"Is your heart made of muscle or mud? What was the pressure on you?", the judge asked police who arrested M Karunanidhi in 2001

news Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 05:30

Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| July 22, 2014|

On Monday former Supreme Court judge and Press Council of India Chairman Justice Katju wrote a blog alleging that an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court, against whom there were several allegations of corruption’ was later made a permanent judge under political pressure.

For some time everyone speculated on who the judge was, and many who knew the workings of the Madras High Court did guess the name, but refrained from naming the judge fearing contempt of court and possible defamation.

But now, it has been revealed by many involved in this saga that the judge in question was justice S Ashok Kumar who was first appointed as a district session judge in Tamil Nadu in 1987. District judge S Ashok Kumar who had worked in many districts of Tamil Nadu from 1987 to 2001 would have been just another judge to have worked in the corridors of justice, if not for a case in July 2001.

This was a time when Tamil Nadu was witnessing dramatic political events. The then government headed by J Jayalalithaa arrested had DMK Chief M Karunanidhi in the ‘flyover scam’ case after midnight on June 29, 2001. The images of the arrest, especially a frail Karunanidhi screaming, created much public resentment. Though Karunanidhi's midnight arrest was a re-enactment of Jayalalithaa's arrest in 1996, which the DMK patriarch had effected when he was in power, the visuals had done the damage.

Justice Katju in his blog says, ‘That Judge had the solid support of a very important political leader of Tamil Nadu. I was told that this was because while a District Judge he granted bail to that political leader.’

Here he is referring to this very midnight arrest of M Karunanidhi, who was later produced before Principal Sessions judge S Ashok Kumar. At a time when no one in the bureaucracy or judiciary would dare to speak up against the Jayalalithaa regime, Ashok Kumar was the judge who remanded Karunanidhi to custody and later he took serious exception to the violation of his remand order in Karunanidhi’s case.

After the arrest Sun TV had beamed pictures of 78-year-old Karunanidhi being made to wait outside the jail, a tired Karunanidhi was later shown sitting outside the jail.

Ashok Kumar also took exception to the fact that Karunanidhi was not taken to any hospital though two hospitals were en route to the prison.

A report 2001 in The Hindu quotes the judge as saying, "Mr. Karunanidhi was made to wait before the Central Prison like a beggar. Everyone saw it. The whole world saw it on television. He is a 78-year-old man suffering from various health ailments. Is your heart made of muscle or mud? What was the pressure on you?"

Judge Ashok Kumar gave bail to Karunanidhi's son Stalin and others on July 6, 2001. This was enough to make the DMK chief develop a soft corner for the judge.

Ashok Kumar was elevated as Additional Judge of Madras High Court in April 2003, a period when the DMK was part of the NDA.

Ashok Kumar was given a four-month extension along with his batch in April 2005, then another extension for a year in August 2005, then another six months in August 2006, confirmed in February 2007. While the DMK has now been accused of openly campaigning for the judge, courtroom gossip in Chennai is that the AIADMK at that time did everything in its capacity to stall his appointments. In fact, Ashok Kumar's tenure has been so controversial that his extension and confirmation as permanent judge has been questioned twice in court. 

The Supreme Court in December 2008, dismissed a petition filed by Shanthi Bhushan objecting Ashok Kumar’s appointment as a permanent judge of the Madras High Court.

Though Justice Katju has pointed fingers at three former CJIs, there are some questions still unanswered. The SC judgement in December 2008 says, “It is to be noted that at different points of time, starting from the point of initial appointment, the successive Chief Justices have recommended for respondent No.2 (Ashok Kumar) to be made permanent. That situation continued till 3.2.2007 when the recommendation of the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court (Justice AP Shah) for appointing respondent No.2 as a permanent Judge was accepted.”

In August 2005 when Ashok Kumar’s tenure was extended, Justice Katju was the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. If one goes by the Supreme Court’s order, even Justice Katju gave clearance for the extension.

Ashok Kumar retired in July 2009 and died in October the same year.

IB report

Justice Katju has also repeatedly spoken about an IB report that had adverse remarks against Ashok Kumar, but these were deleted by the then acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court, N Dinakaran. The report was based on some issues during Ashok Kumar’s tenure as district judge of Krishnagiri between 2002 and 2003, and some other issues later till 2004.

Surprisingly, as senior journalist G C Shekhar notes in The Telegraph, the adverse remarks were struck off by the then acting chief justice N. Dinakaran, who had acquitted Jayalalithaa in a land case, an acquittal that enabled her to return as chief minister in 2002 after being unseated by the Supreme Court. Dinakaran is now the chairman of the Tamil Nadu Law commission. 

Justice Katju’s timing has been questioned by many. Perhaps Justice Katju could have spoken up earlier, perhaps he has other intentions in speaking up now. But what he said has reinforced what we have always known and suspected - there is a deep nexus between some judges and political parties.

Whether it is Ashok Kumar, N Dinakaran, P D Dinakaran or V Ramaswami, Tamil Nadu itself has many such examples. Read- Political parties in Tamil Nadu and judiciary, a connection that is undeniable

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