A delightful novel by humorist Henry Cecil* is titled ‘No Bail for The Judge‘ and another ‘Alibi For A Judge‘. Contents apart, the titles envisage judges being put in the dock, which is almost unthinkable in India today.
Judiciary seems to be the only ray of hope for the country with the other two ‘estates’, legislature and the executive, bogged down in controversies. The fourth estate, the Press (including electronic audio-visual media), has lost its credibility thanks to the mad race for supremacy in TRPs and circulation.
And yet, judges have begun to court controversy and are making news for the wrong reasons.
A Judge of the Gujarat High Court faces impeachment by Parliament (the only way a judge can be removed). The distinguished Parsi judge, Justice J B Pardiwala, in a recent judgement in Hardik Patel case on reservations remarked: “If I am asked by any one to name two things which has destroyed this country or rather has not allowed the country to progress in the right direction, then they are reservation and corruption.”
The judgement added, “It is very shameful for any citizen of this country to ask for reservation after 65 years of independence. When our Constitution was framed, it was understood that the reservation would remain for a period of 10 years, but unfortunately, it has continued even after 65 year.”
The biggest threat to the country today, he said, was corruption. “The countrymen should rise and fight against corruption at all levels, rather than shedding blood and indulging in violence for reservations. Reservation has only played the role of an amoeboid monster sowing seeds of discord amongst the people. The importance of merit, in any society, cannot be understated,” he added.
One wonders why is he going to be impeached by MPs (mostly of the Congress) when the same words from a political platform, or in Parliament, would have been applauded or just contradicted. Being a Parsi, he is neither a beneficiary nor a victim of reservations.
The MPs who signed the impeachment petition include Congressmen Anand Sharma, Digvijay Singh, Ashwani Kumar, P L Punia, Rajeev Shukla, Oscar Fernandes, Ambika Soni and B K Hariprasad. D Raja (CPI), K N Balagopal (CPI-M), Sharad Yadav (JD-U), S C Misra and Narinder Kumar Kashyap (BSP), Tiruchi Siva (DMK) and D P Tripathi NCP are the other signatories.. It is obvious that the move is a part of vote-bank politics.
Unable to check the constant rise of Narendra Modi’s stature, the Congress engineered the agitation by a Patel leader for reservations for a community known all over the world as being very enterprising and forward. The judge made the remarks in his judgement in a case involving that call for reservation for Patels.
Worse things have been said from the Bench before. A judge of Allahabad High Court, Justice Anand Narain Mulla, called the Indian police the biggest organised criminal gang and all that the government did was to go to the Supreme Court, not to appeal against the judgement but to ask that the remark be expunged as it affected police morale.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Benerjee made a sensational statement – that judgments can be bought for money. The statement scandalised the whole country, was strongly condemned, hotly debated and then – as usual – forgotten.
‘Didi’, as she is fondly called, may have forgotten that she was not speaking in the Assembly where enjoyed immunity from action for contempt of court. Courts could have taken suo motu cognizance of the utter contempt for the judicial system which Didi made no attempt to hide. She dared them to act.
No one did.
Mamata’s remark does warrant a debate. Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee described it as “thoroughly irresponsible, unbecoming of a chief minister. The arrest of a professor for forwarding on Internet a cartoon (of the CM) “shows an intolerant mindset,” as does abusing those who question her authority or action, he added.
Senior advocate Harish Salve (son of former Union Minister NKP Salve) was “appalled” by Didi’s comments. He warned that if heads of state governments made such disparaging remarks, working of the Constitution and democracy could be endangered.
I covered a state high court’s day to day hearings of a public interest petition filed against a chief justice of that court who, just before retirement, chose to get treated, at taxpayers’ expense, in a hospital of a US town where his son happened to be living,
During several visits to the court, I mingled with lawyers who talked of which judge belonged to which caste and would therefore favour which lawyer of that caste and similar scandalous ‘ground realities’. It was an eye-opener.
There were always rumours, never proved, of corruption in the judiciary, though not at the apex level. Even at that level India witnessed two cases: Justice V. Ramaswami of the Supreme Court faced impeachment but was rescued by the then ruling Congress for political reasons. Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court resigned just before the Lok Sabha could ratify the Rajya Sabha’s decision to impeach him.
Politicians do not tire of saying they respect the judiciary and would abide by its verdict – when it suits them. When it does not, they star whispering campaigns against judges – as in the case of a judge who acquitted former BJP Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa, linking the verdict with the seizure of over two crore rupees in a bag at the Vidhan Soudha just opposite the High Court.
“If the money was seized and not paid to the judge, and still the verdict was in BSY’s favour, how can it be called a case of corruption?” a Facebook comment asked.
The Judiciary and the Executive at the highest level are now in a confrontation, the former alleging that the government was ‘sitting’ on appointment of judges and blaming the high pendency on unfilled vacancies of judges. On the other hand the government wants to evolve a new appointment system-which the Chief Justice rejected.
That the present system is not foolproof is proved by the outrageous statements being made almost every day by an ex-judge who insulted the people of Odisha as utensils (patra) and big pots (mahapatra), the CJ who wanted to be treated only in the US town where his son lived, a high court judge’s predilection for womanising and soliciting call girls and the two judges who narrowly escaped impeachment, show the system has loopholes.
The ‘Khar East Andolan’ in Mumbai had filed a case against the then chief minister, late Vilasrao Deshmukh (actor Riteish’s father), 15 HC judges and several officials for usurping the land meant for homeless people and building skyscrapers for judges with the help of an official agency. A builder had allegedly forged ‘consent letters’ of slum dwellers, many of them dead, for developing the land.
The case gets adjournment after adjournment for years, inspiring a Hindi film dialogues on ‘Tareek pe Tareek’ and a TV ad in which the young defence lawyer and prosecutor both turn very old but the case still keeps getting adjourned.
Bangalore’s ‘Judicial Layout’ is mired in controversies for several irregularities.
Yashwant Sinha of BJP alleges an ‘innovative way of managing the judiciary’ through the process of appointment. A judge on probation is confirmed only when the government was convinced that he/she was favourable, he says, making a case for judicial reforms.
Electoral and judicial reforms have been talked about for decades, but the political will to bring them about is lacking — whichever party is in power. When Narendra Modi plans it, the opponents cry foul, saying he is trying to have a judiciary committed to his ideology
Perhaps they have forgotten that Indira Gandhi’s plan for a “committed judiciary” led to the resignation of several Supreme Court judges, led by the father of Karnataka’s popular former Lok Ayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde.
Judges are a part of the society whose values are falling day by day, with materialism and consumerism, making wealth and power more important than ethics.
It is surprising that in this money-oriented, caste ridden society there are judges who bloom like lotuses in the mud and stand for social justice and human values. The black sheep in the community are too few to warrant condemning the entire class.
A Kerala temple has a presiding deity, ‘Judge Uncle’ –Govinda Pillai, who was a judge in Travancore in the18th century– to whom devotees facing legal hassles pray.
Judiciary may be the country’s only hope.