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Time to initiate judicial reform in India now



We all respect India's judiciary as it plays the role of an umpire in disputes of various kinds. When the executive and legislature go off the right path, it's the judiciary that keeps them on the straight and narrow so that our democracy runs on all cylinders.

If and when the judiciary swerves from the moral track we need to sit up and think up measures to keep it back on the right trajectory. I am no legal expert to dissect the whole judicial system and suggest ways for a root-and-branch reform. But a commoner, armed with common sense, can judge, after a period of time, if the judge is liable to buckle under pressure or succumb to pecuniary or other temptations.

A judge is entitled to his private life and nobody has the right to stick his nose into his personal affairs. But if the judge utilises the staff given him by the government to do his household chores, we the taxpayers have every right to question.

Leave alone a judge, even a retired judge on duty as a member of some board or other, often resorts to this practice.

I see this on a regular basis in my neighbourhood. I can only raise my eyebrows at the way taxpayer's money is being misused unabashedly and insouciantly.

One of the staff of the retired judge is not a government employee but is guaranteed to get a job in the same or other related departments if the judge so recommends. No wonder the young man does his master's entire private work and that includes acting as a chauffeur to his wife.

My earlier notion that only top police officers would make their constables do their household chores like going to fish market was changed when I relocated near the retired judge's house.

Is there a system to check this kind of abuse?  Furthermore, should a retired judge, even if he/she is on special duty, have more than one staff?  These are questions to be taken on board during a restructuring process.

As for the question of judgements, we know that many of them are meted out on the basis of evidence. In fact, there are many judges who are known for their uprightness and impartiality. But alongside, we find an awful lot of judges who punish innocent people or let the culprits walk free for a gratification.

Years before in my salad days, I had this flatmate who boasted to me how he pinched wads of cash from a bank where he was an employee and how he went scot-free after a court trial because the judge was a family friend. While there are several judges who have no compunction in taking bribes there are others who succumb to threats of all kinds.

There may be a slew of people, including legal luminaries, who think that former Supreme Court judge and current chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) Justice Markandey Katju's allegations against three former apex court judges lack moral heft apparently because he had slept on them for a decade.

To a great degree it's true. Katju's revelation after his retirement as a Supreme Court judge and just a couple of months before his retirement as the PCI chairman can be viewed as hypocritical. Katju, in fact, represents the majority of judges, who carry on blithely despite being privy to the corrupt goings-on in the judicial system. If he had had the guts to resign then and there, he would have become a role model. That's beside the point, however.

Now all the political parties should regard this Katju moment as an opportunity to revamp the judicial system through appropriate constitutional amendments.

Katju's allegation or rather revelation that three former chief justices of India had made "improper compromises" in the appointment of a corrupt person as an additional judge of the Madras High Court under pressure from the UPA-1 government and later in making him permanent is extremely serious.

As Katju himself has said, why focus on the timing of his revelation instead of the plain truth? What is needed is a radical overhaul of the system.

Replacing the collegium system with a panel that includes representatives of the government, judiciary and eminent members of society may not be fail-proof, after all. In fact, this was the system that had been in place before 1998.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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