In a note in May 2005, the Prime Minister's Office wrote to the collegium of Supreme Court judges backing the confirmation of a judge of the Madras High Court. The top court judges did not yield. Then Law Minister HR Bhardwaj then wrote again to them making it clear that the government backed the judge. In response, Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti then cleared an extension of the judge in question, but did not confirm him - in a note, he attributed his decision to "the sensitivity of the government on the issue." (Also Read: Unbecoming of Former Supreme Court Judge: Soli Sorabjee)
Dr Manmohan Singh headed a coalition government of which the regional Tamil Nadu powerhouse, the DMK, was a senior member. Pulling the trigger on a mega controversy, Justice Markandey Katju disclosed this week that the additional judge had been found corrupt by an Intelligence Bureau investigation, and that the government prevented him from being axed because the DMK had threatened to quit the coalition if he was removed. Justice Katju, who was Chief Justice of the Madras High Court at the time, says that the DMK was soft on the judge because he had granted bail to one of its top leaders. (Corrupt Judge Charge: BJP Seeks Answer from Former PM)
Dr Singh today said, "The then law minister has spoken - said what he had to - I have nothing to add ."
Mr Bharadwaj ceded to NDTV yesterday that the DMK had flexed its muscle over the judge but said the government did not manipulate judicial appointments. But DMK chief M Karunanidhi today said, "Katju has needlessly and tacitly criticized the DMK. Why didn't Katju expose this when he was a Supreme Court judge?" (DMK Slams Justice Markandey Katju for 'Baseless' Allegations)
Indeed, many have questioned the delayed disclosure by Justice Katju, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2011 and is Chairman of Press Council of India. He told NDTV yesterday, "Better late than never" before cutting short an interview when pressed on the issue of his timing.
Justice Katju has accused three former Chief Justices of India of "improper compromises" in the episode because all three played some part in keeping the controversial judge - who is no longer alive - in office. (Former Chief Justice Says, 'Won't Stoop to Anyone's Level')
In a blog today, Justice Katju posed six questions to Justice Lahoti, daring him to explain the chain of events that provoked him to grant an extension to the corrupt judge. (In Blog, Justice Katju Has Six Questions for ex-Chief Justice of India)
Justice Lahoti had yesterday denied any charges of impropriety.