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Kalikho Pul Suicide: Clumsy Handling Hurts Supreme Court’s Image

Converting a 60-page suicide note to letter petition in Kalikho Pul case suggests clumsy handling by Supreme Court.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Kalikho Pul Suicide: Clumsy Handling Hurts Supreme Court’s Image

The Supreme Court's handling of the Kalikho Pul “suicide note” can only be described in only one way: a cock-up.

To recap the events so far – there were rumours floating around for weeks of a mysterious suicide note, which may or may not have been recovered from the room of Kalikho Pul, the former Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. It was said to contain serious allegations against judges of the Supreme Court of India and certain politicians and lawyers as well.

On 8 February, a redacted version of the note was made public, hinting at the allegations, but not revealing the names of the judges mentioned. On 17 February, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform published the full, unredacted version of the note (full disclosure: I am a member of the Executive Committee of CJAR).

Also Read: The Quint Impact: SC Agrees to Hear Plea of Kalikho Pul’s Wife

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Judges are ‘Public Servants’

Soon afterwards, Kalikho Pul's wife Dangwimsai Pul held a press conference where she asked for a probe into the allegations mentioned in the suicide note. She wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India asking for his permission to file an FIR against the judges mentioned in the note, in accordance with the judgement of the Supreme Court in the K Veeraswami case.

In the Veeraswami case, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that while judges were “public servant” for the purposes of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1986, criminal proceedings against a High Court or Supreme Court judge could only be initiated in “consultation” with the Chief Justice of India.

Such “consultation” was actually a permission since the court also clarified that if the CJI was of the view that criminal proceedings should not be started, they had to be dropped by the Government. In case the allegations were against the CJI herself, then the permission may be sought from another judge or judges of the Supreme Court.

Also Read: Ex-Arunachal CM Kalikho Pul’s Wife Withdraws Letter to CJI

Due Course of Action

The latter qualifier in that case is relevant here, as the unredacted version put out by CJAR shows that Justice Khehar is named in the suicide note; Kalikho Pul alleges that someone purporting to be “Virendra Khehar”, son of Justice Khehar (Note: Justice Khehar does not have a son by the name of “Virendra Khehar”) sought a bribe from him in the context of the Constitution Bench judgement, restoring the Nabam Tuki-led Congress government to power in Arunachal Pradesh.

Since the allegation relates to the CJI himself, the appropriate course of action would have been for the CJI to place the letter before the the next senior judge not mentioned in the suicide note (probably the third most senior judge, Justice Chelameswar since the next most senior judge, Justice Dipak Misra is also mentioned) to take a call as to whether permission should be granted to begin criminal proceedings against the said judges.

Also Read: Media Who Ignored Kalikho Pul Suicide: Wake Up or Face Extinction

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Converting Letter to ‘Letter Petition’

Instead, mysteriously, the letter was converted into a “letter petition” and listed before a bench of Justices Adarsh Goel and UU Lalit for a hearing on Thursday. This points to a massive mess-up in the Supreme Court Registry where, instead of the letter being handled on the administrative side, the case has been placed on the judicial side for hearing.

Also Read: Exclusive: Kalikho Pul’s Wife Says She’s Lost Faith in Judiciary

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave was right in contending that this should not have been placed before the Court for hearing in open court, and should have gone before the appropriate judge in accordance with the Veeraswami case.

Unwieldy Demands of Petitioners

Matters should have ended there, but the petitioners went on to demand that Justice Goel should recuse himself from the case for the fact that he had “worked with” Justice Khehar in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The absurdity of this proposition is obvious: this automatically rules out every judge of the Supreme Court from hearing or deciding this because they have, by the same standard, worked with Justice Khehar on the bench. This was a needless attempt at embarrassing the judge who was put in an awkward position of having to defend himself in his own courtroom or accept allegations of bias.

Also Read: ‘Receipt’ Could Nail SC Judges Who Took Bribes From Late CM Pul

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Botch-Up by the Top Court

More drama was in store, as in addition to wrongly placing it before the judicial side to be heard, it was also revealed in open court that the Registry had only communicated the fact of her petition being listed in court by telephone, although she never actually received a formal notice of listing!

This comes after news reports suggested that the CJI had responded to Dangwimsai Pul in a “sealed envelope” suggesting that the issue had been closed. While the reports seemed to have turned out to be incorrect, all it suggested that it was another failure on the part of the Supreme Court with respect to following the prescribed norms and procedures in handling this.

Now that Dangwimsai Pul has withdrawn the letter petition after much noise and confusion, the events have come to an unsatisfactory close at the moment. The public is no wiser about the truth or otherwise of Pul's allegations, and the Supreme Court has not helped itself with the bumbling, incompetent way it handled the matter. All the same, the credibility of the institution has been damaged and the Supreme Court has no one but itself to blame.

(Alok Prasanna Kumar is an advocate based in Bengaluru and can be reached @alokpi. Views expressed here are purely personal and do not reflect the views of any organisation.)

Also Read:
National Media’s Silence on Kalikho’s Suicide Note Is Deafening

Late CM Kalikho Pul Blames Corrupt Law Officers in Suicide Note

Late CM Kalikho Pul’s Tainted SC Judges and Fixed Vetting Process

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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