Just a day after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest, Calcutta High Court judge C S Karnan is now untraceable as police teams from West Bengal, Tamil Nadu & Andhra Pradesh have failed to locate him.
According to an Indian Express report, W Peter Ramesh Kumar, Justice Karnan’s close aide and his legal adviser, has claimed that the judge is evading arrest and may have left the country to Nepal or Bangladesh.
However, he refused to elaborate on the route and details, especially as a road route from Chennai to any Indian border will take a minimum journey of 36 hours.
Justice Karnan had left from Kolkata on Tuesday morning to reach Chennai before the apex court sentenced him to 6 months in jail. He had even addressed the media after the verdict in Chennai, reported NDTV.
A five-member police team from West Bengal police has been coordinating with their Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh counterparts to get information about Karnan.
According to a report by The Times of India, Kumar had informed that a team of around 50 policemen had met him around noon seeking information on the judge.
He claimed the judge had moved to a temple in Kalahasti near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, but the police team that went to Kalahasthi could not find him. There were also inputs about his presence in Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu, but it, too, proved to be false.
The police are trying to get in touch with the government driver of the judge's car.
Justice Karnan is the first judge to be sentenced to jail by the Supreme Court. Karnan was sentenced just after he had sentenced Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and 7 other judges to 5 months in jail.
A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court had directed Justice Karnan of the Calcutta High Court to appear before it on February 13, 2017 to speak out before the apex court initiates contempt charges.
On January 23, 2017, Justice Karnan had published an open letter to the prime minister naming “an initial list” of 20 sitting and retired Supreme Court and High Court judges, accusing them of corruption. In it, Justice Karnan had suggested that they be investigated through interrogation by central agencies.
The bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI), Justice JS Khehar, asked Justice Karnan to appear in person and answer the charges and have stripped him off his administrative and judicial powers till then.
A seven-judge constitution bench, including CJI Khehar, had found him guilty of contempt of court,after he named 20 judges. The supreme court had also asked to get him medically examined, which justice Karnan refused.
Justice Karnan has had a controversial career since his appointment in 2009 and came to notice last year when he stayed a court order against his own transfer from the Madras High Court. Then chief justice of Madras HC, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, as well as his colleagues had found it difficult to work with Justice Karnan.
CS Karnan was a government counsel, with 25 years of experience as a lawyer, when his name was recommended by Justice (retd) AK Ganguly, then the chief justice of Madras High Court. Other members of the collegium did not know him well and some even remarked that he had not appeared before them. They had accepted the appointment based on Justice Ganguly’s recommendation, which appears to have been made to accomodate a Dalit judge in the senior judicary.
As reported in The Hindu, Justice Ganguly has since said that he doesn’t remember how his name came up in the first place. Justice Ganguly said that he appointed Karnan because “he represented a certain community that should be represented in the choice of judges.”
Justice Ganguly had also said that he did have a soft corner for Justice Karnan and thought him to be a good man, though probably misguided.
Later, Justice Karnan has himself described the collegium system as ‘autocratic’.
In 2011, Justice Karnan had written to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) complaining of victimisation by the other judges because he was a Dalit.
He invited members of the press into his chambers and held a press conference there alleging victimisation at the hand of 4-5 of his brother judges.
A bench of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Khehar (before he was appointed CJI), directed the Madras HC to stop giving him work and eventually Justice Karnan made his way to the Calcutta HC.
In Calcutta HC, he had a public spat with Justice AK Roy, who was heading their two-judge bench. In the Vivekananda Flyover collapse, several people had been killed when a flyover collapsed in the heart of Kolkata. The two-judge bench had refused bail to the accused. Later, Justice Karnan changed the order from his chambers, allowing bail to
the accused. The then chief justice of the Calcutta HC had to remove Justice Karnan to a single-judge bench to hear education matters.