sending a constitutional court judge behind bars. The bigger question still looms: Are law and judicial orders really equal for all?
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