Prashant Bhushan and the corruption allegations against CJIs

15 August 2020
The first principle of natural justice holds that no person should be a judge in their own cause.
ILLUSTRATION BY Sukanto Debnath
The first principle of natural justice holds that no person should be a judge in their own cause.
ILLUSTRATION BY Sukanto Debnath

On 14 August, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the judge Arun Mishra, held the advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for two tweets he had posted in June with references to the incumbent and previous chief justices of India. The same bench will also hold a hearing on 17 August on whether Bhushan’s comments from eleven years earlier regarding corruption in the judiciary would amount to contempt of court. The case against Bhushan concerns a 2009 interview to the Tehelka magazine in which he said that half of the last sixteen or seventeen chief justices of India were corrupt. 

In the following extract from “In Sua Causa”—the cover story of The Caravan’s July 2019 issue on the judiciary and the collegium system—Atul Dev, a staff writer at the publication, describes Bhushan as “a stubborn crusader for judicial probity.” Dev noted in it that after the retirement of the twenty-fifth CJI in October 1994, it became commonplace for CJIs to face corruption allegations.

WITH THE EXCEPTION OF RANGANATH MISRA, the twenty-first CJI, and KN Singh, the twenty-second, no judge to hold the country’s top judicial post had faced a corruption scandal before the institution of the collegium system, in 1993. Since the retirement of MN Venkatachaliah, the twenty-fifth CJI, in October 1994, such scandals have become commonplace.

AM Ahmadi, the twenty-sixth CJI, quashed the charge of culpable homicide against Union Carbide in a case arising from the Bhopal gas disaster. As a gesture of conciliation, he ordered the corporation to set up a hospital in the city. After he retired, Ahmadi was appointed the chairman, for life, of the trust managing the hospital. In 2010, the Supreme Court was petitioned to order an inquiry into Ahmadi’s alleged mismanagement of the hospital, and compel the release of the trust’s financial records. That order never came, but the court accepted Ahmadi’s resignation from his position. It took care to note its appreciation of his good services to the hospital.

MM Punchhi, the twenty-eighth CJI, faced the threat of dismissal before he assumed the office. The Rajya Sabha was presented with a motion for his impeachment on charges of copious wrongdoing. He had gone beyond the provisions of the law to acquit a businessman earlier convicted of breach of trust. His daughters had received plots of land at the discretion of the chief minister of Haryana, the Congress leader Bhajan Lal, on the same day that Punchhi dismissed a case alleging malfeasance by the chief minister. Punchhi had fixed cases, tried to hear matters in which he was an interested party, and more. The motion did not receive the required number of signatures in the Rajya Sabha before Punchhi was sworn in. JS Verma, the twenty-seventh CJI, had recommended his elevation to the president.

Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Chief Justice of India judiciary Prashant Bhushan
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