First, the facts. A former Chief Minister of a state commits suicide. He leaves behind an emotional suicide note running over 60 pages. The suicide note contains allegations against several politicians, including a sitting Chief Minister, sitting Supreme Court Judges and senior lawyers/legal officers (to the effect that he was asked to pay bribes by people claiming to act on behalf of these judges to swing a decision in his/his party’s favour).
In any other democratic country, with even an iota of shame, nay, pretence of shame or even notions of integrity, this event would have shaken the country. Everything else would have stopped. Television news channels would have been debating the matter day and night. This would have been a front page news for months in any newspaper which continues to believe that speaking truth to power or demanding accountability is still fashionable.
At least one politician or a judge would have resigned fearing outrage. The government would have probably sanctioned an inquiry headed by a lame-duck pliable person out of need, just to show that something was being done. One would expect nothing less than 2.5 years after so many people came on the streets protesting ‘corruption’ and of course, a Lokpal.
The Brazen Impunity of Ignoring Pul’s Suicide Note
Is any of this happening?
Jaane bhi do yaaron.
What is happening can only be described in two words: brazen impunity. The person who committed suicide was the former Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Kalikho Pul. According to a report here, his wife has petitioned the Chief Justice of India, seeking that a FIR be registered and investigation into the allegations against judges be commenced. The permission of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is necessary before any FIR can be registered against a Supreme Court Judge.
She has reportedly also requested the CJI to place the petition before another judge “in accordance with the judgment in the Veeraswami case for consideration of my request.” The Veeraswami judgment inter alia says that if allegations are being made against the Chief Justice herself, then they must be placed before his brother/sister judge to decide whether the allegations prima facie merit investigation.
Suicide Note Doesn’t Mean an Investigation Can’t be Launched
At the center of this controversy is the suicide note. What is the evidentiary value of this suicide note?
In this case, while the note by itself cannot be a decisive clincher for the allegations contained therein, the first step, (if anyone is interested in investigating the matter that is) is would be to prima facie establish the authenticity of the note. The note is reportedly signed by Kalikho Pul.
At the very minimum the authenticity of his signature can be easily established. The second step would be to begin investigation insofar as the allegations are concerned. For instance, the note talks about Pul having met x/y person at x/y Five Star Hotel, this can be easily verified by obtaining the CCTV footage of these hotels.
There are just examples and I’m giving them to counter a narrative which says merely because a sentence is written about someone somewhere does not mean that an investigation should be commenced; especially when senior constitutional functionaries are involved.
Let me make this clear: the fact that today, all we have is a suicide note, is no bar against an investigation being launched. It would be incorrect for anyone to hold that an investigation cannot be commenced merely because there is nothing else, besides the suicide note.
SC Should Take the Lead
While it is important to understand, and discuss the evidentiary value of such a note in strictly legal-technical terms, in my opinion that in an ideal world, a world where the dignity of the highest court of the land was considered sacrosanct and precious, the Supreme Court would, especially in the facts of the case, take the lead in saying that to preserve this dignity we don’t need to wait for enquiries.
In an ideal world, the judges named would want to set extraordinary standards of probity and would resign or recuse from further judicial work. The Supreme Court will not be seen doing justice if all continues as usual despite the dark cloud of those allegations hanging over its head.
They would do this to uphold and practice the principle of natural justice that “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”
When the Lokpal ‘movement’ was at its peak, many people expressed concern and said the authority of the parliament was being undermined. They said that populist sentiment and mobs should not be dictating the parliament.
Many lamented that if only people at large believed that the Parliament was doing its job and had faith; then maybe things would not have come to such a pass and would have urged elected representatives to reflect.
I say this with complete humility; perhaps there is a lesson in this for the judiciary as well.
This article was first published on Quint