More Ignominy for Judge Tarun Chatterjee


Nagaland Govt questions the propriety of SC ex-judge, accused in PF scam, being named as head of boundary dispute commission

Under scanner for receiving alleged benefits in the multi-crore Provident Fund scam, being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), retired Supreme Court judge Justice Tarun Chatterjee has a fresh charge of judicial impropriety to counter.

The Nagaland Government on Friday opposed Justice Chatterjee’s appointment as chairman of the local commission to delineate inter-State boundary among Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. It claimed that he had been part of an earlier Bench hearing the suit in the SC.

What was worse, Justice Chatterjee was appointed two days before he retired, on January 14 this year, by a judicial order without holding any consultation with the States or the Centre which, in the past, had recommended judges to preside over the commission.

Chatterjee was in the news recently when senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Gujarat Minister of State (Home) Amit Shah, had levelled serious charges of impropriety against him. Jethmalani prayed for recall of the January 12 SC order directing the CBI to probe Sohrabuddin Seikh encounter killing. The judgement was passed by a Bench headed by Justice Chatterjee. The noted lawyer had said Chatterjee should not have passed the CBI probe order since his own role was being probed by the agency in the PF scam.

Nagaland’s Advocate General KN Balagopal, who filed an application in this regard, said, "It is a question of judicial propriety. We have not made a whisper of bias against the judge, but would it be proper for a judge - who himself was party to the order constituting the commission - to head the commission on retirement?"

Balagopal was referring to an order passed by the apex court on September 13, 2004, when a three-judge Bench, including Justice Chatterjee, appointed the commission. It was in this order that a decision was taken to appoint a local commissioner to inspect the site, collect evidence and prepare a report.

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retd) SN Variava, was appointed to the post in 2006 after consultation with the Central Government through the Attorney General. Following his decision to quit in December 2009, a Bench of the apex court on January 12, 2010, went ahead to appoint Justice Chatterjee as the commission head, assisted by two other members.

But the Nagaland Government’s application failed to convince the Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and TS Thakur, who dismissed it. Defending Justice Chatterjee’s appointment, the Bench argued, "If Justice Chatterjee belonged to any of the States concerned, we can understand. He has not even expressed any opinion in favour of any State....It’s not a case where personal interest is involved. Don’t worry about the propriety part."

Another reason for the Bench to object Nagaland’s plea against Justice Chatterjee Commission was the clear evidence that on two occasions, the State Government appeared before him but did not raise a protest. On the other hand, the Assam Government claimed it was a ploy by Nagaland to delay the proceedings as it was yet to file its response before the commission.

But realising that the dispute has been pending since 1988, the Bench proposed mediation by asking both State’s Chief Secretaries to appoint mediators and thrash out differences amicably within three months.

In his inimitable style, Justice Katju commented that the time had come that long-standing disputes, such as inter-State water disputes, be settled through mediations since adjudication was never a success as one side would always agitate against the verdict. The court even asked a Union Home Ministry representative to remain present during the mediation proceedings.