Caste and roster cast shadows on objectivity
Recently Justice K Chandru, wrote an article explaining how in the beginning the Chief Justice of India responded to complaints by Bar Association against a sitting Judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court
Recently Justice K Chandru, wrote an article explaining how in the beginning the Chief Justice of India responded to complaints by Bar Association against a sitting Judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court. Former Judge of Madras High Court Justice Chandru pointed out that there were complaints against AP HC Judge Justice P Chandra Reddy, and the then Chief Justice of India Gajendra Gadkar has transferred him out of AP to Madras, after he personally inquired into the allegation in Hyderabad.
Justice Chandru pointed out what exactly the type of complaint was: "At least in five cases, motions were brought against high court judges, but not one of them was taken to the logical end. In the early 60s when complaints were made against Justice Chandra Reddy (A.P. High Court) that he was favouring persons in the Bar, the Supreme Court was at a loss to deal with the situation".
Then, Justice Chandru quoted from biography of Ganjendra Gadkar, Chief Justice of India, who went to Hyderabad on an unofficial visit. Justice Gajendra Gadkar wrote in his biography: "I took the Chief Justice into my confidence… I said in fairness, 'You give me the names of your lawyers and your colleagues whom I should take into my confidence and ask relevant questions'…He supplied me with the list and it as precisely the lawyers and judges named by him in the list that I met. To my disagreeable surprise, not only all the lawyers but even most of the judges supported the complaint…I had unfortunately come to the conclusion that many of the complaints were well founded. I also told him that I did not want to suggest any action which would discredit him in the eyes of the public, but I would propose to the Union Government to send him to Madras."
Chandru further wrote: "We wish we had such lawyers today practising in courts to make an informal inquiry truthful and result oriented. But we have only certain bar associations jumping into the fray and trying to save judges accused of serious misbehaviour in the name of independence of judiciary". After these allegations Justice P Chandra Reddy was transferred from AP to Madras HC. The official website of Madras High Court shows that Palagani Chandra Reddi worked as Judge from 1950 to 1954. (http://www.hcmadras.tn.nic.in/formerjudges.pdf) Andhra Pradesh High Court website aphcaa.in (https://aphcaa.in/former-judges/) shows P Chandra Reddy worked at AP High Court from 1958 to 1964.
After getting transferred because of proven complaints, Chandra Reddy must have returned to Hyderabad as Chief Justice. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Damodaram Sanjeevaiah, has made a lengthy, eight-page-complaint to the Union Minister Lal Bahadur Shastry on 4 November 1961. He wrote:
"Politics have crept into the High Court where also groupism on communal and other lines has been predominant. Unless the Present Chief Justice is changed immediately, it will be disastrous for this already communal ridden state.
Sri P Chandra Reddy is thoroughly communal minded, and he displays this quality openly without any regard to public opinion. He has strong likes and dislikes which badly interfere with his work. He got closely attached to some puisne Judges of the High court who have been exercising strong influence over him, namely Mr Justice S. Raju and Mr Justice JM Reddy. The entire administration is run by them. The former of the two, particularly, is of very scheming and intriguing type and Justice Chandra Reddy is completely in his hands.
They go the High Court together everyday and even in the open parties in the public, this association is demonstrated much to the chagrin of their other colleagues who have insignificant existence in the High Court. Except two or three Judges, the rest are not at all independent, and they can be said to be 'Yes men' of Mr Chandra Reddy, or Mr Raju or Mr JM Reddi. Only such people are chosen for Benches and the Full Benches and Full Benches of our High Court have become a farce and mockery. The senior most judge to Chief Justice, Mr Justice Umamaheshwaram, who is independent and saintly type of person is completely ignored and sometimes insulted in a sly fashion by keeping Mr Raju in charge of the work of the Chief Justice in his absence. Such personal considerations are not conducive to the harmony or reputation of the High Court. I understand that important files are not even circulated to senior Judges. I learn that there is also manipulation in the posting of cases before the Judges.
While Mr O. Reddy had put up only five years services as a District Judge, Mr Chandra Reddy took up his case strongly and out of the way for promotion to the selection grade and got it done. The Chief Justice also went out of the way in having the seniority of the aforesaid Mr Ramachandra Raju and Mr Chandrasekhara Reddi fixed up in a particular manner.
The cliques in the High Court are openly talked about and they are worse than our politics. Some judges openly expresses that any independent judgement of a Judge is so disliked by the Chief Justice that in hearing an appeal from it he reverses it even without looking into it. It is understood that the Chief Justice Mr Chandra Reddi openly encourages his caste men at the Bar much to the heartburn of other members of the Bar. I can assertively state that the confidence of public is badly shaken in his regime as Chief Justice".
The then Chief Minister wanted to keep this complaint confidential to prevent the Chief Justice from interfering and preventing the inquiry and manipulating the affairs in their affair. What happened thereafter is not known.
Sanjeevaiah sought transfer of partisan Chief Justice. Jagan' letter contains serious allegations of political bias in favour of TDP and against YSRCP, undue influence and illegitimate nexus with previous government and involving in purchase of land along with others allegedly with inside information, etc. But he did not seek any action against anyone but prayed for protecting neutrality of judiciary.
Sanjeevaiah's complaint has raised the question of domination of a particular community (Reddy) over the AP Judiciary while CM Jagan Mohan Reddy's letter complains about another sociological groups dominance (Kamma). First was secret and had no visible consequences. Second complaint is kept in public domain, whole nation is discussing it. Two dominant political parties – YSRCP ruling now, and TDP, which stayed in power for a long time in AP till 2019 are dominated by these two castes, respectively.
The media in AP (and Telangana) is also divided on these party lines. Technical wings of these two political parties have developed strategies to do campaigns and counter campaigns purely on caste-party links, vertically dividing people, critics, and others. Any comment or TV debate gets the tag of either party depending on the support to the point. For instance, if somebody hails judgment of AP High Court striking down the GO which proposed for conversion of all schools into English medium schools, he would be tagged as TDP man. Someone who finds fault with general order gagging media from reporting, he is called YSRCP man.
If anybody writes that Jagan has committed contempt of court and action should be taken against him, for the letter alleging bias and undue influence by a Supreme Court judge is he must be a TDP supporter, and if a critique says the system of rule of law demands consideration of allegations for further inquiry, he is a YSRCP's agent.
Almost all complaints expose the issue of Roster and allocation of cases to various benches (of judges). Besides questioning the allocation of certain cases to only selective benches, former CM Sanjeeviah made allegations against Chief Justice of caste based communal favouritism in selections & adjudication, besides unfair treatment of honest judges. It is almost not possible for Executive or Legislature to create any norms for exercise power of Master of Roaster. Then it is the only Judiciary that has to take up the job of guiding this huge discretionary power.
(The writer is Dean, School of Law, Bennett University, and former Central Information Commissioner)