Justice Nirmaljit Kaur was appointed as a judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court on July 10, 2008. After almost a month as a judge, on August 13, 2008, at around 8:30 pm, one Parkash came to her house with a plastic bag in his hand and informed her peon Amrik Singh that papers have come from Delhi to be delivered to her.
Amrik Singh took the plastic bag inside. On being directed by Justice Kaur, he opened the bag, which was found containing currency notes. The peon caught hold of Parkash, who was then detained by the local police. On interrogation, it was revealed that Parkash was the clerk of then Additional Advocate General for Haryana, Sanjiv Bansal. The currency notes were found to be worth ₹15 lakh.
After coming to know about the arrest of his clerk, Bansal went to the police station and recorded his statement that the said money was handed over to him by Ravinder Singh for delivering the same at the house of one Nirmal Singh. However, instead of taking the money to this address, his clerk Parkash mistakenly took the same to the house of the judge.
All the documents given by Bansal were found to be forged, and the story he presented was found to be false. It surfaced that the money was not meant for Justice Nirmaljit Kaur, but for another judge of the High Court - Justice Nirmal Yadav. The probable goof up of delivering the money to ‘Nirmalji’ as opposed to ‘Nirmaljit’ thus sparked the trial of a High Court judge. The events that unfurled thereafter are very interesting.
Amrik Singh submitted a written complaint divulging the details of the incident. The case was first taken up by the state police and FIR No. 250 of 2008 dated was registered under Sections 11 and 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act), and Section 120B read with Sections 192, 196, 199 and 200 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Bansal, Ravinder Singh, Rajiv Gupta, Nirmal Singh and Justice Nirmal Yadav. The investigation was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) within 10 days of the incident.
In terms of in-house procedure adopted by the Supreme Court in 1997, the then Chief Justice of India constituted a three-member Committee comprising Justices HL Gokhale, KS Radhakrishnan and Madan B Lokur. This order dated August 25, 2008 constituting the Committee also contained the terms of reference of the Committee, which included an inquiry into the allegations against Justice Nirmal Yadav. During the course of its inquiry, the Committee recorded the statements of as many as 19 witnesses. It also examined various documents, including data of phone calls exchanged between Justice Nirmal Yadav and the other accused in the case. On the basis of evidence and material before it, the Committee drew an inference that the money delivered at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Kaur was in fact meant for Justice Nirmal Yadav. The report also claimed that Justice Yadav tried to hide her identity by signing in different ways at different places.
The CBI then requested then CJI KG Balakrishnan for suitable guidance to enable it to proceed further in the matter to investigate the role of both the judges of the High Court and to examine them at a place and time of their convenience. The CJI responded on the same date, allowing the CBI to investigate the role of both the sitting judges. It was further observed that they should be examined by a CBI officer not below the rank of DIG. Pursuant to this, the CBI proceeded to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, the anticipatory bail plea of accused Ravinder Singh was refused by the High Court on September 18, 2008. The CBI found startling facts, including the reason behind the transfer of money.
One RSA No.550 of 2007 was decided by Justice Nirmal Yadav vide judgment dated March 11, 2008 under the influence of Ravinder Singh, who had close association with her, and Sanjiv Bansal who was interested in a plot at Panchkula, which was the subject matter of this RSA. Bansal had issued a cheque for ₹2 crore from his own account in the name of Rajiv Gupta, out of which ₹1.5 crore was paid to one Vinod Tayal on account of property jointly purchased by Bansal and Gupta at Hissar, Haryana. Another amount of ₹20 lakh was paid on May 16, 2007 and ₹15 lakh on June 6, 2007 to Anand Jain, the owner of the plot. It was alleged that Gupta purchased this plot at Panchkula from Jain for a consideration of ₹60 lakh, for which money was transferred by Bansal from his account. Thus, he had personal interest in the property, the subject matter of the RSA. Bansal also appeared as a counsel in the case.
In its detailed report, the CBI also concluded that when ₹15 lakhs was wrongly delivered at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Kaur on the evening of August 13, 2008, Justice Nirmal Yadav again demanded ₹15 lakh from Ravinder Singh. On the morning of August 13, an amount of ₹15 lakh was delivered to Justice Nirmal Yadav by Gupta. This amount was received by Justice Yadav as a consideration for deciding the RSA No.550 of 2007 pertaining to the plot at Panchkula in which Bansal had acquired interest.
During investigation, it was also revealed that Bansal paid for Justice Yadav's air tickets and that during a foreign visit, she used a Matrix mobile phone card provided to her by Ravinder Singh. To establish the close proximity between Justice Yadav, Singh, Bansal and Gupta, CBI found details of phone calls amongst these accused persons during the period when money changed hands and the incidence of delivery of money at the residence of Justice Kaur, and even during the period of the initial investigation.
CBI concluded the investigation and opined that offences u/s 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the PC Act, and u/s 120B read with 420, 467, 468, 471 IPC have been made out against Justice Yadav and other accused persons.
On the basis of these conclusions, CBI sought grant of sanction for prosecution against Justice Yadav. The investigation report was examined by the Director of Prosecution, CBI, who opined that no case was made out against any of the accused. However, the Director, CBI was of the opinion that a case for prosecution was indeed made out.
In view of this divergence of opinion, the Director, CBI, vide communication dated January 15, 2009, sought the opinion of the Attorney General. He further requested for consideration of the documents and statements of the witnesses by the sanctioning authority. A copy of the same was also forwarded to the Secretary General of the Supreme Court of India. Resultantly, the then AG Milon K Banerji recorded in his opinion dated April 20, 2009 that there was no evidence to prosecute Justice Yadav.
