Justice Markandeya Katju, who has been consistent in his stand against judicial over-reach in the recent past, has grown wiser after being elevated to the Supreme Court.
In a candid admission before a crowded courtroom, he said on Monday: “I was an activist judge when in the Allahabad High Court. Now, I have grown wiser and changed my philosophy.” Justice Katju’s admission came during the hearing of the Mayawati government’s appeal against an Allahabad High Court order restraining the state administration from changing the Lucknow Master Plan to allow construction of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s memorial in a ‘green belt’.
Responding to the state government’s plea for setting aside the High Court order, senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi showed him a demolition order passed by him on January 20, 2004 while he was a judge in the Allahabad High Court. Tulsi intended to convince Justice Katju to take an activist role to stop the Mayawati government from going ahead with construction in the ‘green belt’.
Justice Katju, who recently hit the headlines after saying that courts cannot run the government, had then restrained the state government from changing the Lucknow Master Plan to permit commercial and industrial activity in residential areas. The case also relates to an amendment of the Lucknow Master Plan to allow construction of the memorial in Ambedkar Park.
Though Justice Katju admitted being an activist judge in the past, he disagreed with Tulsi’s contention that courts could intervene if a state government brazenly flouted the law. “Is it correct to pass an order restraining Parliament from making laws?” he asked.
Through the 2004 order, Justice Katju had directed removal of illegal encroachments in Lucknow. The judge, who has criticised the Delhi High Court’s activism in demolishing unauthorised constructions and appointing court commissioners, had himself constituted a committee for monitoring implementation of the court orders. Along with another High Court judge, Justice Katju had specifically asked the committee members not to buckle under any kind of pressure, including those from politicians.
He had further stopped illegal construction on several green belts in Lucknow. “Lucknow is the capital of the state. It should look like the capital city with modern infrastructure, modern facilities and amenities,” Justice Katju had said in his order that also dealt with lack of adequate parking facilities in the city.