Legal experts may dub Friday’s episode of the four seniormost Supreme Court judges airing their differences with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in public as “unprecedented”. But an agitation of near-equal proportion did occur in the Punjab and Haryana high court over 13 years ago.
On April 18, 2004, 25 judges of the Punjab and Haryana high court allegedly went on casual leave en masse to protest against the then Chief Justice BK Roy.
Justice Roy had sought an explanation from two judges for accepting membership at a golf resort near Chandigarh even though it was facing litigation for violation of environmental norms, among others.
In a televised interview delivered after the incident, he accused his “brother judges” of calling the registrar directly to get cases listed in their courts without his knowledge.
As many as 21 judges later told the then Chief Justice of India that they were finding it difficult to work with Justice Roy.
“Justice Roy wanted to crack down on corruption. When the high court judges went on a day’s leave to register their protest in 2004, members of the bar supported him,” recalled advocate Tahar Singh, who had led a lawyers’ protest against the judges at the time.
“Justice Roy had curbed the practice of sons and daughters of serving and former judges (practising as lawyers) getting their cases listed before judges of their choice,” Singh said.
“The golf club membership issue was only the tipping point… the crackdown on the ‘uncle judge’ phenomenon was the real reason for the agitation,” he said.
Justice Roy was transferred to the Gauhati high court in February 2005 on the Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation.
“I fought for the independence of the judiciary,” Justice Roy said over the phone from Patna, where he settled after his retirement in 2006.
“I was assigned a constitutional duty, and I discharged it faithfully.”
The former judge said Friday’s development was “very unfortunate.”
The high court agitation later figured in a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court against the 25 judges. The top court threw it out on the grounds that the judges returned to work the next day, terming the plea “infructuous”.