Delhi High Court acting CJ Gita Mittal is one of the 30 recipients of this year’s Nari Shakti Puraskar; she is perhaps the first sitting judge to accept a government award.
New Delhi: Delhi High Court’s acting chief justice Gita Mittal’s decision to accept the Nari Shakti Puraskar, given by the central government, has not gone down well with legal experts, who say this could be seen as a potential conflict of interest issue.
Justice Mittal, one of the 30 recipients of the award this year, is perhaps the first sitting judge to accept a government award.
Although the judicial code of conduct does not explicitly prohibit acceptance of an award, no sitting judge has ever been considered for an award.
Former CJIs P.N. Bhagwati and M.N. Venkatachalaiah were awarded Padma Vibhushan only after they retired. Another former CJI J.S. Verma was conferred on Padma Bhushan posthumously but his family declined the award.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde says he “envisions a danger” if this becomes a trend. “The judiciary must not only be independent but must also be seen to be independent. This is more of a perception issue,” he said.
“Now that Justice Gita Mittal has accepted an award from the government, she must be disqualified from hearing any cases to which the government is a party,” senior advocate Indira Jaising tweeted.
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The award conferred by the women & child development ministry carries an appreciation certificate and cash award of Rs 1 Lakh. The same ministry is a party to many cases that Justice Mittal is currently hearing.
The ministry is pleading its case before the judge for failing to fill vacancies in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and in a PIL seeking to criminalise marital rape.
The judge has already suggested that the cash component of the award will be donated to charity but even this has not impressed critics.
“Even if she doesn’t accept the money, the impression that heads can be turned with flattery must not go out to the public,” Hegde added.
Tenure as acting chief justice
Justice Mittal has been the acting chief justice since April 2017 after former CJ G. Rohini retired.
On 10 January, the Supreme Court collegium recommended Aniruddha Bose, a judge of the Calcutta High Court as chief justice of Delhi HC. The government is yet to appoint him; till then Mittal continues to hold office.
Although it is unconventional for an acting chief justice to take big decisions, Justice Mittal has not shied away from cracking the whip on Delhi’s lower judiciary.
She has transferred over a hundred subordinate judicial officers and dissolved at least 12 courts dealing with traffic and cheque bounce cases.
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