Sunday, 20 February 2011


Here is a letter I had written to the Chief Justice of Kerala on 18 Nov 2004, listing out the major problems in our courts and suggesting some solutions. This might as well have been written to the Chief Justice of India with equal futility. Then why did I write? Just to tell these worthies that they may be fooling the public with abandon but there are citizens who are not fooled, though, for obvious reasons, there is a lot of helplessness, frustration and disgust.

The satyagraha mentioned in the last paragraph was held on 27 Jan 2005 but it lasted only less than 30 minutes before the police came and removed me to the police station. They threatened me with a charge of public nuisance but apparantly decided not to pursue it later. I was permitted to leave the police station after almost 3 hours!

The Hon’ble Chief Justice
High Court of Kerala


This letter is being addressed to you in your capacity as the competent authority responsible for maintaining the health of this system. I am of course one who is affected very very badly by its present very very poor health. My aim here is to highlight certain maliciousness manifest in the system and suggest some surgical measures needed to set them right.

Contempt of Court Act – anathema to the very concept of democracy.

I quote the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC): ‘the crucial failure is the innate resistance in governments and governmental processes to the fundamental article of democracy, viz. that all power and all authority flows from the people and that all public institutions are meant solely to serve the public interest. The assurance of the dignity of the individual enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution has remained unredeemed; From this fundamental breach of the constitutional faith flow almost all our present ills.  The first and the foremost need is to place the citizens of this country at center-stage and demonstrate this prioritization in all manifestation of governance'.

In this context, of the three -the law-making, law-executing and law-interpreting- organs of the constitution, the law-making is the best, the executive, the next best and the law-interpreting, the worst. The reasons are obvious. It is only the law-making politician who actually reaches out to the people, at least on the eve of elections, and demonstrates his accountability to them. Even the administration, the only one that can fail to deliver for want of resources, is responsive to the extent that a lot of things get done in a predictable manner and within time frames that are specified. To clarify this issue of resources, consider the case of a town having 10 road junctions needing to deploy traffic police. In this case, unless 10 traffic policemen are available at a time the traffic in the town as a whole can be adversely affected. Or, consider the case of regulating a crowd. Depending on the strength of the crowd, the strength of the police force also has to be comparable to ensure that nothing untoward happens. Anything less could result in turmoil.

Coming to the judiciary, leave alone the concept of accountability it is difficult to identify even any sense of responsibility. I quote the NCRWC:  'Judicial system has not been able to meet even the modest expectations of the society.  Its delays and costs are frustrating, its processes slow and uncertain.  People are pushed to seek recourse to extra-legal methods for relief.  Trial system both on the civil and criminal side has utterly broken down.' Also, 'Thus we have arrived at a situation in the judicial administration where courts are deemed to exist for judges and lawyers and not for the public seeking justice'.

Still, in spite of all these, it is only the Judiciary that has been given unmerited and unwarranted shelter under a perverse Contempt of Court Act. While repealing this Act may be in the domain of the law-maker, there are any number of cases where courts have held legislations, in whole and in parts, invalid. The Contempt of Courts Act is one which can and should be abrogated by the judiciary itself in toto.

What we need in this democratic country is a Contempt of Citizen (Prevention of) Act and we need it urgently too. Given the activist role the judiciary has taken on itself, I suggest that the legislators be directed to bring in such a legislation without further delay.

Judicial accountability and the National Judicial Commission. A former CJI is on record that 20% judges are corrupt. Another CJI moaned that there is pressure on the Hawala Bench. Yet another one expressed helplessness in tackling an instance of mass leave by high court judges. Some CJsI, after demitting office, have even gone abroad and advised foreign governments to avoid taking issues to Indian courts since the delays are preposterous. One CJI, shortly after retiring, came to Kerala and passed some comments which, had it been made by anybody else, would have landed him/her behind bars for contempt of court. Then of course there are the Mysore, Rajasthan and Delhi cases reportedly involving the judges of the high courts there. Suffice to say that the need for a National Judicial Commission to try judges has been amply established. When even the President of India has asked his office to be brought under the purview of the Lok Ayukt, it is disconcerting that the judiciary has not responded positively to this need of ensuring transparency in its functions and integrity of conduct of its members.
Judicial Accessibility.  While the law-makers have reportedly favoured the establishment of  regional benches of the apex court and additional benches of the high courts in order to mitigate the problems of justice-seekers to whatever extent such a measure would help, the judiciary does not seem to be enthusiastic about it and is even denying the need for such a measure. In the case of Kerala, though the Government of Kerala is in favour of establishing the bench at Thiruvanantha-puram, the judiciary needs to take cognizance of the fact that when litigants from Thiruvanantha-puram can come to Ernakulam, attend the court proceedings and return to their homes the same day such facilities do not exist even for litigants from Kozhikode which is located centrally in the Malabar region. Thus ground realities dictate that a bench of the High Court needs to the established at the earliest at Kozhikode. Similarly, regional benches of the apex court also need to be established in such a manner that litigants can travel overnight by train, attend the court and return the next night.

