OLD HABITS DIE HARD, they say. One would have thought that post retirement and after six months behind bars, justice C.S. Karnan would be on the back foot. But justice CSK, as he is known in legal circles in his home state, Tamil Nadu, is going hammer and tongs against his former colleagues. After announcing the launch of his political party—Anti-Corruption Dynamic Party of India—in May, he has begun the second phase of his war against “corrupt judges”. “I will expose them,” Karnan tells THE WEEK. “I will inform the national bodies and international community about the corrupt practice of judges—minting money, extramarital affairs and other kind of tortures they committed against women. Some of them even raped women and gradually attained top posts.”
In February, the retired judge started sending copies of his complaints, previous and new, to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Netherlands, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and the United Nations Security Council in New York. His complaints were originally addressed to the president, prime minister and other officials of India. While he is aware that the international organisations do not have jurisdiction to act on his complaints, Karnan is sure they would take note of them. “I have friends in the judiciary all over the world,” he says. “The apex international court and the UN bodies would get all the documents related to what has been going on in the Indian judiciary.” According to the former judge of the Madras and Calcutta high courts, the bodies would make observations and form an opinion about India and its judiciary. “India would then wake up,” he says. “It would be a tight slap for the people who turned their back on the corruption in judiciary.”
Karnan’s complaints include his improper conviction in the contempt of court case, wherein he was sentenced to six months imprisonment by the Supreme Court. He says he wasn’t given a chance to defend himself—“a gross violation of human rights”. “The seven judges who convicted me forgot that I was a sitting judge of a High Court in India,” he says.
Karnan compares his case to that of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee—a plea was filed to initiate contempt proceedings against her for her remarks on the corruption in judiciary in 2012. “My case is also identical. While the chief minister’s case is almost buried, my case was taken up on an urgent basis by the seven judges of the Supreme Court,” says Karnan, sitting in a small chair at his rented Kolkata residence—his former official residence as judge of the Calcutta High Court. “The seven judges were functioning against the Indian Constitution. I never went against the Constitution,” he says.
By snatching his administrative power in the Calcutta High Court on February 8, 2017, days after he lodged a complaint against “corrupt judges” of the Madras High Court, Karnan says the Supreme Court judges breached their authority. “The Supreme Court has no power to interfere in any high court matter, judicial or administration,” he says. “The order of the Supreme Court—relieving me from all administrative duties—went against the power of the chief justice, Calcutta High Court, who is the master of roster for all judges of Calcutta High Court. The seven judges trespassed the jurisdiction of Calcutta High Court, which would remain a bad precedence.” He asserts that all high courts are not subordinate to Supreme Court. “There is no employer-employee or master-servant relationship between the Supreme Court and High Court,” he explains. “There is no description that the Supreme Court is superior and the High Court is inferior.”
But, why initiate proceedings against Supreme Court judges? “Can a High Court judge accept the order of his Supreme Court colleagues, branding him mad?” he asks, with a smile. “If I am wrong and did anything illegal, the procedure would be to refer my case to Parliament for impeachment first. After my impeachment, they could have started contempt proceedings.” He refutes the charge that he took on the Supreme Court, saying that “judges of the Supreme Court do not mean the Supreme Court itself. They are serving the institution; they are not the institution”. Karnan says all he wanted was for them to conduct at least a “secret” inquiry against the accused judges of the Madras High Court. Also, he says he did not evade the law, but was waiting for the then Supreme Court chief justice to retire. “Then I would have turned to other legal ways to fight against the one-sided order,” he says. “That was very much constitutional.”
Karnan also reveals that he was about to take up the suicide case of former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul. “Pul’s family met me in court and petitioned me,” he says. “It was against senior judges of the Supreme Court. The suicide notes said that judges sought money from the former chief minister to give verdict in his favour. I decided not to give a final order against SC judges, but to give an investigation order.” Pul’s widow Dangwimsai Pul confirms that the family had approached the former judge. “Before he could act, he was embroiled in the controversy,” she says.
His six-month stint in Presidency Jail, says Karnan, was full of luxury. “I had six armed guards taking care of my security inside jail,” he says. “None of the jail inmates were allowed to see or meet me.” He used to read a lot, especially legal documents, and would quite often laugh on his own. “I was laughing at the Supreme Court judges while staying in jail. I was thinking about their lack of legal knowledge and wits,” he says.
Jail authorities, he says, took proper care of his food, dress and health. “All kind of facilities were provided to me—television, air-conditioning, double bed and hot water geyser in bathroom. I had medical checkup twice daily,” he says. Also, a cook prepared south Indian food for him. “It was a peaceful atmosphere all around, and I was extremely happy,” says Karnan, who was released from jail on December 20.
However, Ayan Ghosh, who was lodged in Presidency jail in a fraud case, says he saw the judge cry a few times. “Yes, he was treated as a VVIP. Many a time, he was in the jail hospital room. Sometimes, I saw him crying,” he says.
Karnan has filed an application to register his party and plans to include a part of his corruption charges against judges in the party’s manifesto. Already 14,000 lawyers across India have joined his party. He is also in touch with dalit and pro-tribal leaders. “I will visit starvation zones and tribal areas, where judiciary has never reached. Many of them were harassed at the hands of Indian judiciary. I will expose the ills of judiciary to those people, while fighting nationally and internationally,” he says.
Says a retired Supreme Court judge: “Judiciary may avoid him. But his documents sent to international bodies cannot be overlooked. He was a senior judge of the High Courts in India.”
What if the Supreme Court summons him again? “I will appear before the Supreme Court on my own. And, I would not go with a lawyer. I will polish my boots, wear a coat and go to the court with a polished mind,” he says, laughing.