Dalit judge moves SC over courtroom 'purification'
By Rakesh Bhatnagar
NEW DELHI: A Scheduled Caste judge in Allahabad has appealed in the Supreme Court against his compulsory retirement in the aftermath of an incident in which his courtroom was washed with `Ganga jal' by his `upper' caste successor.
The incident took place in Allahabad when Bharthari Prasad, then additional sessions judge, was transferred to another court and replaced by A K Srivastava in June 1998.
Newspaper reports then said Srivastava had got the entire chamber and its furniture washed with `Ganga jal' because it was previously occupied by a judicial officer belonging to a Scheduled Caste.
Acting on the reports, the sessions judge summoned Bharthari Prasad and asked him to contradict the charge. Since he had ``no hand or role'' in the publication of the news reports, Prasad said he could not refute them. Upon this, the sessions judge ordered an inquiry. The court's staff confirmed the reports that the chamber and its furniture were indeed washed.
The room's new incumbent, Srivastava, also admitted that he got the chamber washed but pleaded he had got it done because he was an asthma patient. He, however, denied `Ganga jal' was used for the purpose. Curiously, the inquiry officer did not record the statements of those who had actually conducted the `cleansing operation'.
A heart patient undergoing treatment at Jaslok hospital at Mumbai and advised to get a pacemaker fixed, Prasad was transferred to Mainpuri within a month. Soon he was locked in a long legal battle with the government as he refused to assume charge at Mainpuri. He was suspended, chargesheeted and subsequently compulsorily retired.
The Allahabad high court did not set aside the retirement order nor did it ask the government to allow Prasad to retain his official residence for areasonable period of time.
Prasad's counsel, R K Jain, argued before a Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice A S Anand on Friday that Prasad's is a case which demonstrates that ``class bias still persists against the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.''
Justice Anand admitted Prasad's petition for hearing and ordered that he not be evicted from his official residence till further orders.
Jain also pointed out to the court that Prasad had suffered an adverse entry in his annual confidential report on the ground that he was ``punctual and dismissed cases which lacked evidence''.