Dirt on black robes of judiciary’s high priests

By Rana Ajit, IANS,

New Delhi : A damming deposition by a former Ghaziabad court clerk has thrown mud on the Indian judiciary’s high priests. He claims simple day-to-day household items like towels and bed sheets were bought for judges with the money he siphoned off from the court treasury!

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Rajeev Asthana, accused of fraudulently withdrawing Rs.230 million (Rs.23 crores) from the Ghaziabad district court treasury in the last seven to eight years, says he spent part of it to meet the household expenses of several members of the higher judiciary.

These include an apex court judge and nearly a dozen judges of the Allahabad High Court, he says. Ghaziabad is in Uttar Pradesh.

“At the instructions of Ghaziabad’s former district judge R.S. Chaubey, some household goods like towels, bed sheets often used to be delivered to this particular Supreme Court judge (name withheld by IANS). He was also supplied crockery by Amichand (a co-accused in the case),” Asthana has said in his deposition.

Asthana made the deposition before Ghaziabad’s additional chief judicial magistrate April 28. Asthana was arrested and dismissed from service earlier this year.

The case relates to fraudulent withdrawal from the treasury of funds that had been deposited as provident fund and gratuity of hundreds of Class IV employees – or those doing menial jobs – at the Ghaziabad court.

“Domestic furniture, purchased from Rajkamal Furniture, Ramteram Road were delivered to his (the Supreme Court’s judge) residence at Calcutta by Sri Amichand. His son too was given a Sony laptop worth Rs.125,000 and a mobile phone,” added Asthana in his deposition.

Even a judge at the Calcutta High Court – probably the apex court judge’s relative – was supplied various household things bought from funds siphoned off from the Ghaziabad court treasury, alleges Asthana.

“Justice P.K. Sawant is presently posted at Calcutta High Court. He is probably a relative of the Supreme Court judge. An IFB washing machine and a 29-inch television were delivered at his residence in Calcutta by a Ghaziabad court employee, Shravan Kumar,” said Asthana.

In his deposition, Asthana has also accused at least seven other serving judges of the Allahabad High Court of being the beneficiary of money he withdrew.

The Allahabad High Court judges whose names figured in Asthana’s deposition as the beneficiary of the scam allegedly include Anjani Kumar, Sushil Harkauli, Tarun Aggarwal, B.S. Sahai, J.C.M. Rawat, O.A Khandelwal and Swatantra Singh.

They too were supplied various household goods ranging from bed sheets and towels to electronic gadgets like computers, mobile phones, television, furniture, besides being extended other facilities with the help of the money Asthana took out of the treasury.

Besides naming the high court judges, Asthana has also named over two dozen judicial magistrates and lower judiciary judges as the beneficiary of funds of over Rs.230 million fraudulently withdrawn from the treasury.

The fraud was detected by Ghaziabad’s Additional Sessions Judge Rama Jain, who personally lodged the criminal case with the police.

As police began the probe, Asthana turned out to be the kingpin of the scam, withdrawing money from the treasury allegedly at the behest of various district judges between 2001-08.

As Asthana named judges of India’s higher judiciary as beneficiaries of the scam, the Ghaziabad police wrote to Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan’s office, seeking his permission to interrogate the judges.

The chief justice in turn has asked Ghaziabad police to submit its questionnaire to his office for vetting before being posed to the judges.

With the names of judges of the higher judiciary surfacing as beneficiaries of the scam, several public interest lawsuits have been filed in the apex court for an independent high-level probe into the veracity of the allegations. The lawsuits include one by former union law minister Shanti Bhushan, who has objected to the chief justice’s order for first getting the questionnaire vetted by his office.

Various lawsuits, including one filed by Shanti Bhushan, are still pending before the apex court and are to come for next hearing on Aug 1.