Justice Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan, who is giving a migraine to the top judicial brains, was appointed as a judge of the Madras high court in March 2009.
TOI spoke to a host of former judges who were members of the SC collegium, headed by the then CJI K G Balakrishnan, at the time, but none had any recollection of Karnan's traits.
“It was eight long years ago. As collegium members, we must have selected over 100 people for appointment as judges,“ said one of the judges.“We mostly go by the recommendations of the HC collegium comprising the chief justice and the two most senior judges. Before approving the recommendation, we do take the opinion of SC judges who were associated with the HC to which the appointment is recommended,“ the judge added, an opinion echoed by others.
TOI also spoke to two former SC judges who were associated in the past with the Madras HC, and whose opinion was sought by the SC collegium. They too said memory failed them on Karnan. But the then members of the SC collegium recalled that the Madras HC collegium -which at the time comprised the then chief justice A K Ganguly and justice P K Misra and justice S J Mukhopadhaya -had sent the proposal for Karnan's appointment as a judge.
However, the selection of Karnan, who now throws up his Dalit background to attack the judges by accusing them of victimising him, by the HC collegium came as no surprise for many who started their career from the Madras HC and ended up as CJIs or SC judges.“There is an unwritten convention in the Madras HC collegium to give opportunities to advocates from the Dalit category to become judges despite the fact that there is no reservation in such appointments,“ said a judge.
The SC judges and CJIs, who were made aware of Justice Karnan's activities and mindset after he started throwing tantrums every now and then, told TOI that he suffered from a persecution complex. “He always felt that he was being targeted because of his Dalit background and attacked his colleague judges for this. At the same time, he did not spare other judges who belonged to the Dalit community,“ said another judge.
Justice Karnan was described as a loner who didn't interact much with his colleagues. The judges TOI spoke to were unanimous that it is very difficult to rein in an HC judge who decides to go the way Justice Karnan has. Karnan's repeated allegations and threats against colleague judges and the chief justices of Madras HC had led to his transfer to the Calcutta HC.But the transfer appears to have had the opposite impact, with his allegations growing more sulphuric. Justice Karnan is due to retire in less than three months, on June 11.
Despite being divested of judicial and administrative powers by a CJI-headed sevenjudge bench that has issued bailable arrest warrants against him for defying summons in the contempt of court proceedings drawn against him, Karnan has passed an order against the judges for ruining his reputation, seeking Rs 14 crore as damages.
He was born on June 12, 1955 at Karnatham village in Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore district.
His father was a President's award winning teacher but it was his mother who taught him in his childhood.
Justice Karnan completed his bachelor in law degree from Madras Law College in 1983 and immediately enrolled as an advocate.
From a humble Dalit advocate doubling up as a political party's booth agent in Tamil Nadu in 2002 to be among a chosen few appointed to a high constitutional post in 2009 and then pushing the self-destruct button to end up in jail in 2017.
This is Justice Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan's unenviable roller-coaster 15-year journey and could be the script for a Bollywood film. Described by his ex-colleagues in Madras HC as a loner who gave vent to his persecution mentality, Justice Karnan resorted to wild allegations against judges and successive chief justices of Madras HC almost immediately after he took oath as a judge in March 2009.
He regularly wrote to the President, the CJI and the chairperson of the SC Commission accusing other judges of discriminatory behaviour towards him. Nearly two years ago, he threatened contempt proceedings against then Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, forcing Madras HC to rush to the SC for remedy. The SC stayed Justice Karnan's order. To avoid such embarrassment, the SC collegium headed by then CJI TS Thakur transferred Justice Karnan from Madras HC to Calcutta HC in March last year.
Acerbic verbal attacks against his colleagues and flaunting the Dalit card did not go with his humble background. He was born on June 12, 1955 at Karnatham village in Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore district. His father was a President's award winning teacher but it was his mother who taught him in his childhood. In school, he was an NCC cadet.
