Tempt of Court   (11 Jul 2008)


Judiciary and corruption have had a long-term relationship in our country. Still, the recent Ghaziabad provident fund scam, involving several sitting and retired judges in Uttar Pradesh, has shocked even the most cynical. 26 judges, with some of them serving in Allahabad High Court and one serving in Supreme Court, have been collectively alleged to be benefactors of cash and valuables amounting to Rs. 23 crores, swindled from the provident fund of district court employees in Ghaziabad.

As grave as the charges are, this is a scandal of unprecedented magnitude and has landed the judiciary in a quandary. For better or for worse, judiciary in India has traditionally carried a badge of utmost integrity and the situation of several judges being subjected to a police probe has never risen before. Understandably, Ghaziabad police sought permission from the Chief Justice of India and Allahabad Court to initiate probe against the judges accused in this scam. While Allahabad High Court dismissed the petition summarily, at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice K Balakrishnan handled the request with remarkable astuteness and ordered a novel method of probe that would protect the prestige and reputation of judiciary as far as possible.

Heading a Supreme Court bench, Balakrishnan directed the Ghaziabad police to submit a questionnaire that would be forwarded to the accused judges to reply. Only in case of their replies not be found satisfactory by the police, the Court would consider permission for direct interrogation. Even this is an interim arrangement and the Supreme Court has sought further advice from the Solicitor General of India on the possible methods of probe against the accused judges.

Regardless of the methods invoked for investigation, this case will have lasting repercussions on the prestige of judiciary as a democratic institution. In dealing with this case, the chief justice has an opportunity to look at corruption in judiciary in the larger perspective. If checks and balances exist to prevent or punish official impropriety in other institutions, there are no grounds left to single out judiciary as an exception. The legislature and judiciary must come together to find an effective cure to this growing epidemic.