M N Khan
NEW DELHI— The expectations were very high when Justice N V Ramana was appointed Chief Justice of India. His path-breaking judgments and his credentials were an indication as to how he would lead the judiciary as the Chief Justice of India.
After nearly four months, the perception that has been created by his statements is that the judiciary is likely to be people-friendly. It will intervene as and when required and will act as the custodian of the Constitution. And above all, civil liberty will be high on his agenda. But can he set an example and become people’s CJI is the biggest question? After having seen the functioning of the judiciary in the past few years the only thing that comes to our mind is that India should have People’s CJI. Will CJI Ramana fulfil our desire or we will have to wait for some more years? It is the need of the hour that India should have people’s CJI to restore people’s faith in the judiciary.
Prof Upendra Baxi, professor of law, University of Warwick, and former Vice-Chancellor of Universities of Delhi and South Gujarat, while referring to his earlier verdict that led to the end of internet ban in Jammu and Kashmir, said, “I think he has been all along a people’s justice and under his guidance Judiciary will scale new heights.”
If we analyse statements made by the new CJI in the recent past, we may get the impression that the judiciary is in the safe hand and he will lead the judiciary in the right direction. Restoring people’s faith in the judiciary was the biggest challenge when he took over the charge of CJI. Some of his statements are 1. If the judiciary wants to garner the faith of the citizens, we have to make everyone feel assured that we exist for them. For the longest time, the vulnerable population has lived outside the system of justice. 2. The threat to human rights is the highest in police stations. 3. On sedition law, he said, “This dispute about the law is concerned, it’s colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was used by British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak etc. Still, is it necessary after 75 years of Independence?” LiveLaw quoted CJI Ramana.
Further, it was very interesting to note that the CJI chose to deviate from the traditional norms (English) and talked with a couple in Telugu during counselling. Finally, the couple got united after 21 years of separation. On this gesture, D Rama Krishna Reddy, an advocate who had appeared for the husband in this case said that the Chief Justice of India addressed a human problem most humanely. Very recently, another statement made by the CJI was that everything in this country is shown with a communal angle by a section of media and it is going to give our country a bad name.
However, CJI Ramana while delivering the 17th Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture on, “Rule of Law,” said, “The concept of law is defined by four main principles: strong and independent judiciary, clear and accessible law, equality before the law, and people’s right to participate in the creation and refinement of laws.” The above statements can be seen as a reflection of his persona and an indication of our justice delivery mechanism.
Justice Iqbal Ansari, Chairman of Punjab State Human Rights Commission and former Chief Justice of Patna High Court, says it is too early to say whether Chief Justice of India become people’s CJI or not. It can be said only after his term is over. As CJI, he is likely to earn a good name. He has made good statements, but we will have to see if those statements are translated into judgments or not.
Senior Supreme Court Lawyer, Sanjay Hedge has reasonably argued in his piece, “Courts as Counterpoise,” published by (India Today, June 25), “ When a seemingly atrophied organ shows signs of movement, physicians wonder if it was just a passing spasm. A Supreme Court that recently looked away from migrants walking home and various other administrative disasters arising from the management of the Covid pandemic recently, held the government’s vaccine policy to be “prima facie arbitrary”. Similarly, the courts have displayed a previously unseen scepticism about the overboard application of the sedition law and the UAPA against dissenters. Ex-supercop Julio Ribeiro has gone so far as to call this interventionist phenomenon the Ramana effect—the underlying assumption being that Justice N.V. Ramana’s appointment as the Chief Justice of India, on April 24, has somehow unshackled the judiciary.
On the litmus test before the judiciary and the way forward, M R Shamshad, advocate-on-record at the Supreme Court of India, said, “Most of the important newspapers have reported the views of judges given on public platforms. However, on the judicial side, there are issues relating to mainstream media acting with communal mindset, citizenship laws, freedom of religion, excessive criminalization of human behaviour and right to dissent etc. We need constant reminders to the executive, through the judgments about lack of accountability of the Police system, judgment on executives acting in a partisan manner on a communal basis under the garb of frivolous distinction. It is much needed that the judgments start coming soon on these issues by upholding constitutional values.”
John Dayal, a noted social and human rights activist while sharing his perspective said, “By an instinct of self-preservation rather than any intrinsic trust, most of us almost routinely proclaim our trust in the judiciary. It is right and proper to trust in the judiciary as much as in other institutions created by the Constitution of India which protects our fundamental rights, especially our human rights, and in particular our rights to life and freedom to practice our faith. Where else will we go if this faith gets eroded either by our fault or because the constitutional institutions have not fully lived up to our expectations in protecting the constitution.”
On the functioning of the judiciary and the role of the judge, Dayal said, “Courts are as good as the men and the few women who make up the judiciary. And in both the Supreme Court and the High Court, the rulings may be only as good as the judges who make up a certain bench. Plaintiffs look for favourable benches or windows of opportunity when a good judge may be in the chair of the Chief Justice of India or the High court. The Collegium of the Supreme Court, Parliament and the Executive must need to consider this, and sooner than later.”