How hard can it be to find a judge? Very hard if the judge in question is CS Karnan.
Desperate police teams from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu are at their wits end as they hunt for the Calcutta High Court judge, hoping to capture him and bring him to justice. But the 61-year-old has proved to be as elusive as he has been brash, defying the Supreme Court and passing his own judgements against his peers.
Clues that he could be in a temple town in Andhra Pradesh or a holiday resort in Tamil Nadu have proved to be dead ends. Police are now staring at the possibility that Karnan, who was last seen in Chennai, may have fled the country, perhaps to Sri Lanka.
A senior police officer in Chennai told PTI today: "The whereabouts of Justice Karnan are not known yet. A West Bengal police team continues its search for him." He said the role of Tamil Nadu police was limited to providing logistics and technical support to the visiting team.
Karnan's flight from justice--the Supreme Court ordered him arrested six days ago on contempt of court charges--has provided endless fodder for mirth and ridicule by netizens, not only against the country's security apparatus but also against the judiciary itself.
"And in the end top police officers of two states of India are not able to locate a High Court judge - are we joking or this is the state of affairs of police and judiciary?" asked Dinesh Jain, contributing his comments to a chorus of readers' reaction to a news article on a national newspaper's website.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced Karnan, a native of Chennai, to six months' imprisonment, and directed his immediate arrest in an unprecedented order against a sitting high court judge. The court ordered West Bengal's Director General of Police to carry out the arrest and lodge him in a jail.
"If the Intelligence (apparatus) cannot keep an eye on persons like Karnan, who has been in the news in the last 6 months if not more, can they be relied upon for other important duties?" said another netizen in the readers' comments section.
Targeting the judiciary, another reader posted: "a judge doesn't believe in law and they claim they have the right to pass judgement."
The West Bengal police team has already questioned several persons, including Karnan's kin. Karnan left Kolkata for Chennai by an early morning flight on Tuesday, hours before the apex court ordered his arrest.
Until a couple of hours after the court order, Karnan, who was staying at the Tamil Nadu government state guest house in Chennai, was meeting and discussing nonchalantly with journalists and visitors. He then went incommunicado when the full impact of the apex court ruling dawned on everyone.
A posse of policemen, headed by an assistant commissioner of police-cadre officer from Kolkata, landed in Chennai the next day.
When the police team arrived at the guest house, it did not find either the judge or the two lawyers who had accompanied him.
Initially it was rumoured that Karnan was somewhere in Tindivanam, about 100 km from Chennai, and later it was said that he had gone to the temple town of Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh. But the police team came back empty-handed.
They also reportedly rushed to a holiday destination called Tada near Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border after picking his mobile phone signal.
Word also spread that Karnan had fled to Sri Lanka through Madurai, but that information turned out to be false as no one by the name of Karnan had passed through the Madurai airport customs.
Karnan moved the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking recall of the order holding him guilty of contempt of court and sentencing him to a six-month jail term.
Karnan's troubles started after he was transferred to Calcutta from the Madras High Court for his repeated allegations and run-ins with its chief justice and fellow judges. He claimed he was being discriminated against and being denied promotions because he is a dalit.
Last year, a recalcitrant Karnan stayed his own transfer order, which was suspended by the Supreme Court. Later, a constitution bench initiated contempt of court proceedings against Karnan after he repeatedly levelled allegations of corruption against Madras High Court chief justice and other judges.
On March 10 this year, the apex court issued a bailable warrant against Karnan to ensure his presence before it in the contempt case. Karnan appeared before the court on March 31, a first in Indian judicial history, and sought restoration of his judicial powers. The plea was rejected.
A belligerent Karnan told the Supreme Court he would never again appear before it, even if he was arrested and put in jail.
Since going underground, a petition on his behalf has been mentioned before a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar.
When the Chief Justice of India asked about his whereabouts, Karnan's lawyer Mathews J Nedumpara said he is "very much in Chennai".
But whether he intends to emerge and surrender anytime soon is anybody's guess.