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Tribune Exclusive
Chief Justice Roy at Guwahati: different setting,
same script
Maneesh Chhibber
Our High Court Correspondent

Chandigarh, August 14
It’s Chandigarh once again for the Guwahati High Court Chief Justice, Mr Justice B.K. Roy. If judges and lawyers at the Guwahati High Court have expressed reservations over his style of functioning, judges and lawyers at the Punjab and Haryana High Court were no different.

His actions at Punjab and Haryana High Court had forced a majority of the judges (25 judges out of 28) to proceed on mass leave on April 19 last year. It was the first time that judges of a High Court had gone on mass leave.

Now, 15 of the 17 judges at the Guwahati High Court have written to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) requesting him to rein in Mr Chief Justice Roy or transfer all of them out.

The Tribune accessed the correspondence between Mr Chief Justice Roy (when he was at Chandigarh), his brother judges and the CJI, perusal of which shows that the mass leave happened only after the then CJI, Mr Justice V.N. Khare, failed to heed to warning signals, many of them in the form of letters by a majority of the judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and did not intervene effectively.

Here is how things culminated in a point-of-no-return.

Documents show that on October 18, 2003, 12 judges had met Mr Justice Khare at the UT Guest House, Chandigarh, and sought his intervention in reining in Mr Chief Justice Roy. Mr Justice Khare had promised to look into the issue.

On December 10, 2003, 21 judges wrote to Mr Chief Justice Roy saying that for the past one year the atmosphere in the High Court and subordinate judiciary of Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory of Chandigarh had got “totally vitiated”.

“The judges, judicial officers and members of the staff are being looked upon with suspicion and even their integrity is being openly doubted… We are conscious of our constitutional obligation but the unprecedented manner in which our work in the High Court and in the allotted districts is being supervised by you makes it difficult for us to continue with our administrative work. Therefore, it will not be possible for us to look after administrative work of districts,” the judges wrote.

Mr Chief Justice Roy, on his part, termed the allegations as baseless and frivolous.

On January 10, 2004, two judges of the Supreme Court — Mr Justice R.C. Lahoti (present CJI) and Mr Justice Ashok Bhan — visited Chandigarh and talked to Mr Chief Justice Roy and some senior judges separately. During the interaction, Mr Justice Lahoti suggested that the practice of granting bail during jail inspections by judges be discontinued. The judges agreed.

However, there was no end to the tussle. On February 26, 2004, 21 judges informed Mr Chief Justice Roy that in view of the “prevailing atmosphere” it would not be possible for them to continue on various committees of which they were members.

On March 12, 2004, 23 judges wrote to the CJI to seek his intervention in the affairs of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

“Most of us feel that the present Chief Justice has carried on a relentless campaign against the judges. He has been condemning them from the dais in the open court, during the course of his interaction with the members of the Bar and also before the officers and employees of the court by making uncharitable remarks… He has been making efforts to divide the court on caste and communal lines. Because of his attitude, there has been effective failure of functioning of the judicial system on administrative side. There are several instances of interference even on judicial side.… We are prepared to go to any extent subject to honour and dignity, but find that as things now stand, the sense of honour and dignity of most of us has been seriously compromised on account of the behaviour of the Chief Justice and it has become extremely difficult to work with him. We, therefore, request you to intervene and save the High Court from further decline,” they wrote.

On April 18, 2004, the judges again wrote to the CJI. This time, they accused Mr Chief Justice Roy of starting a “hatred campaign” against judges belonging to the communities of the Sikhs, Baniyas and Scheduled Castes.

They also alleged that Mr Chief Justice Roy was leaking information to certain newspapers.

The next day, on April 19, 2004, they went on mass leave.

On April 25, 2004, four senior judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court were called to New Delhi for a meeting with the CJI. They again reiterated their allegations against Mr Chief Justice Roy.

The CJI told them that he would sort out the issues. He also told them to resume administrative work of the districts, which the judges did on April 29.

On May 23, 2004, the judges again wrote to the CJI bringing to his notice the goings-on in the High Court.

They also wrote that on April 2, 2004, Mr Chief Justice Roy had sought explanation of two judges for having taken free membership of the controversial Forest Hill Golf Club and Resort.

Mr Chief Justice Roy was finally shifted to the Guwahati High Court on February 4.

Similarly, it was not just the judges who were dissatisfied with the working of Mr Chief Justice Roy. Even the leadership of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association expressed concern over the manner in which the roster of duty of judges was being shuffled at short intervals.

Mr Chief Justice Roy changed the roster at least 24 times between October 28, 2002, and May 10, 2005.

Incidentally, like the Guwahati Bar Association, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association also expressed anguish over the continuous delay in the preparation of cause lists.

As reported some days back, a majority of the judges at Guwahati have also accused Mr Chief Justice Roy of misbehaving with them and making them a victim of his whimsical attitude affecting the work culture of the court.

These judges are also learnt to have met a senior Supreme Court Judge, Mr Justice H.K. Sema, at Guwahati on July 1 to explain their problems.

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