New Delhi: In a first in India's judicial history, the Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced a sitting high court -- Justice C.S. Karnan of the Calcutta High Court -- to six months in jail for contempt following a series of actions by the Dalit judge topped by his order of sentencing Chief Justice of India and seven other apex court judges to five years rigrous imprisonment.
"We are of the unanimous view that Justice C.S. Karnan is guilty of contempt of court and interfered with judicial process of grievous nature," a seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said while holding him guilty of contempt for his utterances against the Chief Justice of India and other judges of the apex court.
"We sentence him to imprisonment for six months. The sentence shall be extended forthwith," it observed bringing to an end a long showdown between Karnan and judges of the Madras High Court when he was part of it and later with the apex court judges.
Karnan had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January about alleged corruption in Indian judiciary.
The judge was sentenced in absentia and West Bengal Police was ordered to constitute a team immediately to arrest Karnan, whose tenure comes to an end in June.
West Bengal Police chief chief Anuj Sharma, however, told IANS that he was waiting for the Supreme Court order before he could "proceed accordingly".
But Karnan had reached Chennai where he was staying in the State Guest House at Chepauk.
Senior Advocate K.K. Venugopal, appearing for Justice Karnan, asked the court if it can wait for his retirement and not sentence a sitting judge of a High Court.
Chief Justice Khehar said the court cannot make such distinctions to punish for contempt.
"Before us, there is no judge or private party or public party. He is a citizen of India, if he is guilty he should be punished," the Chief Justice said.
The bench also said it was satisfied in punishing him.
In its order, the Supreme Court also restrained the print and electronic media from carrying statements by Justice Karnan.
The sentencing followed a series of "judicial orders" the controversial judge had passed even after being stripped of judicial work.
What apparently came as the final straw on the camel's back was the order issued by Justice Karnan on Monday awarding five-year rigorous imprisonment to the Chief Justice of India and seven other Supreme Court judges and imposition of a fine of Rs 100,000 on each of them under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 and the amended Act of 2015.
The apex court had earlier asked all courts and tribunals not to take cognisance of any orders issued by the judge.
Justice Karnan had taken on the top judiciary after he wrote a letter to Modi accusing various judges and officers of the Madras High Court of corruption.
The Supreme Court initiated contempt proceedings against Justice Karnan on February 8 and restrained him from performing judicial and administrative work.
In his January letter, he said corruption charges against the judges could be proven if investigated by competent officers of the central agencies.
After this, the Supreme Court issued a warrant on March 10 against Justice Karnan.
He appeared before the Supreme Court on March 31 -- becoming the first sitting High Court Judge to do so in a contempt case.
The judge remained unrestrained and continued with his tirade against the Supreme Court judges, accusing them of caste bias.
The Supreme Court then called for a medical examination of Justice Karnan. He refused to undergo the test, insisting that he was of sound mind.
Reacting to the apex court decision, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani observed that the Supreme Court had no option but to sentence Justice Karnan who he said had "lost his head".
Another senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal, however, felt that it was totally unfortunate for the judiciary and the Supreme Court unnecessarily got into the issue.
The judge had written to the executive and the apex court should have left the matter to the executive which could have initiate impeachment proceedings.
She admitted that the judge suffered from a foot-in-the-mouth disease and after a notice was issued to him then it had to go to a logical end.
"I think in the first place, it is a very, very sad day," she said.