EDITORIAL

Taking on the Mighty

In a most surprising move, the counsel for the wife of Kalikho Pul, former Aruchal Pradesh Chief Minister who committed suicide, withdrew her plea for an FIR against certain current and past Supreme Court judges after voicing his objections to the legal modalities involved. It will be recalled that the petition for the FIR filed in the Supreme Court arose from the 60-page suicide note that Kalikho Pul had penned before his suicide. The suicide note contained allegations levelled against judges as well as the present President of India. The Supreme Court order of Thursday, allowing the withdrawal of the plea, recorded two important factors associated with the purported suicide note of the former Aruchal Pradesh Chief Minister. One was that among the persons against whom allegations had been levelled is the President of India. The other was that the matter was considered to be of public importance. It is significant that the reference to the President of India was initially made in the court by Dushyant Dave, the counsel for Pul’s wife Dangwimsai Pul, and eventually reproduced by the court in its order. “We wish to withdraw the case and explore altertive remedy,” Dave told the Supreme Court bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit. An interesting aspect of the purported suicide note of Pul is that it mentions a Calcutta address and makes a payoff claim dating back to a time when Prab Mukherjee was not President of India. When Dangwimsai Pul had held a media conference in New Delhi last week, she had avoided ming mes and asked reporters to refer to the copies of the purported suicide note.

What should be of great interest is the kind of “altertive remedy” that the counsel of Dangwimsai has in mind after having withdrawn the appeal to the Supreme Court, since it is clear that he could not possibly approach the President of India against whom there is an allegation in the suicide note. According to knowledgeable legal sources, the Vice- President of India does not have any special powers to order an FIR against judges. Even so, an attempt to refer the matter to the vice president of India would help to keep the issue alive in the public domain.

There are valid reasons to believe that Kalikho Pul’s suicide on August 9, 2016, four weeks after a Supreme Court order had resulted in the revocation of President’s rule in Aruchal Pradesh, thus allowing a rival to form the government, had much to do with the turn of events after President’s rule was termited. The purported suicide note apparently makes several allegations including one about the relatives of two judges seeking a Rs 86-crore bribe from him to ensure that President’s rule would be upheld. Dangwimsai Pul had also written to the Chief Justice of India seeking an FIR in the case. On Thursday, her counsel Dave objected to the letter of being listed for judicial hearing instead of being dealt with administratively. According to Dave, the family had not wanted to deal judicially with the case. It had only sought an administrative order for the registration of an FIR, as mandated by a constitution bench in 1991. According to the ruling of that constitution bench, FIRs against judges for alleged corruption could only be lodged with the Chief Justice’s permission. If the allegations were against the Chief Justice, permission had to be obtained from the next senior-most judge.

Dave made it very clear that his client was looking for administrative action from the Supreme Court and not judicial action. “We did not file in a petition. We had signed the plea on the administrative side and not the judicial side. If your lordships insist on hearing it, we will not participate and wish to withdraw,” Dave said. He added that there were a lot of allegations against judges and that the court’s reputation would be hurt if the matter was dealt with judicially. There is no denying that Dangwimsai’s action in withdrawing the Supreme Court petition evinces the kind of grace that seeks to protect judges and the President of the country from legal action, but it also takes away an opportunity for the tion to assess what can be done when it becomes imperative to initiate judicial action against the mightiest in the land for valid reasons.