Justice Karnan completed his bachelor in law degree from Madras Law College in 1983 and immediately enrolled as an advocate. He had an inclination towards politics and became a booth-level election agent for AIADMK in the 2002 assembly polls. He got disenchanted with the party and switched allegiance to Congress, an Intelligence Bureau report said.
By 2005, he was a known face in Madras HC as he served as legal adviser for Chennai Metro Water, as a government advocate and even as standing counsel for the central government in the HC. He was appointed as a judge in 2009.
In 2015, Justice Karnan plunged Madras HC into a huge crisis by threatening contempt of court proceedings against then CJ Sanjay Kishan Kaul, now a judge of the SC, by accusing him of interfering in his judicial work and seeking a CBI probe into alleged forged educational qualification of another HC judge.
Apart from contempt of court action, Justice Karnan threatened to pass orders and direct the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to initiate a detailed inquiry against the HC chief justice for harassing him, a member of the Dalit community. He also threatened to slap a case against the chief justice under stringent provisions of SCST Atrocities (Prevention) Act.
A beleaguered HC rushed to the SC and accused Justice Karnan of judicial indiscipline, challenging the authority of the HC CJ, passing order without jurisdiction and lacking in self-restraint.On May 11, 2015, the SC restrained Justice Karnan from initiating any action against the chief justice.
But restraint was a word alien to Justice Karnan, who continued his diatribe against the CJ and other judges and kept writing letters to the PM, the CJI and circulated the letters among advocates. Exasperated by his indiscipline, the SC advised the President to transfer him to Calcutta HC. The end game began on January 23 when he wrote to the CBI director to probe corruption charges against 20 sitting and retired judges of the SC and Madras HC. The apex court initiated contempt proceedings against him on February 8.
He ruled that couples in live-in relationships or those who'd had consensual sex would be considered married and be called husband and wife.
Had an open altercation in court with a fellow Calcutta HC judge for overturning a decision they had taken earlier to not grant bail to the accused in the Kolkata flyover collapse case. Karnan later granted them bail without consulting his fellow judge.
Actions by Justice Karnan
2017: writes to PM, accusing 20 past and present higher judges of corruption
Justice Karnan writes a letter to PM Narendra Modi, accusing 20 past and present higher judges of corruption.
The Supreme Court initiates suo motu contempt action, first-time ever against a judge. The seven-judge bench summons him to court on February 13, asks him to desist from all official work and return files.
Justice Karnan writes to Registrar General of SC, calls proceedings against a sitting high court judge "not maintainable under law" and "unethical against the SC/ST Act". It appears on WhatsApp.
Justice Karnan fails to show up, does not send a counsel. SC chooses to wait for three weeks for the judge to explain his defiance.
Justice Karnan sends a fax to the SC Registry for a meeting with the CJI and other judges.
SC issues a bailable warrant, directs director general of police, West Bengal, to serve it personally.
Justice Karnan calls a press conference at home in Kolkata, calls the order "motivated, ridiculous and illegal", urges the President of India to "recall" it and Parliament and CBI to "probe" SC judges; says he is being targeted for being a Dalit.
Next date of hearing.
April 2017: Bans foreign visits of CJI, 7 SC judges
The Calcutta high court judge Justice C S Karnan passed an order directing the Air Control Authority , New Delhi, not to allow the Chief Justice of India and seven Supreme Court judges to travel abroad until the disposal of the cases against them. The order was passed at the judge's makeshift court at his home in Rosedale Towers, New Town.
On April 13, Justice Karnan had issued an “order“ for registration of a case under appropriate sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against CJI J S Khehar and six other judges of the Supreme Court -Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, Pinaki C Ghose and Kurian Joseph. He had summoned the seven SC judges to appear before him at his residential court in Kolkata on April 28.
CJI Khehar and the six other judges had earlier initiated contempt proceedings against Justice Karnan and summoned him to appear before them on March 31.