The Judicial process.

Ms Arundhathi Roy was modest in declaring that in our courts ‘the process is worse than the judgement’. (Photostat copy of a letter received from a group of aggrieved consumers along with a translation of the text is attached for your perusal. The identities have been masked because it is not considered relevant.) Some key aspects of this process, their implications and suggested remedies are given in the following paragraphs.

Listing of cases. This is one area that needs to be spruced up on a war footing. One is shocked by the number of cases listed before each judge everyday when only a meagre fraction of this number is actually heard and decided on. The percentage of cases adjourned, for whatever reasons, would easily be of the order of 80 to 90%., implying that if 100 cases are listed 160 to 180 litigants, excluding witnesses, are bound to return after having wasted their resources-time, money and energy- for no fault of theirs. This is one of the most easily solved problems because it would not be difficult to reduce the number of cases listed for a day depending on the competence of the judge and catering for a margin for lapses on the part of the litigants themselves. I would suggest that if a judge can hear only 10 cases then not more than 15 cases should be listed.

Calling the cases listed for the day in a chronological  order will also help the litigants to track their turn without the need to remain tensely attentive throughout inside the court hall.

Personal appearance of litigants/representatives. This is another area that can be cleaned up with a bit of diligence on the part of judicial authorities. Except in criminal cases involving large number of witnesses and especially in cases involving only documentary evidence, the need for the affected parties to appear before the court should not arise more than once or in the worst case twice. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) when enacted in 1986 was a more effective piece of legislation than it is now after two amendments. The reason is simple. When 5 parties – the petitioner, opposite party/parties, the judge(s), the advocates for the opposing parties- are involved in a case absence/unpreparedness of any one party affects the progress of the case adversely. This problem can be overcome ONLY by reducing the statements of the parties to writing and the judges studying them independently, noting observations and seeking clarifications in writing. The affected parties may be summoned only once before deciding the judgement and may be once more when passing the orders.

Involvement of advocates. It is shockingly true that in our courts advocates for the opposing parties in any case can find rules/ precedences to support their obviously opposing stands. Ultimately, it would appear to an onlooker, that the judge can as well deliver his order by tossing a coin! Further, it is not practically possible for the litigants to hire the services of equally competent advocates. Thus the richer person tends to get undue advantage. This is quite evident even in ‘Consumer Courts’ where the complainant is often a simple, law-biding citizen of modest means and the opposite parties are establishments/organizations with much greater resources at their disposal. When the second amendment to the CPA was being contemplated there was a suggestion that opposite parties should be allowed to engage advocates only if the complainant has engaged the services of an advocate. Unfortunately it did not materialize. The reasons are anybody’s guess. But there was certainly an opposition to it from the Bars. However the logic holds good even today and it applies to regular courts as much as to ‘consumer courts’.

Citizens’charter and working hours. As with government offices delivering various services of the government, the courts also need to publish Citizens’ charters giving out the details of the qualitative and quantitative norms and cost for their services. This will include displaying the working hours of the courts, approximate number of hearings, time frame for completion of a case based on the clause on which a charge has been framed and the authority who may be approached in case there is any default in following the Charter.

Grading of advocates and establishing norms for fees. To mitigate the injustice in economically weaker litigants not getting the services of competent advocates, there is a need to grade every advocate by his/her specialization, success rate etc and fix the fees accordingly. Then it should be mandated that the economically better off litigant can only hire the services of an advocate who is in the same category as the advocate hired by the economically weaker litigant. Since these may fall within the purview of procedures it is hoped that the courts have the jurisdiction to accept and implement them.

Irrationality and unfairness of decisions. There are any number of cases where the decisions are patently devoid of reason, leave alone fairness. There is an order of the Kerala High Court in a particular case making Section 56 of the CPC applicable while passing orders under Section 27 of the Consumer Protection Act. This in effect actually excluded women as a whole from the punitive provisions of a period legislation! Or, in other words, it literally gave women a license to cheat and get away with it! And there are similar orders of the apex court which one finds difficult to believe


have actually been passed by supposedly learned judges. For example, 'courts have jurisdiction to decide right or to decide wrong and even though they decide wrong, the decrees rendered by them cannot be treated as nullities' and 'there can be no interference in revision merely because the decision is erroneous in law or in fact where there is no error pertaining to jurisdiction'.  I can quote similar instances in cases which I have personally pursued in consumer disputes redressal fora / commissions and even the regular courts.

