Judge’s transfer stirs row

Justice S. Muralidhar was on Wednesday night, at around 11 pm, handed over the transfer order.

New Delhi: In less than 24 hours after the bench headed by Justice S. Muralidhar made significant observations and raised sharp questions with regard to Delhi Police’s handling of the riots, the law ministry handed him his transfer.

“In exercise of the power conferred by Clause (1) of Article 222 of the Constitution of India, the President, after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, is pleased to transfer Shri Justice S Muralidhar, Judge of the Delhi High Court, as a Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and to direct him to assume charge of his office in the Punjab and Haryana High Court,” the ministry said in a late night notification.

Justice S. Muralidhar was on Wednesday night, at around 11 pm, handed over the transfer order. The judges are usually given 14 days to join at the new place. However, Justice Muralidhar is expected to take charge as judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court on March 6.

Apart from Justice Muralidhar, one judge each from the Bombay and the Karnataka High Courts were also transferred to other High Courts, the Law Ministry said. Justice Ranjit Vasantrao More of the Bombay High Court was transferred to the Meghalaya High Court while Justice Ravi Vijay Kumar Malimath of the Karnataka High Court was transferred to the Uttarakhand High Court, according to separate notifications issued on Wednesday.

Though his transfer was recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium about two weeks back, the timing of the orders came under strong questioning and criticism from Opposition parties, civil society, common people and the Bar Association.

A political row broke on Thursday over the transfer and the Congress questioned the timing of the transfer while alleging that the Modi dispensation was waging a battle of revenge against the judiciary.

“Remembering the brave Judge Loya, who wasn’t transferred,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi.

Justice Loya, who was hearing the high-profile Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case of Gujarat, had died of cardiac arrest in Nagpur on December 1, 2014, when he had gone to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter. Some reports had claimed foul play in his death.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the Centre's attempts to "muzzle" justice and "break people's faith in an upright judiciary are deplorable".

“The midnight transfer of Justice Muralidhar isn't shocking given the current dispensation, but it is certainly sad & shameful. Millions of Indians have faith in a resilient & upright judiciary, the government's attempts to muzzle justice & break their faith are deplorable," Priyanka Gandhi tweeted.

Calling the transfer a classic "hit-and-run injustice" by the BJP government, senior Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said the saffron party's "politics of revenge" has been exposed. "It seems those doing justice in country will now not be spared. Delhi HC Judge S Muralidhar transferred by the government to save BJP leaders in Delhi violence case," he said at a press conference.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad dismissed the allegations saying Justice Muralidhar was transferred on the recommendation of the Supreme Court Collegium and accused the Congress of politicising a `routine transfer’. He added that a "well-settled process" was followed in the transfer of Justice Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

“Transfer of Hon'ble Justice Muralidhar was done pursuant to the recommendation dated February 12 of the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India," the minister said. "By politicising a routine transfer, Congress has yet again displayed its scant regard for the judiciary," Mr Prasad said in a series of tweets. He added a judge's consent is taken before transferring him or her.

Referring to a tweet by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the death of Judge Loya, the Union minister said the Loya judgement had been well-settled by the Supreme Court. "Those raising questions do not respect the judgment of the apex court pronounced after elaborate arguments. Does Rahul Gandhi consider himself above even the Supreme Court," he asked.

Prasad said the government respects the independence of the judiciary. "The record of Congress in compromising independence of judiciary, superseding judges even of Supreme Court during Emergency is well known. They rejoice only when the judgment is of their liking otherwise raise questions on the institutions itself,” he said.

During the hearing on urgent petitions with regard to Delhi riots, Justice Murlidhar had rapped Delhi Police for its role and asked it to register FIRs against certain BJP leaders for hate speech and ordered Delhi Police to ensure safe passage to the injured.

“We should never allow another 1984...especially under the watch of the Court and under your (Delhi Police) watch..We have to be very, very alert,” the bench of Justice Murlidhar and Anup Bhambhani observed, on Tuesday night. The case is now listed before the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Justice Dhirubhai Naranbhai Patel.

While questioning the timing of the transfer Senior Counsel and Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave said: “The transfer is part of routine process but the manner and haste in which it is done is absolutely malafide and punitive."

Justice Murlidhar, who delivered his one last order on Thursday said in Court no 38 of the Delhi High Court: "That was my last Judicial act as a judge of this Court."

On his last day, several members of the Delhi Bar Association expressed their gratitude to him saying. "You are an inspiration.”

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