Courting Controversy

Surya Kant, chief justice of Himachal Pradesh, likely to be elevated to SC despite allegations of corruption and tax evasion

30 January 2019
Surya Kant, the chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, is likely to be elevated to the Supreme Court, despite allegations of grave misconduct.
Surya Kant, the chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, is likely to be elevated to the Supreme Court, despite allegations of grave misconduct.

Nearly four months into Ranjan Gogoi’s tenure as the chief justice of India, there does not appear to have been any elemental shift from the way the Supreme Court functioned under his predecessors, Dipak Misra and Jagdish Singh Khehar. On the judicial side, in cases of high political capital, there have been inexplicable delays in hearings, and Gogoi has opted for less than forthright techniques, such as the practice of asking for submissions in a sealed cover. On the administrative side, the collegium, headed by Gogoi, had brought Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjeev Khanna to the Supreme Court. The former was accused of “doing the executive’s bidding behind our back” by a sitting Supreme Court judge last year. The latter was elevated from the Delhi High Court even though the collegium recommended two other senior judges from the same court a month earlier. Now, according to two judges of the Supreme Court—one former and one sitting—the collegium’s next two picks will be the judges Bhushan Gavai and Surya Kant.

Kant faces allegations of grave misconduct. In 2012, a real-estate agent accused the judge of having participated in illegal property dealings involving undervaluation and cash transactions worth several crores. In 2017, a prisoner in Punjab filed a complaint listing eight cases heard by Kant, and alleged that the judge had accepted bribes to grant bail in these. Though these complaints have been sitting with the collegium for over six years, Kant remained a judge at the Punjab and Haryana High Court till October 2018, when he was appointed the chief justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court. The collegium recommended his name for the post even though the questions arising from the complaint had not been resolved, and according to a former Supreme Court judge, it will do so again—this time, for elevation to the apex court.

Kant began his legal career as a litigator in Haryana’s Hisar district, in 1984. He was appointed the advocate general of the state in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2000—a post he held for four years, till he was elevated to judgeship. In August 2012, when Kant was a sitting judge in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Satish Kumar Jain, a Chandigarh-based businessman dealing in construction and real estate, wrote a letter to SH Kapadia, then the CJI, accusing Kant of non-payment of dues and tax evasion on a sum of Rs 7.63 crore. Jain attached the sale deeds for four different properties that he had bought or sold for Kant between March 2010 and March 2011.

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    Atul Dev is a former staff writer at The Caravan.

    Keywords: Punjab and Haryana High Court AK Goel collegium Ranjan Gogoi Dipak Misra JS Khehar Supreme Court of India Himachal Pradesh High Court Surya Kant Satish Kumar Jain Punjab Bhushan Gavai