Conclusion. It would be naïve on my part to presume that our justice delivery system will improve with writing a letter of this nature. It would be my effort to pursue this with a satyagraha in front of the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam on 31 Dec 2004 and 01 Jan 2005. I shall be approaching all civic society groups that I know of or heard of, for whatever support they can offer. I am sure that the language of this letter is modest enough to convey the grim facts that needed to be conveyed. It is just in keeping with the dignity of a law-abiding citizen who according to our Constitution holds the highest office of the land. I quote the NCRWC : 'The highest office in our democracy is the office of citizen; this is not only a platitude, it must translate into reality'.

I shall be grateful if the contents of this letter is disseminated amoung your companion judges.

Looking forward to a favourable response.

Regards and best wishes.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Justice Delivery System- FAQs

Q1. Miror, mirror on  wall, tell me which is the most corrupt of them all- the legislature, the executive or the judiciary (in India)?
Ans: It is indeed a very, very difficult question to answer. As with difficult questions, one way to tackle it is by going through first principles.
Of all the people constituting the three organs, the law maker, politician, is the only one who atleast once a couple of years actually comes to the people and presents a balance sheet to him. It is for the people to evaluate their candidate objectively and choose the right one. However, even after being elected, the fact remains that NO politician can swindle public resources without the active support of a bureaucrat. Then there is the media always on the prowl looking for news to slander the politicians. And ultimately the politician can always be hauled up before a court by any citizen.
The bureaucrat, the behind the scene player is actually the real power broker. By twisting facts and laws he can actually make the politician a puppet. But officially atleast he is supervised by the politician, the media and also the courts!
Coming to the courts, once a judge, the person enjoys a lot of immunity. In the case of higher judiciary it goes to the preposterous extent of absolute immunity! I need not highlight this further as the media is so full of reports about the crimes committed by judges (Dinakaran, Soumitra Sen etc) and the existing system looking helplessly on! The provision of impeachment is a fraud. It is as good as promising free medical aid if the patient can be transported to the moon! Nowhere is the truism in the saying 'power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely' more evident than in our judiciary.
Q2. Is the large number of cases being filed in our courts any indication of the faith of the common man in our judiciary?
Ans: Definitely NOT. The judiciary is an institution that has been officially set up to redress grievances, resolve disputes and deter crimes through legal punishment.
The common man has two avenues for redressing grievances- the police and the courts. But as per transparency international both these are the most corrupt institutions in the country. TI only provided the statistics but this is a fact that was known to our forefathers who always considered it a blessing to pass through this life without entering a police station or a court. By the very yardstick of justice delayed is justice denied our judiciary is a total failure. And worse, by default the judges are in the role of deciding issues subjectively but our constitution has not provided any means to check if the subjectivity is kept minimal. Adding insult to injury are the provisions of contempt of court in our constitution and the contempt of court act! The end result is that judges have become a law unto themselves. Over a period of time they have encroached on the functions of the parliament and the executive so much that today they are the law makers, prosecutors, jury and hangman- all in one! The attitude of the judiciary towards India's first pro-democracy legislation- the Right to Information Act- has really exposed the threat our judiciary is to democracy and rule of law. Unless right thinking citizens come  on a common platform and ensure that the judiciary is overhauled -to make it transparent and accountable- the society is in danger of being overrun by naxalites and maoists.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

National Convention on Judicial Reforms at Mumbai on 22 and 23 Jan 2011

 'The highest office in our democracy is the office of citizen; this is not only a platitude, it must translate into reality'.
-Report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC)

The NCRWC was headed by former CJI Mr M N Venkatachaliah and 6 of its 11 members were from the judiciary! So now you can imagine the extent of the rot that is our justice delivery system presided over by the judiciary.

With allegations of corruption in judiciary coming out like a torrent in the recent past, an NGO in Mumbai- Forum for Fast Justice-organised a 2-day convention on Judicial Reforms at the SP Jain Institute of Management, Andheri, Mumbai. Veerappa Moily, the Union Law Minister delivered the keynote address and former CJI M N Venkatachaliah inaugurated the convention. There were a few more retired high court judges and other prominent persons like Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejriwal and Manoj Mitta. But, as with such overcrowded events there was little scope for audience participation. Anticipating such a situation I had issued a press release, the contents of which are reproduced below. At the end of the day I have the satisfaction that my prescience was precise and for reasons best known to them, the media had practically ignored the event!

File: SRTIC/pr-natconjudref2011-220111                                                                                             22 Jan 2011


More than a press release this is an address to the media corps covering the National Convention on Judicial Reforms 2011, being organized by Forum for Fast Justice on 22 an 23 Jan 2011 at Mumbai. This release has been necessitated by the awareness that the media corps would  normally cover only the keynote address and the address of the chief guest. The unfortunate thing is that neither the media nor the VIPs would be interested in the contribution of the participants who would be covering the real grass root issues the way they are. Worse, what the august speakers on the dais will speak can be summerised in one sentence- they will be music to the ears of the audience.

