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Allegations of backdoor appointments in wings of J&K judiciary opens up can of worms

The Probe’s Raja Muzaffar Bhat reports on the allegations of corruption in the appointments of the administrative staff at the J&K High Court, Subordinate Courts, State Judicial Academy and Legal Services Authority amongst others.

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat
New Update

Indian judiciary

The allegation surrounding the backdoor appointments in various wings of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir is slowly snowballing into a controversy that is threatening to expose the skeletons in the closet of the J&K High Court. Taking cognisance of the seriousness of the issue, the Supreme Court on September 2 issued notices to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. 

The Probe's Raja Muzaffar Bhat speaks to M.M Shuja, Secretary General of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Forum

The Probe spoke to several affected individuals who claim they have lost out because of such illegal appointments. The petitioner who approached the Supreme Court in the matter is the Srinagar-based NGO, the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Forum. 

“Since the last ten years, we have filed nearly twenty Public Interest Litigations to highlight the grievances of the public. This is an extremely serious case. Judiciary is the last resort of the common man. It is shocking that this kind of corruption is happening in our judiciary. We were completely taken aback when we came to realise that these backdoor appointments were going on for several years,” says M.M Shuja, Secretary General of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Forum.

Shuja adds that his organisation had first approached the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court and Ladakh with a representation, but since the court did not intervene, they decided to approach the Supreme Court with a PIL. “Before approaching the Supreme Court, we gave a representation to the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court and Ladakh. In the representation, we gave complete details of the corrupt practices that were going on with regard to these backdoor appointments. But when we learned that the matter was not being investigated, we decided to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court.”

On September 2, while hearing the case, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice D.Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli stated: “The petitioner has levelled serious allegations about backdoor entries while appointing persons to the administrative staff of the establishment of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the District Judiciary, the State Judicial Academy and Legal Services Authority. Specific averments have been made in paragraph 10 of the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution to the effect that relatives of existing members of the staff as well as of present and former Judges of the High Court have been appointed without following a due process for selection.” 

According to the J&K Peoples Forum, qualified youths were not considered for appointments to several administrative posts in various judicial institutions. It is alleged that many of the backdoor appointments right from 2007 have been made in gross violation of Article 14 and Article 16 of the constitution of India. Article 14 emphasises the Right to Equality, and Article 16 stresses the equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. 

The NGO has stated that instead of going by the regular recruitment process, appointments were made by picking and choosing people in the most arbitrary manner and through backdoors, and no opportunities were provided to the eligible candidates by issuing public notices. The petitioners have also alleged that the ad-hoc appointees were allowed to continue for years together and the backdoor appointments in the various wings of the department of justice were made arbitrarily, almost treating the public appointments as a private matter.

The Probe spoke to several affected youths who have said that the illegal appointments and corruption within the judiciary have affected their career prospects. Siraj Hussain’s (name changed) story is a case in point.

Siraj, a PhD scholar in the law department of Kashmir University, completed his masters in law degree from Cardiff University, United Kingdom. He also has a postgraduate degree in Sociology and has qualified for the National Eligibility Test (NET). 

Siraj had applied for the post of Counsellor in J&K Judiciary, for which the notification was issued by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court in June 2020. Having done the exams well, he was hopeful of a positive result. When he was not selected, he filed an RTI before the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) of the High Court of J&K. In his RTI query, he sought photostat copies of the entire list containing the full breakup / points (marks) given by each interviewer to all the candidates who appeared for the interview. He also sought certified copies of the educational qualification and experience certificates of the selected candidate from the Kashmir division. 

But Siraj was refused information, following which he filed his first appeal this February before the Registrar General of J&K High Court. In March, Siraj received a communication from the PIO, First Appellate Authority, that his appeal had been disposed of and that the Assistant Public Information Officer (APIO) had been asked to provide the requisite information to Siraj. In spite of this, Siraj has not been provided with any information.

Siraj then decided to take up the matter with the Chief Justice of the J&K High Court at Jammu. In his letter to the Chief Justice, he states: “Your lordship, had it been any other ordinary department of the State, one could have understood the obsession with secrecy with which government departments have been known to hide the matters, particularly related to the appointments… However, the judiciary being the sentinel of transparency and protector of the rights of the common citizenry, one expects it to deal with these matters with added promptness and zeal… Also, do take a proper stock of… matters pertaining to the appointments within the judiciary and also with regards to the issues pertaining to the proper disposal of applications under Right to Information Act.”

“What are they hiding? Even when they are duty-bound to provide me with information, why are they not complying with the rules? I am not worried about the fact that I did not make it. But what depresses me is that they are not even providing me with the information I sought under the Right to Information Act. Even when the first appellate authority asked them to provide me with information, I was still denied information. If the judicial officers deny the information under RTI, what can we expect from other government officers?” asks Siraj, speaking to The Probe.

The Supreme Court’s intervention in the matter has come like a respite to many youths of J&K who feel they, too, lost out on opportunities because of the illegal backdoor appointments. The J&K People’s Forum, in its petition, has revealed the names of several relatives of judges from the district court to the High Court, staff members in the High Court and lower judiciary who are believed to be the alleged beneficiaries of this illegal appointment scam. 

After issuing notice, the Supreme Court has asked the J&K High Court to “file its counter affidavit which is to be placed by the concerned Registrar only before the Chief Justice of the High Court for being approved”. The Supreme Court bench has asked the respondents to file a reply within a period of six weeks.

“Over the years, many qualified youths have been left out because of these backdoor appointments. It is such a relief that the Supreme Court has intervened in this matter. It is time that the High Court also takes stock of this issue and starts weeding out these illegal practices in the name of equality and justice,” adds Shuja.