Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
It is sad that the public is being fed with ingredients to bother about qualifications of the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court Sri V. Gopalagowda after a national daily – The Hindu – raised the issue quoting an information seeker (IS)under Right To Information (RTI) Act that he could not get the details of the judge’s qualification in any of the relevant offices.
The IS reportedly wanted from the Central Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court of India, the details of “professional qualifications” of Justice Goplalagowda. As the CPIO could not locate the information sought for in the Supreme Court, he forwarded the application to the union ministry of law which also found that the certificates of “academic and professional qualifications” of the judge were not in its records. The law ministry forwarded the application to the Karnataka High Court where the picture was also the same. The IS then moved the Karnataka Bar Council where Justice Gopalagowda had enrolled himself as a lawyer, with the hope that, being the registering body, it must be possessing his educational details. To his dismay, these were not in their records too.
After duly registered as a lawyer by the Karnataka Bar Council and practicing in Karnataka High Court since November 1975 and in major areas of labor and employment, Justice Gopalagowda was elevated to the bench of the same HC, first as an additional judge in June 1997 and then as a permanent judge in June 1999. He discharged his duties there with distinction till his posting to Orissa High Court as its Chief Justice, the post he has taken over on March 25, 2010.
Bar Councils, by practice, do not keep the copies of certificates of academic and professional qualifications of any lawyer after enrollment. The certificates are usually returned to the person concerned after verification at the time of registration. On the other hand, as per the majority judgment in Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record Association v.Union of India and Others (1993), “The process of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts is an integrated participatory consultative process for selecting the best and most suitable persons available for appointment”.
As such, once a practicing lawyer is elevated to the bench, neither the High Court to which bench he / she is elevated nor the Supreme Court keeps the appointed judge’s educational certificates in custody. So, searching for such certificates of such a judge in the Supreme Court leading to publicity of their non-availability there may raise questions on the motive behind the search.
Now, the questions are, why the IS has singled out Justice Gopalagowda in the matter of “professional qualification”? On the other hand, if he had any doubt about the judge’s qualifications, why he developed such doubt and why did he not try to clear the same by first contacting Justice Gopalagowda? What does he want to convey by asking for the information and chasing it from Supreme Court to Karnataka Bar Council behind the back of the Judge and then using the Press to spread the news of non-availability of his educational records in such a style? Has he the details of educational qualifications of all the Judges of every High Court and the Supreme Court of India except the only one man: Justice Gopalagowda? If yes, has he obtained the same by using RTI? If not, why has he made this attempt in regard to Justice Gopalagowda alone? And why The Hindu has not asked these questions to him before giving the matter the publicity?
The questions are relevant to know if the right to obtain and to publish information is not being misused under masks of activism. Both the IS and the Press (primarily The Hindu and then the other papers that have followed it) should answer the questions.
If Justice Gopalagowda so desires, he may treat the discriminatory search of the IS behind his back and the connected defaming publicity in The Hindu as instances of contempt against his Court as the entire exercise seems to be aimed at embarrassing him before the litigants and the lawyers in the areas under his jurisdiction. Such a case may help him have the opportunity of placing his qualifications on records too, which otherwise he cannot do, in the given circumstance, to do away with the innuendoes the mischief is emitting.