Who wants judicial reforms?
Posted June 28, 2015on:
The judges today are competing with politicians and bureaucrats in excelling in corruption. As the judiciary is the last resort of the aggrieved persons fighting against injustice, the corruption in the judiciary can harm the society much more than corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Then Chief Justice of India (CJI) R C Lahoti had suggested over a decade ago “complete overhaul of the judicial system”. He said at a workshop in Bhopal that numerous commissions and committees had in the past five decades or so been set up on various issues but no commission or even a high-powered committee had been set up to review the judicial system and recommend changes suited to the Indian conditions. The workshop was organised by the Madhya Pradesh government.
A year later Justice B K Roy, as he was relinquishing his charge as Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, lamented in an interview to a newspaper that he saw “some Judges trying to get selective cases listed before their Benches despite the fact that the cases did not fall within the purview of the roster assigned to them. Even after I changed the roster, many Judges kept files relating to such cases with themselves and did not return them. Finally, I had to order the Bench Secretaries to return the files so that the cases could be listed before appropriate Benches,”
Hansraj Bhardwaj, one of the great jugglers the Congress party has presented to the nation, was first inducted by P V Narasimha Rao into his Council of Ministers as Minister of State (Independent charge) for Law, Justice and Company Affairs. A meeting of law ministers of the States was convened by Bhardwaj at Bangalore in October 1992 — within a few months of his taking over — where a blueprint for legal reforms was prepared. This was followed by another meeting of law ministers and law secretaries in Panaji in Goa in April 1993, which was followed by another meeting at Pachmarhi a month later, and so on and so on. The Congress government went out in 1996 but the implementation stage for even the decisions taken at the first meeting never came. How he wasted the nation’s wealth on the salary and perks of the Union Cabinet Minister of Law and Justice (which he had become) in the first Manmohan Singh government (2004-2009) is another story.
In Manmohan Singh’s second term, Bhardwaj was replaced by Veerappa Moily. Jugglery is not in the temperament of Moily. He is rather a silent non-performer. On taking charge of the Law Ministry, Moily promised “expeditious judicial reforms”. He did not resort to gimmicks like those of his predecessor but did nothing in the field. In the meanwhile, the country heard empty noises of Arun Jaitley as Law Minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA government.
While the Executive dilly-dallied on judicial reforms, the Hon’ble members of the higher judiciary literally held the people to ransom. A Judge of a High Court was among the numerous petitioners challenging the validity of the Land Ceiling Act of the State and to obtain stay against the operation of the Act; the Judge and his family members owned the land much beyond the prescribed ceiling. The matter eventually went to the Supreme Court which upheld the Constitutional validity of the Act. Consequently, the stay orders obtained by all the petitioners were vacated barring the one issued in favour of the Judge who had by then become the Chief Justice of the High Court. After he was elevated to the Supreme Court, he was known to have acquired lands in another State also.
Corruption in judiciary was virtually given legitimacy by a judgement of the apex court — by a three-member bench presided over by then CJI K G Balakrishnan. An Additional District and Sessions Judge of Uttar Pradesh was charged with accepting illegal gratification for granting bail. An inquiry was held by the vigilance wing of the Allahabad High Court and it came to light that the respective courts had rejected bail applications of the accused twice on merits. It was alleged that the Additional Judge had granted bail on the third application in utter disregard of judicial norms and on insufficient grounds and it appeared to be based on extraneous considerations. The full court of the Allahabad High Court imposed a punishment of withholding two annual increments of the judicial officer with cumulative effect and subsequently he was reduced to a lower rank. His writ petition challenging the punishment was dismissed by the High Court. He then went in appeal to the Supreme Court.
What the three-judge bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta and Justice D K Jain ruled was incredible, to say the least. It said: “this court on several occasions has disapproved of the practice of initiation of disciplinary proceedings against officers of the subordinate judiciary merely because the judgements/orders passed by them are wrong. The appellate and revisional courts have been established and given powers to set aside such orders. The higher courts after hearing the appeal may modify or set aside erroneous judgements of the lower courts. While taking disciplinary action based on judicial orders, High Courts must take extra care or caution.” The bench set aside the Allahabad High Court judgement and directed that the appellant be immediately posted to the cadre of district judge and paid all monetary benefits due to him.