Justice Bhalla Elevated As Himachal HC Chief Justice

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New Delhi, Jan 18 (UNI) A Chhattisgarh High Court Judge's elevation as the Himachal Pradesh High Court Chief Justice was announced today in a move critics dubbed ''shameful.'' The announcement of Justice Jagdish Bhalla's appointment was preceded by an announcement of the transfers of the Chief Justices of the Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand HCs.

The first announcement transferred Uttarakhand HC Chief Justice Rajeev Gupta as Chhattisgarh HC Chief Justice and Himachal Pradesh HC Chief Justice Vinod Kumar Gupta as Uttarakhand HC Chief Justice.

The announcement by the Law and Justice Ministry said the two Chief Justices were transferred by President Pratibha Patil in exercise of Article 222 after consultation with Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan.

It said both Chief Justices ''have been directed to assume charge of their respective office'' by February 2.

A second announcement about Justice Bhalla's appointment in exercise of Article 217 ''with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office'' came a minute later.

Justice Bhalla's appointment as Chief Justice had long been on the cards but kept getting deferred following public criticism by such leading advocates as Fali Nariman and Shanti Bhushan.

Nariman, a former MP, and former Law Ministers Shanti Bhushan and Ram Jethmalani had sought an investigation against Justice Bhalla over an alleged shady land deal.

''It's shameful that both the judiciary and the executive have turned a deaf ear to the very clear, strong, cogent and serious chargesheet that was released by such eminent legal personalities,'' said Prashant Bhushan, a spokesman for a campaign for accountability in Indian Judiciary.

Justice Bhalla, once tipped to be appointed Chief Justice of the Kerala HC, was transferred in May 2007 as a Chhattisgarh HC Judge.

Moves to elevate him as Chief Justice-- first of the Kerala HC and then of the Chhattisgarh HC-- were dogged by allegations over a land deal involving his wife.

As early as December 2006 the Supreme Court collegium then headed by CJI Y K Sabharwal recommended his promotion as Chief Justice of the Kerala HC.

Critics, such as Shanti Bhushan, petitioned several public authorities, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, calling for an investigation.

Chatterjee, in turn, brought the matter to the attention of Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj.

Another petition, submitted to then Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, was forwarded to then CJI, Justice Sabharwal.

Just before retiring in January, Justice Sabharwal told journalists that Justice Bhalla's elevation was considered after word from Allahabad Bar leaders that there was no truth in the allegations about the purchase of land by his wife at a price less than the market value.

He did not say whether or how the lawyers' assertion was verified.

In February, the then President Kalam sought clarification from the Law and Justice Ministry by returning to it the file on Justice Bhalla's promotion.

Again, in April 2007, the collegium was reported to have cleared his elevation as Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court.

But on May 11, Justice Bhalla was transferred by President Kalam after consultation with CJI Balakrishnan and directed to assume charge ''on or before 25th May, 2007.'' UNI MJ LS RAI2334

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