The seven-judge constitution bench had earlier issued a bailable arrest warrant against Justice Karnan.
During the hearing on March 31, the SC bench disclosed that Justice Karnan had in a letter on March 27 in dicated his willingness to withdraw the complaint he sent to the PM and the CJI levelling corruption charges against 20 sitting and retired judges of the SC and HC and apologise unconditionally .
However, appearing befo re the SC bench, Justice Karnan said he would apologise only if the SC restored his judicial and administrative work, a pre-condition that the apex court rejected. The SC asked him to file his reply affidavit to the contempt charges in four weeks and directed him to remain present in court on May 1, the next date of hearing.
Justice Karnan's latest order, a copy of which was provided to TOI, indicated that since the eight judges he had summoned to his court were “absent“, the matter was being reposted to May 1 -the very day that the SC has asked him to be present -to enable their reappearance.
2017/ Supreme Court ruling
A backgrounder on SC judgement
All one needs to know about why SC ordered his arrest:
1. THE CASE Justice Karnan has been absconding since May 9 when a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court passed an unprecedented arrest order against the constitutional court judge.
2. DUBIOUS DISTINCTION His arrest was ordered after he was convicted in a contempt of court case by the Supreme Court; he was awarded a six-month sentence. The Justice became the first sitting High Court judge to be convicted for contempt.
3. APPOINTED AS JUDGE Justice Karnan was born on June 12, 1955. In March 2009, he was appointed Madras High Court judge. He was transferred to West Bengal in 2016 by the Supreme Court.
4. THE CONTROVERSY In January 2017, Justice Karnan stirred a hornet's nest after he alleged that 20 sitting and retired Supreme Court and High Court judges are corrupt.
5. MANY DUBIOUS FIRSTS In November 2011, he became the first judge of a high court to move the National Commission for SCs and STs, complaining of harassment by fellow judges. He was the first judge to barge into the court hall of another division bench (of the Madras high court) while it was hearing a case and declare that he too would be a litigant opposing the choice of certain names of advocates for elevation as judges of the court.
6. JUSTICE KARNAN GUILTY In May, Justice Karnan ordered the arrest of eight Supreme Court (SC) judges. A day later, a seven-judge SC bench sentenced him to six-months in jail finding him guilty of contempt of court+ .
7. 'MENTAL STABILITY' The Supreme Court also directed him to undergo psychiatric analysis for mental stability+ .
8. EVADING ARREST Before the West Bengal Police could arrest him, the controversial judge reportedly left for Tamil Nadu and was seen chatting with his visitors and journalists at the state guest house for until a couple of hours after the apex court's arrest order. He went underground soon+ after and neither his personal security nor protocol officials were aware he was going to do so.
9. AND, THE MERCY PLEA BEFORE PRESIDENT On May 18, the controversial judge filed a mercy plea before President Pranab Mukherjee seeking a stay on the SC's arrest order. According to his counsel Peter Ramesh Kumar, the mercy plea was filed under Article 72 1B of the Constitution.
10. NO FAREWELL FOR THE JUDGE Justice Karnan won't receive any formal farewell and won't get a chance to give his farewell speech at the court. Therefore, he will also hold the dubious distinction of becoming the first high court judge to miss out on his farewell.
May 2017: SC orders mental checkup
Justice Karnan To Be Taken For Tests On May 4
The Justice C S Karnan case continues to make history with the Supreme Court on Monday ordering medical examination of the Calcutta high court judge to determine his mental condition in the face of his defiant refusal to appear before the SC in contempt proceedings.
The order came even as the SC finds itself in a difficult situation in dealing with a sitting HC judge who has continued to commit con temptuous acts, rejecting the directions of the higher court and passing disparaging remarks against the seven-judge bench which is hearing the contempt plea against him.
