Probe Conflict Of Interest In Ex-CJI's Sealing Order: Bhushans

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New Delhi, Sep 19 (UNI) Two lawyers called this evening for an inquiry into alleged misconduct by former Chief Justice of India Y K Sabharwal for ordering to seal unauthorised commercial premises while his sons promoted shopping complexes.

''Because of the obvious conflict of interest, he could not have dealt with this case,'' former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan and his son, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, told journalists.

Addressing a news conference at the Press Club, Shanti Bhushan cited calls by former Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer and former CJI J S Verma for a ''thorough'' investigation.

He said unless an investigation is ordered, his group-- Committee for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms-- would set up a probe by former chief justices, judges and civil society members and report the findings to the people-- with whom ''sovereignty resides.'' The matter was taken cognisance of by Delhi High Court judges R S Sodhi and B N Chaturvedi four months ago after their attention was drawn to a daily Mid Day story published on May 18 by senior advocate R K Anand.

On September 11, Justices Sodhi and Chaturvedi held daily Mid Day editor M K Tayal, Publisher S K Akhtar, resident editor Vitusha Oberoi and cartoonist Irfaan Khan ''guilty of contempt of court.'' The judges asked the contemners to be present on September 21 to be heard on the question of sentence.

But today, a Supreme Court bench-- Justices Ashok Bhan and V S Sirpurkar-- directed the High Court to release the contemners on bail in case they are handed down a sentence.

The Supreme Court has set September 28 to hear the case until which time all the contemners will be on bail.

The Bushans released a statement questioning the High Court view that such reports about a former chief justice functioning in his judicial capacity, where he was also sitting with other judges, brings the entire judiciary into disrepute and therefore amounts to contempt.

''This view if accepted would make the amendment in the Contempt of Courts Act making truth a defence irrelevant and make it impossible to ever bring judicial corruption to public view,'' the statement signed by eighteen activists said.

''If that be the ultimate decision of the High Court in this matter, then we the signatories of this statement by supporting the action of Mid day in publishing the report are equally guilty of supporting the Freedom of Press which the Court has punished.'' The signatories included former naval chief and Transparency International India chairman R H Tahiliani, former Finance Secretary S P Shukla, historian Romilla Thapar, former Indian Ambassador Madhu Bhaduri, writer Arundhati Roy and Swami Agnivesh.

Speaking from the dais media studies centre chief N Bhaskar Rao said if such onslaught on media freedoms were allowed it would only encourage coercion.

At a similar news conference last month, the Bhushans accused the former CJI of having disregarded a conflict of interest involving his sons' shopping mall business in ordering the sealing of residential properties used for commercial purposes.

On February 16, 2006, when Justice Sabharwal, then CJI, passed ''the tough order setting in motion the sealing of commercial establishments,'' his sons Chetan Sabharwal and Nitin Sabharwal ''were well on their way to entering the business of malls,'' journalists were told.

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