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NEW DELHI: Allegations against members of the higher judiciary of involvement in the medical admission scam and the manner in which Justice J Chelameswar admitted a petition based on those charges roiled the Supreme Court again on Monday, with a three-judge bench speaking about an attempt to “scandalise the court and judiciary” and attorney general K K Venugopal expressing concern that the “crisis” had split the judiciary and the bar.
“We take the allegations very seriously and will take the petitions to the logical conclusion. It is a deliberate attempt to scandalise the court and judiciary,” a bench of Justices R K Agrawal, Arun Mishra and A M Khanvilkar said as it reserved the verdict until Tuesday. The stern remark raises the prospect of the court launching contempt proceedings against advocate Kamini Jaiswal and her counsel, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
The bench, in fact, repeatedly hinted that it would go by the SC’s decision in the V C Mishra case of 1995, where it awarded six-week imprisonment to Mishra, a lawyer, but kept it suspended for four years. “V C Mishra case squarely deals with the situation created by these two petitions,” it said even as the Centre backed the “forum shopping” charge against Jaiswal and Bhushan.
Compared to the tumultuous scenes that prevailed inside the court last week when Bhushan was surrounded by an irate group of lawyers who accused him of maligning the apex court, the 90-minute special hearing post-lunch on Monday lacked drama.
Bench told Bhushans they were aggravating contempt
Yet, tension hung heavy over the matter which brought the rift among judges of the top court and the bar out in the open.
Bhushan and his father Shanti Bhushan, a former Union law minister, demanded that Justice Khanwilkar recuse himself from the matter as he had heard cases related to admissions to private medical colleges. A defiant Justice Khanwilkar refused to oblige, and the bench direly reminded the Bhushans that they were aggravating the contempt by bringing charges against CJI Dipak Misra even when they had not been able to substantiate wild allegations against him. The bench said they had engaged in “forum shopping” to get petition listed.
Justice Arun Mishra said, “Sir, you (Prashant Bhushan) knew on Thursday that a petition making identical allegations against the CJI filed by your group (CJAR) was pending before a bench headed by Justice Sikri. Despite that, you filed another petition and insisted it to be heard on the same day by court No.2 (Justice Chelameswar). This is both contempt and forum shopping sir.”
The Bhushans denied that any charge was levelled against the CJI. “No allegations were made against the CJI. A wrong impression is being given,” they argued. But they justified their stand that the CJI needed to be kept away from the two petitions moved to demand an SIT probe into alleged involvement of judges in the medical admission scam.
Since the CBI case had led to the arrest of a former judge of Odisha high court and the conspiracy pointed to attempts to influence proceedings before a bench headed by the CJI, it was absolutely essential to keep the CJI out of the two petitions, both judicially and administratively, they said.
Though they said they would drop the matter if it was not assigned to a fivejudge bench, the father-son duo defended Justice Chelameswar’s controversial decision to refer the petitions to a five-judge bench.
A five-judge bench led by the CJI had nullified Justice Chelameswar’s order but Bhushan stood by it and said the two petitions raised substantial constitutional issues and Justice Chelameswar had passed a “very appropriate order” exercising powers conferred on each SC judge under Article 142.
“All, including the CJI, in his administrative capacity, were bound to follow Thursday’s order,” Shanti Bhushan contended.