The Bengal police has been directed to form a special team to ensure Karnan appears before a medical panel as the SC said it needed to deal with the judge rather than allow him to retire in June. The court said contempt proceedings would not end with his retirement on June 11. The bench of Chief Justice Khehar and Justices Dipak J S Khehar and Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph found Karnan absent despite its March 31order directing him to be present before it.
The SC also took note of his recent order -issued despite being stripped of judicial work -directing initiation of contempt proceedings against the seven SC judges and imposing air travel restrictions on them. “Probably , he is expecting all of us to present ourselves before him in Kolkata,“ the CJI said in jest when attorney general Mukul Rohatgi pointed to continued contemptuous acts of the HC judge despite pending contempt proceedings. But that was the only light er moment in otherwise serious proceedings during which the court came to the conclusion that “the orders passed by him are ex-facie and clearly contemptuous“ and indicated that the judge may face an additional contempt of court case in future.
“Ever since the initiation of these proceedings (on February 8), he has been expressing further disrespect to this court, he has also been making press statements with abject impunity ,“ the bench said and ordered that the purported judicial orders passed by Justice Karnan would not be given effect to by any authority in India.
The SC directed the director, health services, West Ben gal, to constitute a board of doctors from Pavlov government hospital, Kolkata, to examine Justice Karnan and submit a report to the SC -whether or not he is in a fit condition to defend himself -by May 8.
“The tenor of his press briefings and purported judicial orders passed by Justice Karnan, prima facie suggest that he may not be in a fit medical condition to defend himself in the present proceedings. We therefore consider it appropriate to require him to be medi cally examined before proceeding further,“ the bench said.
Expecting trouble from Justice Karnan in submitting to the medical tests, the bench ordered the state director general of police to constitute a special police team to escort the judge for examination by the board of doctors.The court posted further hearing on May 9.
The AG put the issue in perspective by asking if the court would have been so lenient to any litigant who defied SC or ders even once. “Here is a judge who not only insinuates against other judges in most derogative manner, but also defies the SC's orders repeatedly and passes orders routinely against Supreme Court judges,“ he said.
Appearing for Madras high court, where Justice Karnan had created ugly scenes by his allegations against fellow judges and the chief justice, senior advocate K K Venugopal said, “From his conduct, he does not appear to be in a position to defend himself. So, allow him to retire. Given the short time available, even if he was found to be mentally unfit, he could not be impeached as he retires on June 11.“
But the bench was not ready to sweep the problem under the carpet. It said, “This court should never shy away from dealing with an issue thrown at it. The court must deal with it head on.Justice Karnan's retirement does not bring an end to these (contempt) proceedings.“
Rohatgi said, “Contempt of court power is not to protect a judge but mainly to protect the dignity of judiciary , maintain rule of law and, importantly , to sustain public faith in judiciary . Justice Karnan has been making calculative moves to demean judges and judiciary in the eyes of the public. If he is not dealt with appropriately , then faith of common man in judiciary would be dented.Those who are part of the judiciary itself must display impeccable conduct. But here is Justice Karnan, cocking a snook at even the highest court of the country .“
6 month jail term and a prohibition on media
Media Barred From Reporting His Statements
The Supreme Court created two firsts in judicial history -it jailed sitting high court judge C S Karnan for six months, convicting him of contempt of court, and it gagged the media rom reporting his reaction or is future statements.
The SC convicted Calcutta HC's Justice Karnan of gross riminal contempt of the apex court, judiciary and judicial rocess while sentencing him.t asked the West Bengal police chief to constitute a team to arrest Karnan immediately and lodge him in jail.
