“The subject of judicial corruption is taboo, and like the proverbial Chinese monkeys, one shall not see, hear or speak of this evil,” KK Venugopal, the attorney general of India, told an India Today reporter in 1990. “During the early ’80s, rumours of corruption, nepotism and favouritism were like distant thunder. Now they have got louder.” In the subsequent decades, the legal fraternity largely lived by Venugopal’s words; but the thunders clapped closer and closer to the judicial edifice. On the afternoon of 10 November, I saw a storm break loose in the court of the chief justice of India.
A five-judge bench, led by Dipak Misra, the CJI, was hearing a petition filed by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms, an organisation working on public-interest issues of judicial reform. CJAR’s petition asked for the constitution of a Special Investigative Team, headed by a former CJI, to investigate a first information report registered in September by the Central Bureau of Investigation, regarding a corruption scandal emerging out of a medical college in Lucknow.
The corruption allegations pertained to the highest offices of the Supreme Court. The petition noted that the health ministry, on the advice of the Medical Council of India, had declined necessary permissions for the medical college to begin functioning on two different occasions—and twice, different benches of the Supreme Court had directed the MCI to reconsider the college’s application. The FIR alleged that the managers of the Prasad Education Trust, which was setting up the medical college, were in conversations with a retired high court judge and several other individuals, who were allegedly acting as middlemen on behalf of members of the higher judiciary adjudicating the case. Both benches of the Supreme Court included the chief justice Dipak Misra.