Chandigarh: Justice S. Muralidhar has taken over as the second senior-most judge at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, only behind the chief justice in the seniority index, but has been relegated to adjudicating on matters that were being heard by relatively ‘junior’ judges.
The judge, whose transfer from Delhi High Court had created headlines, was Friday sworn in as a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He is the court’s first puisne judge, and this seniority is reflected in the fact that he now sits in courtroom number 2, just a step down from Chief Justice Ravi Shankar Jha who sits in courtroom number 1.
This has meant that Justice Rajiv Sharma, who was the first puisne judge before Justice Muralidhar’s transfer, has now moved to courtroom 3.
Despite the seniority, Justice Muralidhar has been assigned a bench that will primarily deal with tax matters.
This has raised several eyebrows as Justice Muralidhar will now head the second division bench of the high court.
A fresh roster for the various division benches, finalised by the chief justice on 6 March, states that the second division bench will now hear these issues: All tax matters including writ petitions; appeals under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and Benami Property Transaction Act; petitions under PMLA, FERA and Foreign Trade Development and Regulation Act; writ petitions challenging the constitutional validity of any act, rules of notification related to tax including municipal laws.
These matters were earlier being heard by the seventh division bench, one that includes judges much lower in seniority to Justice Muralidhar.
Also read: The hours before Justice Muralidhar’s transfer out of the Delhi High Court
Earlier 2nd division bench heard R&AW and IB cases
There was belief in the high court that once Justice Muralidhar joined, he would be allotted the work that the earlier second division bench, then headed by Justice Sharma, was handling.
When Justice Sharma headed the second division bench, it handled some important issues: All cases related to banking transactions; all cases related to intelligence agencies (other than CBI) such as the R&AW, Aviation Research Centre and Intelligence Bureau; all service matters: all writ petitions other than those assigned to other DBs; civil references; criminal appeals; leave to appeal; appeals against acquittal; criminal writ parole DB.
All this work has now been assigned to the third division bench headed by Justice Sharma.
Lawyers slam new roster
Lawyers of the high court are not enthused by the move, with one calling it “an attempt to marginalise” the judge.
“The chief justice has betrayed lack of judicial courage in limiting Justice Muralidhar’s bench to tax matters. It would be naive not to see the grim political reality behind this specific exercise of the chief justice’s powers as Master of the Roster,” said senior advocate Anupam Gupta.
“Justice Muralidhar may well excel in tax matters as in several other fields of law but that is not the point,” he said. “The point is that there is an attempt to marginalise a brave and independent judge and keep him on the sidelines of jurisprudence.”
Karanjit Singh, chairman of the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana, conceded that the chief justice was the Master of the Roster and it was his prerogative to assign work. “But every judge, over the years acquires a certain expertise or talent and that is generally kept in mind while assigning work. This has not happened in this case,” Singh said.
“Assigning the work of the seventh division bench to the bench headed by Justice Muralidhar throws up a big question — why has this been done?” said another senior advocate Rajwinder Singh Bains.
“It seems that politically important cases are to be kept away from Justice Muralidhar. The factors that led to his midnight transfer from Delhi when he was hearing the sensitive Delhi riots case seem to have weighed here as well. One hopes that this is only a transitory phase.”
Senior advocate Ranjan Lakhanpal said given the “judge’s popularity and what he is known for”, Justice Muralidhar should have been assigned tough cases of public interest. “Limiting him to tax cases that were in any case being handled well by less senior benches is a waste of his potential,” Lakhanpal said.
Also read: Proud to be Delhi HC judge, have no problem with transfer — Justice Muralidhar at farewell
Something wrong in this assignment to Justice Muralidhar. It smells of some politics. Anyway, he will come out shining in this too. Judging is not an easy task. Judging what judges do, is also not easy. But jo one can hide truth for long. All that politics will fall prostating before truth & justice…. Sambhavami Yuge Yuge.
While it’s surprising that a justice with Dr S Muralidhar’s experience has been assigned tax matters, it only behooves the rest of us to place faith in the judgement of the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Lawyers don’t decide these matters, and nor does the public.
The social media has allowed every one to bark away – mostly without reason or full comprehension of any issue.
Put him anywhere, assign any matter, he’s going to shine because of his sincerity, compassion great love for Bar and vast knowledge
Very rigjt! But people with wasted interest are now scared becaise they will be exposed and punished by the most sincere n acknowledged Judge. The HCCJ knows this while assigning this work as the performance of earlier judges migjt not have been satisfactory n upto expectations. So such jue n cry!
Now you want to suggest what work he should do. Don’t do stupid things
These my lords also do injustice in most of the cases. Let them feel some heat.
Oh come on man!!! He also had the roster of WRITS CHALLENGING THE CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF RULES, which I think is important. Just funny sensationalise the matter, just for cheap publicity. Shame!!!
Better this judge resign and join Khan Market gang where he will be free to carry out his urban naxal sympathies.
It seems that bunch of lawyers seem to think that they know better than the Chief Justice on how to run a high court.
If anything illegal was being done I am sure Justice Murlidhar would himself pursue through appropriate channels. All this pandering by a handful journos and lawyers does is raise doubts on Judiciary. And that is a dangerous phenomenon. We cannot have a mob ruling our courts. Every Chief Justice must be given discretion to run their own courts and allocate cases to appropriate benches.
You are right! Some lswyers feel uncomfortable because their links rapport n setting might have got disturbed! No professional manager will underuse talent n calibre of their juniors because jis success rate depends on that of collegues n juniors! Lawyers are teaching to CJ is also not justified and media highlights are also show of their total disregsrds to authority n responsibility of the position! Media must report information based on facts and not some junior’s or any tom, dick n harty’s assumptions, suspicions n imaginations!
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