An investigation into the “illegal acts” of just-retired Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana is merited for his alleged role in the setting up of the Hyderabad-based International Arbitration and Mediation Centre (IAMC) — many mediators and arbitrators have said in a representation to the union government.
On 15 August, 65 legal professionals, arbitrators and mediators, including Sriram Panchu, a senior advocate at the Madras High Court, signed the representation.
The IAMC was established under a trust 'formed' by Justice Ramana who is also the author of the deed of the public charitable trust, the signatories alleged. They said that that Justice Hima Kohli and the recently retired Justice L Nageswara Rao were among the trustees.
While Justice Kohli is a sitting Supreme Court judge, Justice Rao’s last day in office was 7 June. The controversy surfaced on the day Justice Ramana retired, 26 August.
Then-CJI Ramana had inaugurated the IAMC in December 2021 in the presence of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao at Nanakramguda on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
The representation claimed that the then-CJI was “promoting the centre and using his official position to solicit business for the centre”.
“Justice Ramana has obtained large financial benefits from the government of Telangana amounting to approximately Rs 250 crore, by obtaining 5 acres of land at Hi-Tech city” for the IAMC, it's alleged in the representation.
With such actions, Justice Ramana ventured into a “business activity of administering arbitration and mediation for commercial matters by charging a fee, while occupying his position as the Chief Justice of India”, the signatories said, which goes against the code of conduct for judges.
Panchu, named above, had written an article in June that was critical of the role of former and sitting judges in the setting up of the Hyderabad mediation and arbitration centre. Retired Haryana High Court judge K Kannan and senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan had then rubbished the allegation.
The 65 law practitioners claimed that they intend to “highlight some serious concerns affecting the rule of law, due process of law and judicial propriety, affecting the credibility of judicial administration and delivery of justice”.
They appealed to the union government to form a high-level committee to conduct an inquiry into “illegal acts, including the illegal establishment of the IAMC and the transfer of public land to the centre, and also frame appropriate guidelines relating to the conduct of judges while in office and restraining them from involving in private ventures and obtaining huge amounts of public assets and monies”.
The signatories requested the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to probe the charges, “since it involves a large-scale misuse of public funds and assets by the Government of Telangana overlooking procedure and propriety”.
In the past few months, the legal community has been divided over the role of former and sitting judges in the setting up of the mediation and arbitration centre. It began with an article in The Wire by Panchu who flagged concerns similar to those raised in the representation.
Panchu alleged that the trust had “apparently sought land and largesse from the state government of Telangana, which has happily obliged”. The IAMC reflected a trend of judges “using judicial office to benefit former colleagues, or themselves by way of post-retirement benefits”, he said.