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Judicial Indiscipline or a Cry for Help – The Interim Stay Order of Justice Karnan: Amita Dhanda

This is a Guest Post by AMITA DHANDA

Justice Karnan a sitting judge of the Madras High Court was transferred from Madras to Kolkatta to resolve the administrative logjam between Justice Karnan and the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. 21other judges of the High Court also complained that it was difficult to work with Justice Karnan. The soft solution did not yield the desired result as the transferred judge invoked his alleged judicial power and pronounced an interim stay of his own transfer order. The stay he ruled would hold until the Chief Justice of India filed a written statement explaining the transfer order, which he contended was in breach of a 1993 judgement of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court punctured this defiance by asking the Chief Justice of Madras High Court not to allocate any judicial work to the Judge. The judicial crisis has passed but the administrative and human challenge remains.

How should we as citizens view this exchange? How should this incident be understand by us? One way of looking at the episode is through the legal lens of constitutionality, due process and jurisdiction. The other is to perceive the lived reality of a Dalit judge when elevated to the higher judiciary. An analysis of the incident, only vis a vis the requirements of the law, would not provide even a working hypothesis on what caused Justice Karnan to adopt a course of action, which many would perceive as suicidal for his career. The eccentricity explanation, which is doing the rounds, conveniently escapes the matter of caste discrimination. Consequently, this piece firstly examines the manner in which existing law speaks to Justice Karnan’s decision; then dwells on the question of caste discrimination and lastly cogitates on possible ways of addressing this all pervasive discrimination.

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