JUSTICE N.V. Ramana, who retired as the 48th Chief Justice of India on Friday, has left an indelible legacy, which his successors would find it difficult to match. If the huge crowd at the farewell function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association in his honour on Friday evening is an indication, as many had explained that day, it is his popularity.
At the ceremonial bench hearing held on the morning of his last day in office, senior advocate, Dushyant Dave, who hadpenned at least twocritical pieces in the recent past about the functioning of the Court under Justice Ramana’s leadership, referred to hisarticle in Indian Express, when he had just assumed office as the CJI. In his speech, Dave conceded that Justice Ramana had proved him wrong, and exceeded his expectations.
In the Indian Express article, Dave wrote: “The new Chief Justice must seriously introspect and review the actions of his immediate predecessors, free himself of the bias in constituting benches and allocating cases and take concrete steps to revitalise the administration of justice.”
If Dave was initially suspicious of whether Justice Ramana could free himself of the bias in constituting benches, and of his ability to take concrete steps to revitalise the administration of justice, it appears that Justice Ramana’s tenure as the CJI convinced him that those suspicions were without basis.
However, Justice Ramana’s role as a Chief Justice in constituting benches and allocating cases and in revitalising the administration of justice has come under critical scrutiny from expertshere andhere. Therefore, Dave’s complement to Justice Ramana, albeitemotional, comes as a surprise.
How the same actions of Justice Ramana as the CJI – both omissions and commissions – came to be interpreted differently by different observers would, of course, be subjected to scrutiny by historians of the Court and its successive Chief Justices. A limited and qualified answer, however, can be found in the Telugu aphorism, “Manchivadu” which literally means being a good man to everyone. Justice Ramana, who is a lover of Telugu literature, appears to have followed this in practice, in order to become hugely popular during his tenure as the CJI, despite dissatisfying a few critical observers.
Now, let us come to the data. According to Manupatra’s Judge Analytics, Justice Ramana authored 179 judgments, of which 146 have been cited by other Judges. Justice Ramana had been part of a total of 671 benches, which had pronounced judgments during his tenure as a Supreme Court Judge, which began on February 17, 2014, upon his elevation from the Delhi High Court, where he was serving as its Chief Justice.
In terms of subject-wise judgments pronounced by Justice Ramana, Manupatra’s Advance Judge Analytics has this data: He has pronounced judgments in 83 criminal cases, 16 accident compensation cases, 16 property-related cases, 12 civil cases, nine arbitration cases, seven family cases, six banking cases, and six cases dealing with interpretation of the Constitutional provisions. Besides, he has also authored a few judgments in tenancy, Narcotics, Insurance, consumer, commercial, customs, land acquisition, evidence, and service matters.
Life-long free perks for retired Judges
On another note, theannouncement by the Government of life-long free perks for the retired Supreme Court judges twice in the course of three days during Justice Ramana’s tenure as the CJI, is likely to make observers question how the same court found it necessary to conclude that freebies by the political class for the electorate requiredextensive hearing by a three-judge bench, besides prima facie expressing its view that freebies have the potential to unduly influence the voters and vitiate the purity of the election process.
Challenges before the CJI, U.U.Lalit
Among the profiles of the new Chief Justice of India, U.U.Lalit, the onewritten by Apurva Vishwanath and the oneby Utkarsh Anand today are noteworthy. Ahead of his 74-days tenure, however, it is not the perception of his past accomplishments which will add to his glory, but what he achieves in reality. Obviously, the freebies case, on hearing of which precious court time was wasted during the last few days of his predecessor, must not figure on his list of priorities.
His promise that there would be at least one constitution bench hearing cases throughout the year has raised expectations. Hisdeclaration that he would prioritise transparency in listing and urgent mentioning has sought to address some of the long-standing concerns of the Bar. Thelistingof 25 Constitution Bench cases during his tenure has raised the question whether he is over-ambitious or aiming only to lay down the groundwork for reform. If the latter is true, then his successor, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud will have a huge responsibility to carry forward CJI Lalit’s promising agenda.
Our immediate interest will, however, be focussed on how the new CJI deals with cases which cannot brook any delay in hearing. On Saturday, the Constitutional Conduct Group, (CCG), an association of retired civil servants without any political affiliation and which claims to speak truth to power, haswritten an open letter to him, urging him to rescind the order of remission passed by the Gujarat government and send the 11 persons convicted of gang rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case, back to jail to serve out their life sentences.
As the Supreme Court bench presided by the then CJI Ramana, has already issuednotice to the Gujarat Government in a petition challenging the remission decision, the composition of the new bench which will hear the matter after two weeks, and what immediate relief it is willing to grant would be of interest. On Thursday, the Ramana-led bench also comprised of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath, whose decision on May 13 in Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah @ Lala Vakil versus State of Gujarat appears to have provided the justification for the Gujarat Government to take the remission decision. The Rastogi-Vikram Nath bench’s order has come under critical scrutiny by several observers.
Here are some recent articles published by The Leaflet on the previous CJI, Ramana’s tenure:
In an opinionpiece, written by academic Shaileshwar Yadav, on August 25, the author pays due compliments to Justice Ramana for strengthening the judiciary, but is also of the view that the exercise of his power as the Master of the Roster led to many cases of national importance lying in abeyance as well as some controversial judgments by the court that impacted the image of the Supreme Court as a people’s court.
On Friday, The Leaflet’s co-founder, and senior advocate, Indira Jaising wrote anarticle titled, ‘A politically correct CJI retires’. According to her, Justice Ramana belonged to a rare species of judges who did what they wanted to do without irritating the executive. The article is one of the most-read stories of the previous week.
In an opinion piece on August 22, Indira Jaising argued that gravity of the offence is the yardstick with which the remission granted to the persons who gang raped Bilkis Bano and killed her relatives, including her three-year-old daughter, must be judged.
Bilkis Bano‘s gang rape cannot be seen as an isolated crime by a group of individual criminals, but one committed as part of a coordinated strategy of an attack with intent to eliminate a minority community.
Under any dispensation of law, remission is not an indefeasible right, but a matter for the State or the executive to decide from case to case.
Although the Supreme Court-appointed Pegasus Committee, presided over by the former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice R.V.Raveendran, has submitted its three-part report to the court, we have no means of verifying whether its conclusions are valid, because it is under wraps. As a result, the Government has interpreted it as a clean chit, although the Supreme Court noted that malware was found on five of the 29 phones examined, but it could not be concluded whether it was Pegasus or not.
Notably, the then CJI, Ramana observed, while reading the relevant portions of the report, that the Union Government did not cooperate with the committee, by sharing the information it required. But why did the Ramana-led benchdecidenot to upload the report on the Supreme Court’s website, after initially announcing orally that it would be uploaded, is a mystery.
And for the following week, we’ve received:
An opinion piece by Jahnavi Sindhu and Vikram Aditya Narayan on why Supreme Court’s order in Mohammed Zubair’s case provides an important template to check abuse of power.
An opinion piece by Paarth Pande on why the AIFF ban brings to light the limitation of committees, judgments and lack of coherent policy.
An opinion piece by Prachi Arya on why the Indian domestic violence scenario is chilling.
A brief, written by Lakshita Handa and Pragya Singh, on why a gender chapter in the India-UK FTA is a positive step in the right direction.
An interview by our staff writer, Sarah Thanawala, with public health activist, Dinesh Thakur on the draft Drugs, Medical Devices and Cosmetics Bill, 2022.