For the first time in the country’s history, seven seniormost Supreme Court judges led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar are convening in open court on Wednesday to initiate suo motu contempt action against sitting Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan, for “scurrilous remarks” made against senior judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts and impeding the process of justice administration.
The seven-judge Bench also comprises Justices Dipak Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph.
Justice Karnan, who was a judge of the Madras High Court, was once summoned to the Supreme Court and warned in person by then Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur for his offensive behaviour towards the Chief Justice of the High Court and for imputing casteist motives on his fellow judges.
In February 2016, as a Madras High Court judge, he had turned judicial hierarchy upside down by ‘staying’ his own transfer to the Calcutta High Court, forcing the Supreme Court to authorise a freeze on his functions as a judge.
Later, he wrote to the Chief Justice of India, acknowledging that he had passed an “erroneous order due to his mental frustration resulting in loss of mental balance.”
The contempt action, an unprecedented move by the highest judiciary to put its house in order and send a strong message that indiscipline would not be tolerated, comes on the very day Justice Karnan is to appear in person to argue his case against his transfer to the Calcutta High Court.
He had previously sought and received permission from the Supreme Court to appear in person in the transfer case.
Lately, a letter sent by Justice Karnan to the Prime Minister allegedly making serious allegations of corruption against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges has been doing the rounds. Sources said the seven-judge Bench is aware of “several letters” written by Justice Karnan, and decided to move in.
In the past, Justice Karnan had frequently raised the issue of his caste status, complaining to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and even threatening to file criminal charges under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against Chief Justices and other judges.