Kolkata/New Delhi: Controversial Calcutta high court judge C.S. Karnan on Monday ended his tenure as a judge with no customary farewell being given to him. The 62-year-old Karnan has been evading arrest since 9 May after being sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for contempt of court by the Supreme Court.
He has the dubious distinction of being the first sitting high court judge to be awarded a jail term by the apex court. A customary farewell by the high court administration to the retiring judge could not be held as justice Karnan was not present. “A farewell given by the administration is held, which is attended by judges and senior lawyers and speeches are made as per the custom. This was not held as he was not present," Calcutta high court registrar-general Sugato Majumdar said. Asked about clearance of justice Karnan’s retirement benefits, Majumdar said, “All formalities will be completed as per the law."
A retiring judge is also given a farewell by the bar, though it is not mandatory. “Had justice Karnan been here, the bar would have considered. There is a procedure by which an invitation is sent to a retiring judge and if he accepts, necessary arrangements are made... Since we do not know where he is, the question does not arise," additional advocate-general Abhratosh Chowdhury said. Owing to the unprecedented situation prevailing after the Supreme Court order and his absence, a farewell could not be considered, Calcutta high court bar association president Suranjan Dasgupta said.
Born on 12 June 1955, justice Karnan has been evading arrest since a seven-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar, passed the unprecedented arrest order against him. Despite several attempts, justice Karnan has failed to get any relief from the apex court’s vacation benches, which refused to hear his plea seeking a stay of its jail term order. His lawyers had also claimed to have approached President Pranab Mukherjee for exercising his power to stay the apex court’s order, but till now, no relief has come to the judge. The seven-judge bench had also asked the West Bengal director general of police to take justice Karnan, who has been on a warpath with the Supreme Court for the last several months, into custody.
According to his lawyers, the ground taken in the application to the president was that the judge will be unable to exercise any remedy if he was arrested. After being sentenced to a six-month jail term, justice Karnan had on 12 May moved the apex court for relief, saying neither the high courts nor their judges were “subordinate" to it. He had sought recall of the apex court’s order, contending he could not be held guilty of contempt of court.
Earlier, the apex court had issued a bailable warrant against him to secure his presence in the contempt case. He had appeared before the apex court on 31 March, a first in Indian judicial history, and had asked for restoration of his powers as a precondition for his re- appearance, but the plea was rejected. Justice Karnan, who enrolled as an advocate with the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu in 1983, was appointed a judge of the Madras high court in 2009. He was transferred to the Calcutta high court on 11 March 2016. He was transferred from the Madras high court for his repeated allegations and run-ins with its then-chief justice and fellow judges.
The high court judge had on 15 February 2016 stayed his transfer order, which was suspended by the Supreme Court. The apex court had earlier even asked the chief justice of the Madras high court not to assign him any judicial work.