A seven-judge bench of CJI J S Khehar and Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph sentenced Karnan, who yet again disobeyed the apex court's order to be present in court, to six months in jail for repeated defiance of orders and aggravating his offence with purported judicial orders against the CJI and other SC judges. Keeping in mind Justice Karnan's penchant for passing orders from his residence and handing them to the media to embarrass the CJI and SC judges, the bench in an unprecedented order barred the media from reporting any statement made by Justice Karnan in future. On Tuesday , the court addressed the question whether punishment to Justice Karnan be delayed till he retired on June 11. “We will create a blemish if we do not punish him just because he is a judge. Contempt has no different colours -for a common man or a judge. We cannot differentiate that he is a judge in a contempt case.“
Justice Karnan has been repeatedly passing judgments despite the SC on February 8 initiating suo motu contempt proceedings against him and stripping him of judicial and administrative work. During the three-monthlong proceedings, Justice Karnan was required to be present before the court on four occasions but he presented himself only once on March 31. On that day , the court gave Justice Karnan the option of apologising for his conduct and being let off. He spurned the offer.
Instead of appearing before the court, Justice Karnan “initiated“ contempt proceedings against the CJI and six judges on the bench, imposed travel restrictions on them and ordered their medical treatment as a counter to the SC's May 1 order seeking his examination by a medical board to ascertain his mental health.
Justice Karnan passed a purported order convicting the CJI and seven SC judges under various laws, including SCST Prevention of Atrocities Act and sentenced them to five years imprisonment in addition to fines.The bench said the team of doctors which went to examine Justice Karnan had not contradicted the judge's claim that he was of sound mind. “So we will take that he is of sound mind. But then, what is the consequence?“ it asked.
Additional solicitor general Maninder Singh, Madras HC's counsel K K Venugopal and SC Bar Association president Rupinder Singh Suri were unanimous in their view that Justice Karnan had been given a long rope and the time had come to punish him. Venugopal thought for a while and inquired from the court whether it would be prudent to allow the judge to retire on June 11 and then impose punishment as sending a sitting judge to jail would create a blemish in judicial history . “You must have seen the last order he has passed. He has sentenced us. You can understand the gravity of the situation. Whoever comes before the court must come as a citizen of India and there will be no separate treatment for a judge or a common man.“
The seven judges assembled at 10.37am, spending seven minutes past the scheduled assembling time in a standing conference behind the CJI's courtroom discussing the case and possibilities. But the 15 minutes that followed offered them no other option but to send Justice Karnan to jail.
June 2017: Arrest
Former Calcutta high court (HC) judge C S Karnan's life as a fugitive for 43 days ended abruptly when a team of West Bengal police tracked him down and arrested him from a house on the outskirts of Coimbatore. He was later ta ken to Chennai on a latenight flight.
Karnan had been switching his location, SIM cards and mobile phones since May 9, when the Supreme Court took the unprecedented decision of jailing him for six months for gross contempt of court. Though his mobile phone signals were initially track ed to the Tamil Nadu Andhra Pradesh border, he started moving bet ween Coimbatore in Ta mil Nadu and Kochi in Kerala. Karnan entered Coimbatore four days ago, and soon the Coimbatore cyber crime cell picked up his mobile phone signals. His exact location was ascertained at 6.30pm on Tuesday .He was found in the company of an advocate. For about 30 minutes, he did not cooperate with the police, said an officer who was part of the crack team.
“He kept questioning us, as to under what authority we were there to arrest him. He refused to come with us, without reporters,“ he said. When the vehicle entered the airport premises, a grinning Karnan waved at the crowd of curious onlookers, the officer said. He insisted on addressing the media, despite being cautioned that the apex court had barred media from airing or publishing his statements.Though the ex-judge spoke of the judiciary , himself and the controversy surrounding him, TOI chooses to withhold them in deference to the Supreme Court's fiat barring media from publishing them.
Though three teams of cops were present at the time of his arrest, only three SPs travelled with Karnan to Chennai from where he would be taken to Kolkata on “the first available flight“.
Sentencing Justice Karnan: legal issues involved
Justice C S Karnan became the first constitutional court judge in India to get convicted and sentenced for contempt of court. The legal community is split debating the correctness of procedure followed by the Supreme Court in convicting him, a few complaining that Justice Karnan did not get a proper trial. Viewed from any angle, the case had the trappings of a “hard case making bad law“.
