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Posts Tagged ‘Veerappa Moily

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 legitimised
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.

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It was sheer over-enthusiasm on the part of US deputy National Security Adviser (NSA) Michael Froman to refer to the Dow Chemical case in his reported communication to Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia following the latter’s request for enhanced World Bank funds. That was not necessary. The Indian Establishment has scrupulously striven in the last quarter century to ensure that no US interests are hurt. If that has kept lakhs of persons in perpetual misery, it’s only too bad.
The American official is apparently ignorant about the Indian tradition of talking a lot and doing little. If one were to compile all that has been said by the politicians, bureaucrats and the Madhya Pradesh High Court and Supreme Court benches about the Bhopal gas leak disaster and its survivors in the past 25 years, it would fill millions of pages. But how much does one see on the ground?
Froman seems to have taken the noise created by the Indian politicians seriously and must be afraid that they intended to really do something about the culprits and victims of the world’s biggest industrial disaster. He failed to see how the issue, which has erupted after the June 7 farce in the Bhopal CJM’s court, is gradually dying out.
True, the CBI did move a curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking annulment of its 1996 verdict which had changed the penal sections to provide relief to those held responsible for the tragedy. The Union government launched a blitzkrieg in the media before and after filing the petition (which may have contributed to Froman’s apprehensions). However, on scrutiny, the Registry of the Supreme Court found the petition “defective”. The attorney general, who had filed the petition, was asked to submit the required documents and make the petition perfect.
The Government of India employs best of the legal brains and is in a position to draw upon the services of any in the country if the need arises. How come the petition filed in the apex court on such an important and volatile issue was incomplete and defective? There is only one plausible explanation: to procrastinate the issue for as long as possible.
Once the petition is filed, it will take no one knows how long for the Supreme Court to decide the issue. Even if the petition is allowed and the 1996 verdict is reversed, what then? The apex court may revert the case to the trial court for fresh hearing. The earlier hearing has taken over two decades to be completed. Will the hearing start ad novo? Some of the witnesses have expired; many more are past the age when they can recall clearly what happened a long time ago. Even the accused are in a pretty advanced age.
This is not an idle thought. Even the Supreme Court is aware this. Not long ago a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and T S Thakur expressed the same apprehension. It observed: “it took the trial court 25 years to decide the case. It will then come on an appeal in the High Court where it will drag on for another 15 years. After that it will come to the Supreme Court where it will go on for another 10 years. By that time all the victims will be dead”. And what if the Supreme Court refuses to interfere and annul the 1996 verdict? Was it deliberate, or sheer apathy, that the Group of Ministers (GoM) had failed to take all these possibilities into account?
Apathy
The ministers at the Centre have declared ad nauseum that Warren Anderson will be extradited to India to face trial. What steps has it taken in that direction? The warrant was issued by the Bhopal court for the arrest of Warren Anderson and the matter had been stuck with the Union government all these years. The Bhopal court had issued over two decades ago a letter rogatory for the CBI to extend the scope of its investigation into the United States mainly to collect evidence on the difference in safety measures installed at the Union Carbide’s Virginia plant and at Bhopal plant but the Union government has stalled it all along. It was revealed in a New York court that a seven-member committee of the Union Carbide had decided to test an unproven technology in the Bhopal plant. Warren Anderson, who was a member of the decision-making committee, later became chairman and CEO of Union Carbide to oversee the implementation of the decisions of the committee. Besides, the safety system installed at the Bhopal plant was much inferior to the system used at the Virginia plant.
The Union government is reported to be planning to file another curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the 1989 settlement between the Government of India and Union Carbide for US dollars 470 million as the compensation for the gas leak affected persons. The government will seek Rs 1500 crore more. That again is a time-consuming process. Even the additional Rs 1500 crore will be much too inadequate, as the NGOs working among the survivors have claimed.
The government, if it is really serious about helping the gas victims, may consider the suggestions made by four major NGOs in a letter to law minister Veerappa Moily. The suggestions include: executes the Letter Rogatory issued by the Bhopal court on July 6, 1988 to the US government without further delay; execute the non-bailable warrant issued by the Bhopal court on March 27, 1992 against Warren Anderson; intervene on behalf of the NGOs representing the gas victims in the petition (no. 50 of 1998) before the Supreme Court seeking medical care.
The letter also suggests reopening of death claims of gas victims who died after 1997 as there have been more than 10,000 gas leak-related deaths from 1997 till date. About 17,000 rejected death claims should be reviewed. An empowered commission with representatives of victim-organisations should be set up without delay for the long term relief and rehabilitation —- medical, economic and environmental —- of the victims. These measures will go a long way into restoring the faith of the victims.


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“Behind every great fortune there is a crime”, originally attributed to 19th-century French writer Honoré de Balzac.

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