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SC turns down former judge Karnan's bail plea

Last updated on: June 22, 2017 00:28 IST

Former Calcutta high court judge C S Karnan was on Wednesday lodged in a Kolkata jail even as he failed to get any last-minute reprieve from the Supreme Court after being on the run for six weeks.

The 62-year-old Karnan, who was arrested in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday, earned the dubious distinction of being the first sitting high court judge to be sent to jail. He has been evading arrest since May 9 when a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court handed down a six-month prison term for contempt of court.

Karnan, who retired as Calcutta high court judge on June 12, was arrested by the West Bengal CID from a private resort at Malumichampatti, about six km near Coimbatore, where he was "hiding" for the past few days.

The former judge was taken to Presidency jail straight from the airport in Kolkata after he was brought from Chennai by a team of West Bengal state CID officers by an Air India flight, a senior police officer said.

Dressed in a full-sleeved white shirt and pants, Karnan came out of the airport escorted by policemen in civil dress. He was whisked off by the police when reporters tried to approach him.

"His medical tests were completed at the airport and the judge was taken straightaway to the jail," he said.

Tight security arrangements were made at the airport where senior police officers, including Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, were present.

Karnan was taken to hospital after he complained of chest pain and was returned to the jail when doctors found nothing "alarming".

Karnan, who in the past has said he was targeted for being a Dalit, was brought to Chennai from Coimbatore by a private airline past midnight yesterday and later accommodated in the retiring room in the airport complex amid tight security.

Three police teams from Kolkata were camping in Coimbatore and traced Karnan on the basis of his mobile phone calls with the Tamil Nadu Police providing technical support to trace his whereabouts, a senior local police officer had said.

Karnan failed to get any last-minute reprieve after the apex court refused to entertain his plea for interim bail and suspension of the six-month sentence.

The apex court said it was duty-bound by the seven-judge bench's order in the case and "cannot override it."

"The matter has been heard by a seven-judge bench and order has been passed. The order is binding on us. We in vacation cannot override it. It is nothing we can do," a vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and S K Kaul said.

Appearing for the retired judge, advocate Mathews J Nedumpara said equity demands that he be granted bail till the court reopened.

However, the bench said, "All equity is subject to law and judicial discipline. You mention the matter before the bench of chief justice."

Nedumpara contended that the bench had all the powers to pass an order granting bail and suspension of the six months sentence, as the detailed judgement in the case was yet to be passed by the seven-judge bench.

The submissions did not impress the bench which declined to entertain his plea.

A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, had on May 9 directed the West Bengal director general of police to take Karnan, who was a sitting judge, into custody immediately.

Despite several attempts, Karnan has failed to get any relief from the apex court's vacation bench which has refused to hear his plea seeking a stay of its jail term order.

His lawyers also claimed to have approached President Pranab Mukherjee for exercising his power to stay the apex court's order, but there has been no relief for the ex-judge.

After being sentenced, Karnan had on May 12 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.

Karnan had said the Contempt of Courts Act was a "cathartic jurisprudence which belonged to the Dark Ages, the era of inquisition and torture, distinct from the classical Roman Law which constitutes the foundation of modern jurisprudence".

He had also sought a stay on all "further proceedings" pursuant to the May 9 order.

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 March 31, a first in Indian judicial history, and had asked for restoration of his powers as a precondition for his reappearance, but the plea was rejected.

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 March 11, 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 February 15, 2016 stayed his transfer order, which was later suspended by the Supreme Court.

IMAGE: Former Calcutta high court Judgec Justice C S Karnan at Chennai airport, being taken by West Bengal police to Kolkata, on Wednesday. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

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