In S P Gupta case [1981 Supp (1) SCC 87], the SC admitted this.“Great cases, like hard cases, make bad law. For great cases are called great not by reason of their real importance in shaping the law of the future, but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment.These immediate interests exercise a kind of hydraulic pressure which makes what previously was clear seem doubtful, and before which even well settled principles of law will bend.“
The accident happened when Justice Karnan was selected as a judge. It is not clear from the collegium files what great qualities were seen in him by nine judges of the SC and Madras HC to recommend his appointment as an HC judge eight years ago.
The accident soon turned into a nightmare. Using the `Dalit' card as a shield, Justice Karnan kept sniping and damaging the reputations of his colleagues in the HC with wild allegations and threats.
He craftily weaved his wild charges with perceived discrimination in his letters and routinely sent them to the media to embarrass judges.His transfer from Madras HC to Calcutta HC in March last year had little impact on his penchant for directing diatribes against his own tribe.
His January 23 letter to constitutional functionaries outside the judiciary seeking probe against 20 sitting and retired SC and HC judges forced the apex court to suo motu initiate con tempt proceedings. He defied the apex court's repeated summons.
While proceedings were going on in the SC, he kept passing orders against seven SC judges despite having no judicial power. Can we imagine a commoner disobeying the court's summons repeatedly and aggravating the contempt by harsh utterances? Would he have got a trial, or would he have been sent to jail straight from court?
The only time he appeared before the SC was on March 31 donning a carefree attitude, which probably stemmed from his belief that the SC was impotent to deal with a deviant HC judge. The SC offered him safety if he apologised and promised not to repeat the misdemeanour. He rejected the offer.
True, he did not get a trial.How could he when he refused to appear before the court and seek one? Superior courts have uniformly taken a tough stand against custodians committing crimes taking advantage of their position--custodial death, custodial rape, custodial torture and a guardian raping a girl.
Justice Karnan had taken oath as HC judge to get constitutionally entrusted with the power to do justice. He was the custodian of rule of law and fundamental rights of citizens. Judges too have fundamental rights.By continuously deluging them with insinuations of the gravest nature, he not only criminally abdicated his constitutional duty to protect fundamental rights of citizens, but also became the abuser of the right to dignity guaranteed under Article 21. He didn't give a hoot to rule of law and constantly defied SC orders.
If the SC had let off Justice Karnan lightly or had waited for his retirement on June 11 to punish him for ex facie contemptuous actions, it would have had a catastrophic impact on public faith in judiciary and eroded its legitimacy . CJI J S Khehar rightly said contempt powers did not differentiate between a commoner and a judge.
If a hard case like Justice Karnan made the SC create history , the US Supreme Court had created history by holding a criminal trial for the first time in 1906 on the attorney general's petition seeking contempt of court action against a small town sheriff.
After a three-year trial, the SC in US vs Shipp [214 US 386 (1909)], held the sheriff guilty of contempt for allowing a lynch mob to forcibly take a black man, whose execution was put on hold on SC orders, out of prison and brutally murder him in a public square. The SC had held that once it had stayed execution, the prisoner was in the SC's custody and it was binding on the sheriff to keep the man alive in prison. He was sentenced to three months in jail.
In taking the right decision in convicting Justice Karnan for contempt, the SC inexplicably said, “Since the incident of contempt includes public statements and publication of orders made by the contemnor, which were highlighted by the electronic and print media, we are of the view that no further statements made by him should be published hereafter.“
Is the SC scared of Justice Karnan's ranting and unfounded allegations? The public is aware of what he has been uttering all these years. It never impacted people's faith in the judiciary . After conviction and sentencing, Justice Karnan at best would have written a few more venomous yet inconsequential letters. But that can never be the reason for gagging Justice Karnan and the media, especially when the SC itself brackets free speech among the most sacred fundamental rights.