In the present context, Moily the politician will definitely talk of the Judges’ Accountability Bill without actually telling, given its contents, as per reports appearing in the media, that it should factually be called Protection of Corrupt Judges Bill. We all know how hard he is trying to exempt judges from the purview of the RTI Act.

The credentials of Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah has been acknowledged even by the senior advocate of the apex court, Mr Prashant Bhushan, who has literally thrown a stone at the hornet’s nest by accusing 8 of the former 16 chief justices of India of corruption.  But what is he going to say? Most likely, that the number of judges should be increased, that there should more courts, better infrastructure, financial autonomy etc etc? But this is what Adv K T S Tulsi has rightly said about the primary causes of delay: it is not the law, not the procedure, not the number of judges but sheer mis management. He has rubbished the Maliamath Committee’s judge to population ratio and quotes statistics to prove that they do not apply to India. In 1999, while only 13.6 million cases were filed in India with a population of almost a billion, the number of cases filed in the US of A was 93.81 million! The dockets per judge was just 987 in India while in the US of A it was 3235!

Justice Venkatachaliah, incidently had chaired the National Commission to Review the working of the Constitution. Here are a few quotes/extracts from the report submitted by the Commission to the Govt in 2002.

'Judicial system has not been able to meet even the modest expectations of the society.  Its delays and costs are frustrating, its processes slow and uncertain.  People are pushed to seek recourse to extra-legal methods for relief.  Trial system both on the civil and criminal side has utterly broken down.' Also, 'Thus we have arrived at a situation in the judicial administration where courts are deemed to exist for judges and lawyers and not for the public seeking justice'.

But what about a solution? Practically nothing. This is what Dr Subash Kashyap, one of the two bureaucrat members of the  judiciary headed, judiciary heavy Commission, has recorded in his Notes to the Report:

Attention is also invited to the decision taken by the Commission at its 14th Meeting held on 14-18 December, 2001.  Para 16 of the minutes records that "There shall be a National Judicial Commission for making recommendation as to the appointment of a Judge of the Supreme Court (other than the Chief Justice of India), a Chief Justice of a High Court and a Judge of any High Court."

"The composition of the National Judicial Commission would be as under:

a) The Vice-President of India
b) The Chief Justice of India
c) Two senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court, next to the Chief Justice
d) The Union Minister for Law & Justice."

However the composition of the NJC as recommended by the Commission in its Final Report is:

The National Judicial Commission for appointment of judges of the Supreme Court shall comprise of:

(1) The Chief Justice of India                                              : Chairman
(2) Two senior most judges of the Supreme Court   : Member
(3) The Union Minister for Law and Justice                  : Member
(4) One eminent person nominated by the President
after consulting the Chief Justice of India                    : Member

Finally, it had been left to Ms Sumitra G. Kulkarni, former Rajya Sabha member and the only woman member in the Commission, to drive-in the last nails, thus:

1. I believe in a Unified and truly Secular India.  However, the Commission debates seemed often to reduce the Constitution to being a platform for divisiveness and not unification.
2. The Commission did not initiate or promote sincere debate in the public with regards to the issues that it was contemplating.  The efforts was more to "evade and defer" instead of to "identify issues, table them for debate and to deal with them".

Forum for Fast Justice has been active in the campaign for judicial reforms for close to 5 years now. This is the third convention that is being organized by them. But unfortunately the participants are all going to be people actually working in the area of judicial reforms, when the need is for mass participation or at least creation of awareness for mass action. This cannot be done without the whole hearted support of the media, the threat of contempt of court notwithstanding.

To conclude, Indian judiciary epitomizes the truism ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. But we cannot forget that we, the people, have tasked our representatives in the law-making bodies to be the engines of change that are required by us. But the response of the law makers to the subversion of the Right to Information Act by the judiciary makes one doubt if they are at all capable of measuring up to the need to reform the judiciary , lock, stock and barrel. The rehabilitation of K G Balakrishnan in the National Human Rights Commission, when he should actually have been impeached for blasphemously declaring, as the CJI, that his office was out of purview of the transparency law indicates that our law makers are not only indifferent to the implementation of the laws enacted by them but actively colluding the cheat the public. But that should not deter us from making our demands clear. To put it bluntly, the question is : who will judge the judges? One suggestion is given at

At the same time we also need to have a relook at the contempt laws. Aren’t the contempt of court provisions in the constitution and the laws framed under it anathema to democracy? Shouldn’t judges who ‘have jurisdiction to decide right or to decide wrong and even though they decide wrong, the decrees rendered by them cannot be treated as nullities’ (Ittivara Vs Varkey (A 1964 SC 907) be subjected to more rigorous scrutiny, criticism and deterrence? Ultimately doesn’t democracy demand a Contempt of Citizen (Prevention of) Act?

Jai Hind!

(P M Ravindran)