Three High Court judges spearheaded the campaign to make assets public, before the Supreme Court finally said yes. TEHELKA profiles the warriors
Justice K Kannan Punjab and Haryana High Court . Declared assests: Rs 15.49 lakh
I AM AN insipid person to talk to and no celebrity to deserve a feature. My website gives you a glimpse of my interests and my High Court website has some placid news about me. That is all there is,” wrote Justice K Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to TEHELKA, when requested for an interview.
But there is more to the man who surprised many when he became the first judge to respond to a letter calling for judges to declare their assets, written by Prashant Bhushan, convener of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform. “He has remained transparent and has always had strong views on integrity,” says Yadhod Vardhan, senior counsel in the Madras High Court and Kannan’s cousin. Kannan, 55, has declared that he has Rs 1.03 lakh in bank deposits, investments worth Rs 3.87 lakh and Rs 10.59 lakh as deposits in his wife’s name.
In 1977, when Kannan enrolled as a lawyer in the District Court of Cuddalore, he had no assets – except the fact that he came from an illustrious legal family. At 23, Kannan toured villages in Cuddalore district to develop legal aid clinics for the rural poor. In 1992, he moved to Chennai. The shift might not have been ideal, given the standing his father and grandfather had created in the area. “But had I stayed, my clients would have been the grandsons of my grandfather’s clients,” jokes Kannan.
In Chennai, he joined Vardhan; the duo dealt in civil and constitutional cases. With his keenness for reading and writing, Kannan — who has authored over a dozen legal books — became the editor of the Madras Law Journal, India’s oldest law journal, in 2006. Suddenly, those who had ignored the periodical began to take notice. “Law journals don’t normally have the courage to include an editorial. But he (Kannan) wrote an editor’s note in every issue,” recalls a senior lawyer, who requests anonymity. Kannan served as editor for two years until he was elevated as an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court in 2008. Three months later, he was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
When pressed about what drove him to make an assets declaration, a plainly uneasy Kannan said, “I am terribly embarrassed when people say I have done something honest and bold. A dishonest judge is a contradiction. What I did was a simple answer to my own conscience.” Is there anything he would like to hide? “The immodesty of talking about myself,” is the reply.