By K Raveendran
The circumstances in which Supreme Court Chief Justice N V Ramana assumed office were not particularly happy. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy’s complaint against alleged questionable conduct by Justice Ramana in the run-up to his assumption of office had created misgivings. But it is a matter of deep satisfaction that the new Chief Justice has not only put all these negatives to rest, but emerged as a beacon light that ignites hopes for the glory, credibility and independence of the highest court of land being restored. The short period that has elapsed since the new CJI took office has proved that he has succeeded to break the jinx that has marked the tenures of his predecessors.
The tenures of Deepak Misra, Ranjan Gogoi and S A Bobde were not particularly noteworthy in terms of the credibility of the apex court, as the court was often seen adopting less than critical approaches to positions taken by the ruling establishment, despite the existence of grounds that warranted an exactly opposite proposition. There have been several instances when the independence of the Supreme Court was called into question, as the verdicts delivered in particular cases seemed to favour the government. Whether it was the controversial Rafale deal, or even more the contentious Ayodhya case, there has been a series of verdicts which offered scope for criticism in terms of integrity and independence.
Cut to Justice Ramana’s time, the approach of the Supreme Court showed a radical shift, upholding the lofty values that made the highest court of the land the last resort for those who suffered excesses at the hands of the executive. The government suffered a few serious jolts as the court took uncompromising stand on what it considered to be fundamental principles. Most notable among them was the Pegasus snooping case, where the government was desperate to stonewall an investigation in the name of national security. The court’s refusal to accept the arguments put forth by the government to defend its arbitrary decisions and actions was not lost on the people, who saw a new glitter of hope in the new dispensation. In the process, Justice Ramana pronounced a few home truths that should set all the arms of governance thinking as to where we have been headed.
While upholding the independence of the judiciary as a precondition to the delivery of justice, the CJI underlined repeatedly how such an attribute was vital for the success of democracy and the rule of law. The judiciary cannot be controlled, directly or indirectly, by the legislature or the executive, or else the ‘rule of law’ would become illusory, Justice Ramana said while delivering the Justice P D Desai Memorial Lecture.
Underling this firm view that the sympathies of the court must lie with the victims rather than the perpetrators, the CJI added that in a democratic country like India, access to justice forms the bedrock of the rule of law and urged all to extend a helping hand to those in need. This guarantee of equal justice will be rendered meaningless if the vulnerable sections are unable to enjoy their rights because of their poverty or illiteracy or any other kind of weakness, he said.
Delivering another lecture, Justice Ramana exposed the futility of persisting with colonial rules, which were harming the nation and called for immediate Indianisation of the country’s legal system. He underlined the need to ‘adapt to the practical realities of our society and localise our justice delivery system’. He spoke about the most unsatisfactory state of affairs in which people from the rural areas were made to feel out of place in courts as they had no clues to the proceedings in the court room. He called for the justice system to be made more litigant-centric and highlighted the need for an overall simplification of justice delivery.
“Procedural barriers often undermine access to justice. The common man should not be apprehensive about approaching the courts and authorities. While approaching the court, he should not feel scared of the judges and the court. He should be able to speak the truth,” he said.
This is a sentiment that has been expressed in various circles, including this column, for a long time as the country persists with colonial era rules that were meant to protect the alien rulers rather than the citizens of an independent nation. (IPA Service)