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)

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