The gravitas of the words ‘Your Honour’ appears to be diminishing at an alarming pace in recent times with the judiciary demonstrating that it is not exactly floating above the fray in the matter of improprieties. The telecom scam seems to have triggered off a judicial imbroglio with former Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan refuting the claims of a Supreme Court judge HL Gokhale that the former was informed of the now-tainted ex-telecom minister A Raja seeking to influence a Madras high court judge. Justice Balakrishnan has brought law minister Veerappa Moily into the matter saying that he knew about the whole situation.
Not many of us ever hope to get to the bottom of this given the opaque manner in which the judiciary works. But this lack of transparency is now proving detrimental to the one institution which Indians still hold in high regard. That some legal luminaries themselves have not held back on the malaise in the judiciary is a welcome sign. A case in point is former chief justice SP Bharucha saying that 20% of judges are corrupt. Recently, the Supreme Court censured the Allahabad high court for its lapses. Though it was none less than former chief justice JS Verma who famously stated that no one, howsoever high, is above the law, our judges don’t seem to have internalised this. They have resisted, at every step, attempts to bring them under some sort of scanner like the Right to Information Act. So, a judge like PD Dinakaran of the Madras high court, under suspicion in a land scandal, is shunted off to Sikkim instead of being further investigated and suspended from work. Kolkata high court judge Soumitra Sen has successfully fended off action against him for misconduct and now impeachment proceedings are pending against him.
At a time when all other arms of the state seem to have failed us spectacularly, the judiciary is seen as the last court of appeal. It cannot continue to function in a manner which is beyond scrutiny. The very highest echelons of the judicial system have been dragged through the mud in recent times. It is vital that the judiciary itself opens up to greater transparency and accountability if it is to save this vital institution. When a scam as murky as the telecom one is playing out, the judiciary cannot add to the dirt that is being unearthed every day. It must willingly put itself in the dock and be absolved of any involvement in these less-than-savoury incidents. Will it do so? The jury is out on that.