Standing her groundConfrontations between the executive and the judiciary aren’t new in the democratic history of Nepal. Time and again, disputes have arisen between the two crucial organs of the state.
Confrontations between the executive and the judiciary aren’t new in the democratic history of Nepal. Time and again, disputes have arisen between the two crucial organs of the state. But the standoff in 2017 was of a different kind which led to the first ever impeachment motion against a chief justice. Disagreements over the promotion of Additional Inspector General of Police Rana Bahadur Chand became the trigger that set this unlikely chain of events off.
On February 12, the CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government promoted Rana Bahadur Chand as the chief of the Nepal Police. His competitor for the post, Nawa Raj Silwal, went to the Supreme Court (SC) seeking a stay order against the decision claiming that he was the senior-most DIG in the police force and deserved the promotion instead of Chand. A full bench of the apex court led by the then Chief Justice Sushila Karki issued a stay order on March 21 overturning the Cabinet’s decision. The court ruled that the promotion had been arbitrary, and unjust and done without respect to seniority.
The decision became a major issue of contention between the government and the SC, with the government seeing it as the court overstepping its jurisdiction. It apparently turned into an ego issue for the government, and it believed that the judiciary under under Karki was attacking the executive.
The feeling became so strong that lawmakers from the ruling parties launched an impeachment motion against her. As many as 249 lawmakers from the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre registered the impeachment motion against Karki on April 30, accusing her of interfering with the power of the executive, exhibiting inefficiency in her work, making biased decisions and promoting a culture of groupism in the judiciary. The story didn’t end there. A week later, the SC said the allegations in the impeachment motion were not in consonance with the spirit of the constitution. Following the SC verdict and severe criticism from several quarters accusing the government of attacking the independence of the judiciary, the two parties, on June 6, officially withdrew the impeachment motion.
The promotion row hasn’t left Karki, and she is still in the news even after having retired in August. An SC verdict in the third week of December that Silwal had faked documents showing him to be the senior-most official has raised questions over her earlier decision. Her colleagues say that her tenure shouldn’t be viewed only through the lens of the IGP row as nobody else matches her integrity even though it became the most debated issue in her entire career in the judiciary. During her eight-year tenure at the SC, she has handed down many landmark verdicts, mainly against corruption. Her decisions to convict sitting minister Jaya Prakash Gupta of corruption in 2012 and overturn a decision of the Special Court in 2007 being two among many.
Another allegation against Karki is that she was biased when fixing benches as she repeatedly chose five justices among 19, and directed justices to deliver verdicts the way she wanted them. Further, they said Karki breached rules and regulations and was guided by ulterior motives while delivering justice. According to them, Karki put the court’s dignity, independence and fairness at stake.
But others still hold Karki’s tenure as unimpeachable. “She never wavered in her conviction and always boldly faced pressure,” former SC justice and member of the National Human Rights Commission Prakash Osti told the Post. “It’s rare to find such a person in a country like ours.” He said that she remained without blemish during her entire career, not just as a justice but as a lawyer as well, and that there was nothing to challenge her integrity.