- The Sack: On April 1, Prabhakar Gwal was dismissed from his post as additional chief judicial magistrate in Raipur.
- The Provocation: A toll-plaza contractor, whom Gwal had complained against, accused the judicial officer of physical assault.
- The backstory: Gwal has a long history of taking on powerful persons connected with the ruling party in the state.
For the legal fraternity in Chhattisgarh, All Fools Day came with a piece of very unfunny news. An “upright but eccentric” judicial officer had been dismissed from service, ostensibly in the pursuit of “public interest”. Prabhakar Gwal was just four months into his stint as additional chief judicial magistrate (ACJM) in state capital Raipur when the marching orders arrived following a recommendation of the high court. Even though he confirmed the news, court registrar Arvind Chandel refuses to even reveal whether Gwal was served a show-cause notice and given a chance to state his case.
In the same vein, the state government spokesperson has so far offered only a cryptic rationale, saying “Gwal’s dismissal was in janhit (public interest)”, refusing to elaborate on the charges against him. But colleagues from the legal fraternity suspect the move couldn’t have had nothing to do with how Gwal had never been scared of stepping on the toes of the powerful and the influential. “Jo hua, galat hua,” exclaims a senior lawyer in Raipur.
Curiously, the state law department had decided on the dismissal after itself finding that it “does not appear reasonable to hold a departmental inquiry”. So what exactly did Gwal do that threatened the interests of the public so much that he had to be dismissed without a departmental inquiry? No one has so far cared to explain to the public how Gwal had compromised their interests.
What is known, though, is that just before the dismissal a toll-plaza contractor had filed a complaint accusing Gwal of assaulting him and his men. They were the same people whom the judicial officer had earlier accused of misbehaving with him and his wife. Though police is yet to move on Gwal’s complaint, the court lost no time in issuing summons to him and, after hearing the contractor, ordered the police to register a case.
This was not Gwal’s first face-off with someone powerful. During an earlier stint in Bilaspur, he had rubbed BJP minister Amar Agrawal the wrong way by convictng people close to him. That had earned him a quick transfer out of the city.
Even in Raipur, his run-INS with the ruling party continued. In the PMT question-paper leak case, which many in the state compare with the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, Gwal convicted six persons close to the party.
He also refused to accept a closure report submitted by the CBI in its probe into the suicide of IPS officer Rahul Sharma. Gwal wanted the investigation agency to look seriously into the issues raised in Sharma’s suicide note, in which he had allegedly implicated several senior officers.
Matters came to a head when Gwal lodged a police complaint against BJP legislator Ramlal Chauhan. He accused Chauhan of threatening him in his chamber on August 7 last year. The MLA was allegedly upset with Gwal for having issued a warning note to an IPS officer accused of tampering with evidence. Chauhan rubbished the allegation and claimed that ACJM had invited him over.
When news of Gwal’s complaint made it to the local newspapers on August 25, the district judge asked him to explain how the media got hold of it. The ACJM replied that copies of the complaint had been forwarded to the district judge and the high court, but the HC issued a memo on August 27 regretting that it came to know of the cases from the media.
On September 14, the ACJM was transferred to Sukma as the CJM. He was relieved from his duties in Raipur on the same day and asked to vacate his official accommodation, while personal staff allotted to him were immediately withdrawn.
Soon after he joined work in Sukma on September 26, Gwal resumed his blistering, unremitting pace. He sentenced an engineer to rigorous imprisonment for being guilty of financial misappropriation. But the same story unfolded: the appellate court granted the man bail without even calling for the case records. The Sukma collector also called Gwal and warned him that he should not rely on media reports because journalists were prone to indulge in blackmail. Gwal recorded the conversa-tion and it soon went viral on social media.
In Raipur, locals remember the judicial officer bicycling to the court, dressed modestly and in his slippers. He was sharp and knew the finer points of law, say lawyers at the high court. Sanket Thakur of the Aam Aadmi Party tells Outlook, “Gwal’s dismissal is designed to send out the message that the subordinate judiciary should fall in line.” The local media already have—they are too scared, claims Thakur, to even carry his statements on the issue.
By Yashwant Dhote in Raipur