New Delhi: Controversial former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju was the cynosure of all eyes as he appeared before the apex court Friday to justify his statement in his blog that its judgement in the Soumya rape-cum-murder case suffered from 'gross error'.
As lensmen kept waiting for justice Katju, he arrived at the court premises much before the scheduled 2 pm hearing and was escorted to the judges' library.
Later, in a security cordon he was escorted to court number 6, the doors of which were closed as there was a large gathering of lawyers and media persons.
Many of the lawyers were seen greeting him as security men made way for him with the crowd of people jostling with each other to enter the packed courtroom.
As he took seat at 1.45 pm in the front row, a guard stood behind him, which provoked some lawyers to shout at the securityman asking the latter to get out of the courtroom.
"He is not a contemnor. He is a former Supreme Court Judge. Don't stand like this," a senior advocate from the Allahabad High Court, who is also practicing in the apex court, shouted.
However, at the intervention of some other lawyers, order prevailed and sharp at 2 pm the three judges started the proceedings on the review pleas in the case.
No sooner than the bench commenced hearing on the Soumya rape -cum-murder case, one of the advocates stood up and said, "please note who all wants to assist this court as the court order (to summon Katju) was not as per the law of the land".
At this, the bench asked the lawyer whether he was suggesting that "an open notice should be there to assist us".
"At this moment we need the help of justice Katju," the bench said and asked the former judge to make his points in 30 minutes.
Justice Katju said "I would request for an hour as you requested me to come and help."
He began by saying, "It is not that judges are born not to commit mistakes. Nobody is infallible. I have also committed grave mistakes. I have committed mistakes in some of my judgements which have been pointed to me and similarly, you have also committed mistakes."
At this, justice Gogoi said "justice Katju, please do not remind us... we know that we are also not infallible. You point out where we have committed mistakes."
Katju then commenced his submissions and the focal point of his contention was that judges have not applied common sense in appreciating the evidences by relying on hearsay statements of a middle-aged person, who was never traced during the trial, though his version was recorded by prosecution as witness number 4 and 40.
Two prosecution witnesses had stated that this person, who restrained others including the two witnesses from pulling the chain, had told them that the victim had jumped out of the slow-moving train and was alive.
Katju said the apex court was wrong in not attributing that the victim, who was in a semi-conscious state, was driven to jump out of the train as she was under horrible fear that she would be killed by her tormentor.
The former judge was supported by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Kerala government, who said the first injury suffered by the victim inside the train and the second when she was found on the rail track, should be considered as sequence of event of the same transaction.
However, the bench was not satisfied and dismissed the review pleas while appreciating the assistance of justice Katju in the hearing.
After this came the turning point, as justice Gogoi, heading the three-judge bench, gave a copy of Katju's blog to Rohatgi for his opinion saying "now your (AG's) job as the counsel for Kerala is over. You read this."
The bench then referred to the underlined portion of the copy of the blog to Rohatgi. "This is scandalous", the Attorney General responded.
Within moments, the bench started dictating the order issuing contempt notice to justice Katju who was taken off guard and protested by saying "I am not scared of it. Don't give me threat. This is not the way you treat a former judge."
"Don't provoke us, justice Katju," the bench said.
Not only justice Katju, but Rohatgi too was taken off guard by sudden initiation of the contempt proceedings and told the bench that he wanted to change his view on the remarks referred to in the facebook post of the former judge.
"This (referred portion) is intemperate," Rohatgi said.
Defiant justice Katju got furious and said, "Don't try to be funny with me. I came under your request, don't treat me like this...Mr (justice) Gogoi, don't threaten me. Do what you want. I am not scared."
Soon thereafter, the bench called for security saying, "is there anyone to escort justice Katju out of court?"
Some lawyers present in the already packed courtroom also opposed the unprecedented and historic decision of the apex court against its own former judge.
As the bench retired for the day little after its normal working hour of 4 pm, an upset justice Katju, surrounded by some of the lawyers, was seen murmuring in utter shock.
(With inputs from agencies)