Yet another case of judicial corruption was exposed last month when the Andhra Pradesh High Court suspended additional special judge for CBI cases T. Pattabhi Rama Rao following allegations of corruption. Charged on the basis of a complaint filed by the CBI, the special judge had allegedly taken a bribe of Rs 5 crore to grant bail to former Karnataka minister Gali Janardhana Reddy in the illegal mining case. The vigilance wing of the high court found the allegation to hold merit. Former chief justice of India V.N. Khare told Chandrani Banerjee that such incidents are now rampant. Excerpts:
Are bribes for bail endemic now?
There is no doubt about it. It is rampant. Corruption in the lower courts is no secret. Sometimes, in the high court as well, cases of corruption have surfaced, but in my experience while I was in the Supreme Court, I have not witnessed anything similar.
In the lower courts, it’s alleged that everything comes for a price. Rates are fixed for quick divorce, bail and other favourable verdicts.
Cases in the media glare, constantly scrutinised, are different. Otherwise it is very difficult for the common man. There are huge time gaps between hearings. Years are spent to get an order from the lower courts. So, it is difficult.
Subordinate courts function under the supervision of high courts. Should the higher courts be accountable?
The respective high courts have so much of work that monitoring district courts is just part of the routine. High courts have inspecting judges who are responsible for monitoring district courts. They go with a lot of band baaja and have lunch while on inspection. Inspecting judges are presented with a rosy picture and then they file a report. Now, the greater problem is that they are overburdened with work. Cases are in addition to administrative work, besides other mandatory official work. As a result, the inspecting judges of the high courts have no time to follow up. We need dedicated staff to monitor the district courts.
What kind of monitoring is needed?
A team of three serving judges should be formed. These judges should dedicatedly monitor the district judges. Their judgements should be analysed and questioned. Their attendance and work should be scrutinised. Someone should question them about their performance. I feel doing that will put in some checks.
You mean to say work overload and pendency of cases have themselves become a factor in corruption?
Yes, to a large extent. The high court judges are overburdened and they have no time. They always inform the district court authorities before the visits. It causes a situation where the real problem never comes to the surface. A dedicated committee of judges will help, but we are short of people. To my knowledge, we have 13.2 judges for 10 lakh people. If required to, we use excess strength in a particular situation, but there is no permanent arrangement. We work on an ad-hoc basis and so there are problems.
Would a few suspensions control corruption in the lower courts?
They will certainly convey a message. When I was serving, I did take certain measures which sent the message across the country that any charge of corruption will be probed. Fast actions and decisions on charges levelled against judges always work as deterrent.
What is the role of the inspecting judges in controlling corruption?
They should conduct sudden checks, always unannounced, and also follow up on any complaint registered in the district courts. However, to actualise this, we have to have a sufficient number of good judges. The monitoring will then be effective and result-oriented.
What is the mechanism to keep the lower courts free from corruption?
A dedicated committee of judges that will only monitor lower courts. Punctuality, integrity and court orders—everything should be under the lens. Such accountability will ensure the right kind of order is delivered in every petition.
Is consumerism responsible for fostering corruption in lower courts?
Judges are only people, like us. They come from the same society. Society is all about taking short cuts. Society is about quick successes. So, short cuts are taken and the judges are no different.