Justice (retd) JS Verma, former chief justice of India, has come to be accepted as an authority in determining contentious matters touching the ambience of the judicial dispensation which has, over a period of time, established itself as a watchdog of the interests of citizens and causes of the PIL hue.
Having been associated with dispensation of justice for several decades and at the helm of affairs, justice (retd) JS Verma has appropriately said that he felt demeaned and insulted by the methodology proposed in the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill to 'discipline' judges.
While there has been a noticeable frequency in the clamour for heads to roll for certain acts described to be of inappropriate nature, time has come to take a call on the issue. The issue concerns not only those having held judicial placements at the national or state levels, but each segment of judicial dispensation at whatever hierarchical levels. In fact, it concerns each and every citizen of our vibrant democracy that thrives on the protection afforded by the courts against arbitrariness and victimisation.
Exemplified instances would only emphasise that the continuity of constitutional ambience must be allowed to stay. If little more circumspection in the matter of choice of proposed selections is required (though I do not personally subscribe to the view that there is anything wrong either in the process of selection or the choice of candidates - minimal human errors notwithstanding), it is for those within the sanctified collegiums to take care and ensure that no uncharitable voices are enabled by the recommendations to arise.
I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the Punjab and Haryana high court bench contains a combination of calibre and conscientious entry.
The transfer of relation judges does not reflect upon their competence and integrity. Their movement is only in accord with a policy and that is it. Those presently under consideration for a posting out are all an exceptionally competent lot and with a distinctive reputation for integrity. The movements in the recent past and unrelated to the policy aforementioned only prove the general rule.
In my view, the absence of a documented rule-formulation - on the pattern of governance ruling the non-judges - has not unduly benefited the judicial dispensation in any manner. The Rajasthan case (pertaining to a charge of sexual misdemeanour), the Delhi case (pertaining to a DDA matter) and the land acquisition matter all ended in professionally fatalistic conclusions. The first two volunteered to exit, while further exalted placement eluded the third. The impeachment bells had also been readied.
The merits or otherwise and the cause for impeding the process(es) on the relevant behalf notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that the system did assert its functional competence. Those clamouring for the forthwith scalpel sacrifice must appreciate that the intra-dispensation apparatus did, when required, rise to the occasion.
The union law minister has displayed a great sense of ambience in announcing that the sentiments expressed by justice (retd) Verma do raise a justification for a call for a revisit to the whole thing.
None can deny the need for absolute perfection from a dispensation constitutionally charged with the responsibility of protecting the interest of the over-bulging citizenry which, in the face of any excess, looks up to it for protection. In fact, the judicial dispensation, whether at the state or national level, is the repository of faith of the existing Indian civilisation.
At the same time, the clamour for 'subordinating' the judicial personnel at that level does not augur well for the emotional facet of the latter as an institution. The proposed reasonably ready acceptance of a complaint for examination is bound to render the judges vulnerable and it would necessarily adversely affect their independence of thought. A judicial functionary under constant threat cannot be expected to function independently and fearlessly.
It is heartening to note that a voice in favour of judicial dispensation has been raised by none else than a person of the level of a former chief justice of India.
The union law minister has responded very warmly to the intervention. It is a healthy indication that the executive and judicial quarters are not at discordant level. A fearless and strong judiciary is the hallmark of a democratic polity. All saner voices must unite for appropriate deliberation. The processual exercise must not, wittingly or unwittingly, give an impression that it is aimed at 'pegging' any dispensation which has no platform to defend itself.
The intra-dispensation apparatus to take care of an aberration may be revisited and strengthened, if at all the need is felt. We must trust the government we have elected. Likewise, we must also display complete faith in the judicial personnel. Any thought or endeavour at decimating any constitutional institution must be frowned upon in national interest.
The writer is head of Central Administrative Tribunal (Chandigarh Bench). The views expressed by the author are personal