The Hindustan Times in its edition dated June 6, 2009 carried the news item under the title "CBI denied nod to prosecute High Court Judge". In view of this news item, the then Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily desired that in view of the serious nature of the matter, the Law Secretary may examine the matter and submit a report. Accordingly, the Law Secretary put his views before the Minister. Moily put on record that,
"The allegations made herein are quite serious in nature. These allegations cannot be brushed aside only on technical grounds. The case in question, if not pressed will erode the faith of people in the judiciary. In view of the above, I strongly feel that the matter may be referred to the present Attorney General for opinion and examine the matter on merits."
The noting of the Law Minister was brought to the notice of the CBI, which provided its comments on the opinion of the previous AG and intimated that it had no objection to the matter being referred to the new AG, Goolam Vahanvati. The new AG echoed the opinion of his predecessor, stating that there was no ground to prosecute Justice Yadav.
Based upon the opinion of AG and some discussion between the Law Minister and CJI, it was communicated to the Director, CBI that no action was required for the present. The case papers related to Justice Nirmal Yadav and others were returned back to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on October 19, 2009.
It is this communication which was understood and taken by the CBI as "refusal" to grant sanction for prosecution. Treating this letter as a refusal, the CBI filed a closure report on December 17, 2009 before the Special Judge (CBI Court), Chandigarh. The CBI concluded that the offences were established against the accused. The only reason for filing the closure report by the CBI was decline of sanction for prosecution.
However, on February 10, 2010, the Secretary General of the Supreme Court wrote to newspapers that the matter had not been referred to the Chief Justice, and that he had not recommended that sanction for prosecution be refused. On the next day, Justice Nirmal Yadav assumed charge as a judge at the High Court of Uttarakhand.
A month later, in a very bold move, the Special CBI Judge vide order dated March 26, 2010 refused to accept the closure report and issued directions for further investigation. The CBI carried out the same and approached the competent authority for grant of sanction for prosecution.
On the basis of the further investigation, a fresh proposal dated June 16, 2010 was forwarded by the CBI to the Law Ministry seeking sanction for prosecution. This proposal was examined by the Joint Secretary and the Secretary (Justice), who recommended the same to the CJI for his consultation. The new CJI SH Kapadia recorded his opinion on the basis of the revised report recommending grant of sanction. Finally, the proposal for grant of sanction was forwarded to the President of India, who granted sanction vide order dated March 1, 2011 to prosecute Justice Yadav.
Two days later, the CBI filed the charge sheet, which also mentioned that Justice Yadav, her brother Ajay Yadav (then Finance Minister of Haryana), and other relatives had purchased land in Himachal Pradesh the day after the money was delivered. Interestingly, March 4, 2011 also happened to be the last day of Justice Yadav’s tenure as a judge!
The Special Judge took cognizance of the charge sheet in an order dated April 18, 2011, and summoned the accused.
Justice Yadav sought quashing of the sanction order for prosecution, the new charge sheet dated as well as the order taking cognizance of the charge sheet. After detailed hearings, on November 14, 2011, the High Court rejected the challenge. Justice Yadav then approached the Supreme Court, which also refused to interfere vide order dated September 10, 2012. Interestingly, two judges of the top court – Justices JS Khehar and SS Nijjar - had recused from hearing the matter.
Justice Yadav left no stone unturned in adopting dilatory tactics. Her application u/s 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was dismissed by the Special Judge on February 2, 2013. She approached the High Court, which found the plea to be ‘devoid of merit’ and dismissed the same in May 2013. Fortunately, the High Court understood how the trial may be prolonged and directed 15 days for inspection and 15 days for framing of charges. Justice Yadav immediately approached the Supreme Court against this order. The same was dismissed in limine vide order dated July 5, 2013.
It was thus on July 31, 2013, five years after a wrong delivery, that the CBI Court in Chandigarh accepted the charge sheet against Justice Nirmal Yadav and the others. Justice Yadav challenged the order on framing of charges. On November 22, 2013, the High Court refused to stay the proceedings due to bar u/s 19 of the PC Act. Once again, Justice Yadav approached the Supreme Court, which was dismissed vide order dated January 3, 2014. Justice Yadav yet again approached the High Court to stall the proceedings, but had to withdraw the same. It was only on May 3, 2016 - seven-and-a-half years after the delivery - that the Special Judge framed charges in the case.
The case is still in the trial court. Out of 81 prosecution witnesses, key witnesses such as PSO of Justice Yadav, Renu Bansal (wife of Sanjiv Bansal), Raj Kumar Jindal (cousin of Sanjiv Bansal), and Santosh Tripathi, a former colleague of Bansal, have turned hostile over the period of time.
Bansal, whose clerk had misheard and thus misdelivered the money, died of a brain tumour. His clerk is now an advocate contesting the case. Justice Nirmal Yadav has retired.
Capt Ajay Yadav, brother of Justice Yadav, remained a Minister from the Congress in Haryana, holding different portfolios till he resigned in July 2014. He is still a member of the party.
Justice Nirmaljit Kaur was subsequently transferred to and fro, from the Punjab & Haryana High Court to the Rajasthan High Court. After retirement, she was appointed as a member of the Punjab State Human Rights Commission in July 2021. She holds a rare distinction of being a High Court judge who deposed in a lower court against a sister judge.
Interestingly, unlike Justice Saumitra Sen and Justice PD Dinakaran, Justice Yadav, did not face any impeachment proceedings.
The trial of Justice Yadav is still inconclusive! Surely, if cases against MP/MLAs have been appreciably fast tracked, shouldn’t the same principles apply to tainted members of the judiciary?
Namit Saxena is an Advocate-on-Record practicing at the Supreme Court of India.