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Safe waters

IN the nineties, a prestigious Environmental Conference was held in Bombay. The auditorium was jam-packed. Sitting Supreme Court Justices J.S.Verma and Kuldip Singh were invited as guests of honour and were sitting on the dais.

Justice Kuldip Singh spoke ex tempore and it was evident that he was a fun-loving man. His speech was laced with humour. He reminded us of the comic Jaspal Singh Bhatti. I recall a very interesting anecdote narrated by Justice Kuldip Singh that day.

He said he was hearing a matter in the Supreme Court inter alia pertaining to the pollution in the Yamuna River. Several judicial orders had been passed in PILs directing and urging the concerned governmental agencies to prevent discharge of effluents and pollutants into the river but apparently the situation at the ground level hadn’t improved.

However, Ashok Desai, who was then the Attorney General, would argue before SC benches whenever the matter was listed that all necessary steps had been duly taken by the Government and then he would proceed to file reams of ‘scientific reports’ to support his claim that the Yamuna water was now safe and unpolluted, and that no further directions were necessary.

Justice Kuldip Singh told us that when such an argument was advanced before him he told the AG: “Since the river is now so safe and unpolluted, let us both go for a swim in it together tomorrow morning for an hour.” Then, looking at the AG’s evident discomfiture at this unusual suggestion, Justice Kuldip Singh added: “I am a Punjab da Puttar and will be able to report to work after the swim, but I am not sure about you. If you too can come back to work without any problem, I will accept these statistics. But I would like to verify this with you for company. You will agree that the best proof of the pudding is in eating it!”

Justice Kuldip Singh had a big, infectious grin on his face as he told us that AG Desai did not labour his point about ‘safe waters’ any further as soon as he realised that the green judge wanted to put him in hot water!

He quietly bowed and sat down.