Mango Man

Why Justice Swatanter Kumar is like Mandrake The Magician?

By Krishnaraj Rao

Justice (Retd) Swatanter Kumar is like MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN – amazing wizardry, plus massive legal muscle acting like bouncers to protect him from media glare.

On 10 January 2014, former Supreme Court Judge Swatanter Kumar was named by the media as accused of sexually exploiting a law intern. The intern, with the help of senior counsel Harish Salve and Indira Jaising, and advocate Vrinda Grover, filed a PIL on 14 January. The prayer: Supreme Court must reconsider its policy of not inquiring into the allegations against judges.

With lightning speed, WITHIN SIX DAYS, Delhi high court passed a temporary order in the Rs 5 crore defamation suit (CS(OS) 102/2014) slapped by Swatanter Kumar against Indian Express, Times Now and CNN-IBN (and, for good measure, the anonymous intern, the Indian Express reporter and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). The order restrained the media from publishing or telecasting the allegations levelled on Swatanter Kumar, or even using his photos. After this extraordinary order, media fell silent about this news story.

SUCH A GAG ORDER IS UNPRECEDENTED – not seen even in the case of powerful personalities like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Jayalalitha, A Raja, RK Pachauri and Tarun Tejpal! If protection from such media coverage were a fundamental right (as pleaded by Swatanter Kumar in his defamation suit), then it should be extended to every man, woman and child in India. So, what makes Mr Swatanter Kumar ultra-special?

Well, he is a former Supreme Court judge, so he is not just another mortal like you and I. He is a demigod.

And precisely because he is a former SC judge, he was represented in his defamation case by a huge powerhouse of leading lawyers appeared on his behalf, including Mukul Rohatgi, A.S.Chandhiok, Rajiv Nayar, Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Vinay Bhasin, Maninder Singh, Kirti Uppal, Sandeep Sethi, Aman Lekhi, Sudhir Walia, Ralan Karanjawala, Fareha Ahmad Khan, Mr.Abhijat, Mohit Mathur, P.Banerjee, Manmeet Arora, Meghna Mishra, Akshay Makhija, Ashish Dholakia, Abhimanya Mahajan, Mansi Sharma, Nidhi Parashar, Niyati Kohli and Varun Kumar Tikmani. Many appeared pro bono, and overawed the judge and the media with their massive legal muscle-power.

Before passing restraining order, Justice Manmohan Singh reasoned: “I have already examined in the preceding paragraph of this order the argument that even if some amount of fairness is attached to the publication, still the Court can proceed to prevent the same on the basis of the excessive prejudice. Suffice it to say, no conclusive finding as to fairness or unfairness can be arrived at this juncture. Upon the fair reading of material available on record, it prima facie appears that the same can prejudicially affect the public mind and there is real and tangible risk of the plaintiff in not getting fair trial or open justice as contemplated by the common law…” (Really, Milord? Really? Does the judiciary ever show such tender concern for us lesser mortals, whose reputations and family lives fall apart due to judicial custody and the trial-process, let alone news coverage?)

Today, nearly 18 months after the gag order, media is silent on the progress of the two cases – the defamation case filed by Swatanter Kumar, and the PIL filed by his former intern. It is also silent about whether any progress has been made in framing guidelines and rules for investigating such allegations against judges of the higher judiciary. The common man’s right to know these things can rot in hell, so far as the judiciary is concerned.

Hurray for Mandrake the Magician, and his faithful bodyguard Lothar!


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