In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court on Friday issued bailable warrants against sitting Calcutta High Court judge C S Karnan to secure his presence before it on March 31, in a suo motu contempt case for denigrating the judicial institution.
Justice Karnan will be the first serving HC judge in the country’s judicial history against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in a contempt case for alleged misconduct and for disparaging remarks against HC and SC judges calculated to “lower the dignity of the judicial institution”.
A seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar directed the director general of police, West Bengal, to serve the bailable warrant “personally” and ensure his presence at 10.30 am on March 31. Taking note of justice Karnan’s non-appearance, the seven senior-most judges said that despite service, wherein the personal presence of the judge was “imperative, he has neither entered appearance in person, nor through counsel”. Justice Khehar also told attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi that justice Karnan had sent a fax message sent to the apex court registry on March 8 seeking a meeting with the CJI to discuss “certain administrative issues”.
However, the bench in its order on Friday said this fax message did not qualify as a response to the contempt notice issued to justice Karnan. The bench said that despite a time of almost a month given to him, justice Karnan did not deem it necessary to enter appearance personally or through a counsel before the SC in response to the contempt notice.
“The letter dated March 8, 2017 cannot be treated as a response to Justice C S Karnan… In view of the above position in the matter, we seek the presence of Justice CS Karnan by issuing bailable warrants with the sum of R10,000 in the nature of a personal bond to the satisfaction of the arresting officer,” the bench ordered. However, justice Karnan later in the day hit back at the Supreme Court for issuing a bailable warrant against him, calling it “unconstitutional” and alleged he was being targeted for being a Dalit.
Justice Karnan also issued an ‘order’ of registration of a case under the appropriate sections of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989 on the Chief Justice of India, six other judges and the Attorney General. Addressing a press conference at his residence, justice Karnan said the apex court has “no locus standi” to issue a bailable warrant against a sitting judge. He said that “only a motion of impeachment can be initiated against a sitting judge of the higher judiciary before the Parliament after due enquiry under the Judges’ Enquiry Act”.
The ‘order’ issued by Karnan directed the CBI “to register, investigate and file a report before the appropriate CBI court under article 226 read with section 482 CrPC to prevent abuse of process of any court and to secure the ends of justice invoking my inherent powers of this honourable court”.
“I further direct the secretary-generals of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to place the entire facts of the case before the Speaker for appropriate enquiry under the Judges Enquiry Act. Consequently I ask the President of India to recall the bailable warrant illegally issued by the SC against me and lift non-work allotment ban of portfolio allocation,” he said.
Last month, the bench had given one more chance to Karnan to appear, saying, “We are not aware of reasons for his non-appearance.” The apex court had asked Karnan to appear before the court in person in connection with suo motu contempt proceedings. It had also forthwith restrained justice Karnan from undertaking any judicial and administrative work on February 8. Contempt proceedings were initiated by the bench against justice Karnan after he continuously levelled allegations against the Madras High Court chief justice and other judges. He had also written to various dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, the chief justice of India, the Union law minister and others levelling corruption charges against former judges of the SC and sitting judges of Madras High Court and asked the Prime Minister to order an enquiry.