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The Spectre of Justice Karnan haunts the Indian Judiciary

The Spectre of Justice Karnan haunts the Indian Judiciary

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Dharmaraj Kumar

dharma rajIndian judiciary system is said to be confronted with a crisis of judicial accountability following the alleged contemptuous act of Prashant Bhushan in the Supreme Court, that too in the face of Hon’ble Judge Dipak Misra, the Chief Justice of India.  

This incident is taken as a serious threat to the existence of judiciary as one of the founding pillars of democracy per se. But the truth is, a fair judicial system has been in the centre of all political systems.

Actually, while listening to the case of Venkateswara Medical College in a five-judge Constitutional bench, Dipak Misra, the Chief Justice of India, himself was allegedly pointed out as one of the parties by Prashant Bhushan, an internationally acclaimed lawyer of the Supreme Court of India and also the son of Shanti Bhushan, a former Cabinet Law Minister.

It is very interesting to know that this matter of Venkateshwar Medical College bribery case reached the Supreme Court exactly at the time when one of the parties is said to be involved in it.

It comes as a relief anyway for any person, who has a bit of understanding about the way democracy functions, after knowing that even in the time when the Chief Justice of India is involved in a case of massive corruption and he has to deliver the verdict, there is a lawyer with courage to say to the face that how can such a corrupt person, be he Justice or Chief Justice, listen to his own case of corruption, that too in his own bench.

After this, the judiciary system has fallen in a situation of crisis which is not going to be over soon. In fact, the judges have come hard on this by declaring such an act of Prashant Bhushan as “scurrilous”.1 It further gets elaborated after the petition of allegation levelled against Chief Justice Dipak Misra by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms and Kamini Jaiswal reached one of the benches of the Supreme Court where he said “The petitions [have] scandalized this great institution. The damage has already been done. Everybody is doubting the Supreme Court, that too, merely on the basis of rumours spread. How do we repair this damage?”.2

Actually, this matter is far more disturbing than it appears. Because this situation has not emerged suddenly. Rather, it is a common practice which has started getting unearthed and exploded on a massive scale thanks to social media, because such information is difficult to find in the mainstream media and TRP oriented panel discussions.

A little bit of history of this case would suffice to understand as to how judiciary or especially Judges, the sons and daughters of  Brahmanical Manu behave. A simultaneous investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) indicated a possible criminal conspiracy to ensure a favourable judicial order in this matter. According to its FIR, two persons managing the affairs of the trust, approached a retired judge of Allahabad and Odisha High Courts, Justice I.M.Quddusi, through Sudhir Giri of Venkateshwara Medical College (part of Venkateshwara University, in whose case another judgement had been passed by Justice Dipak Misra in the Supreme Court). Quddusi recommended the filing of a petition before the Allahabad High Court, in which partial relief was granted.

Subsequently, when the matter again reached the Supreme Court, the FIR reveals that Quddusi and his associates assured the trust of getting the matter “settled” in the Supreme Court through “their contacts” and engaged Biswanath Agrawal, a resident of Bhubaneswar. Agrawal claimed “very close contact with senior relevant public functionaries” and demanded significant gratification for settling the case. Quddusi, Agrawal and four associates have now been arrested for offenses under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.’3

The narration of the above story may attract some doubt but the conclusion about judges having been arrested under the charge of corruption leads us exactly to what Justice C.S.Karnan had been saying for a long time, for which he had to face something which has never happened in the history of Judiciary after independence.

Well, keeping in mind the social system or fabric of India, there is nothing surprising if a person like Justice Karnan, coming from a marginalized section in the lawmaking body, gets arrested while doing his job sincerely. Nor is the dead silence that followed his arrest, the arrest of a sitting Judge, without any havoc being created by the ruling elites. Compare this with the case of Prashant Bhushan where he is being celebrated as a hero, whistleblower, and champion or protector of justice and whatnot. In fact, he has gathered incomparable laurels for himself.

There may be different angles of looking at this historical juncture of Indian judiciary, but at the core, it has brought light to the cause for which Justice Karnan had worked so very hard and had to face so much indignity for it.

It does not end here. We need to go further, and consider who are the judges involved in listening to the petition filed by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms and Kamini Jaiswal and then we come across the name of Justice R.K.Agrawal.

Let us go into the details about Justice R.K.Agrawal. He is the same person against whom Justice Karnan had filed his complaint. This is the person who is said to have hurled abuses at Justice Karnan regarding his caste and denied him the opportunity to prove anything. To go a little further, the problems with Justice Karnan had started when he was the Judge at Madras High Court where Justice R.K. Agrawal (Rajesh Kumar Agrawal), was the Chief Justice of Madras High Court from October 24, 2013, to February 16, 2014. Afterwards, Justice R.K.Agrawal got nominated by the Collegium of Supreme Court of India to the Apex Court. While Justice C.S.Karnan served on the Madras High Court from March 30, 2009, to March 11, 2016.    

People have forgotten what happened to Justice Karnan and what was the matter regarding him. The question disappeared as to why a sitting Judge was sent to jail?  It was also ignored that any Judge would not put his life in danger for fighting against something which will not hold the power of truth. Justice C.S.Karnan, as I have written earlier as well, was the first person, being a Judge himself, to uphold the moral force to deliver justice even when he himself is denied justice. He will remain the greatest protector of the judicial system after independence in India. The people of this country may take time to realize this, but the incident of his arrest will bring him out in open from the grave of the past.  

It is quite disheartening to know that even today the fight of Justice C.S.Karnan is not being paid appropriate heed among the fraternity of judiciary. Had this thing happened before, it would have never resulted in a situation where a party to a bribery case would listen to his own case in his own court against his own actions and will probably walk free.

It is disheartening to see that even among the coterie of liberals for the same cause Justice Karnan got heavily criticized, and for doing much lesser than what Justice Karnan had done, Prashant Bhushan has brought international glare upon himself!

In a nutshell, the phrase ‘travesty of justice’ may be better replaced with the phrase ‘travesty with Justice Karnan’ as so many terms arose out of personal histories like ‘brutal’ from the behavior of ‘Brutus’ and so on.  

Well, the fire ignited by Justice Karnan is still maintained in the flickering light of Prashant Bhushan’s call for war against injustice. Let this case get solved in anybody’s favour, but it has legally proved that Justice C.S.Karnan was never guilty, nor wrong on anything. He was rather visionary and courageous to start the battle against the code of Manu which is running the Indian Judiciary under the garb of a democratic judicial system.

Justice Karnan has won the case, and it will take many years to win hearts!



1. Rajagopal, Krishnadas, Charges against CJI scurrilous: SC Bench, front page, The Hindu,, Nov 14, 2017,  Delhi, page -1.

 2. Ibid

3. Sengupta, Arghya, A question of probity, Editorial, The Hindu, Nov 15, 2017, Delhi page no- 8.



Dharmaraj Kumar is pursuing Ph.D at Centre of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University. 

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