The manner in which Justice Ravindra Bhat began reading out relevant portions of his judgment in the assets declaration case on Wednesday, hardly anyone present in the courtroom No. 24 expected it would go against the Chief Justice of India and other judges.
RTI activists, lawyers and journalists assembled in the courtroom to hear the landmark verdict were stunned when the final verdict was read out.
Justice Bhat, in fact, started off by taking up the cudgels for the of-late maligned judge community — how they are forced to suffer silently when at the receiving end of “unjustified personal attacks” and charges of corruption as “canons of judicial ethics required them to maintain silence”.
“A judge is unable to explain his position to the people. An honest, but strict or unpopular judge can be unfairly vilified, without anyone giving his version; similarly, unfounded allegations of improper personal behaviour cannot be defended by the judge in public, even though they can be levelled freely; they may tarnish his reputation or worse, and he would have to smart under them, under the haunting prospect of its being resuscitated every now and then,” said Justice Bhat.
Expressing pain at the way in which even former judges joined the attack, he said, “anecdotal references to corruption —in the absence of any empirical materials, by those who formerly held high judicial offices, have tended to undermine the judicial branch; this denigration persists, unfortunately, even as regards the judicial role. Those who know, keep quiet about the crushing burdens that members of the judiciary – including the higher judiciary have to shoulder”.
Blaming the poor judge-population in India which now stands at 10.5 judges a million people, Bhat said, “a judge is not superhuman but is as human as any other citizen.”
The popular perception is that judges do not work after official hours, and enjoy long vacations, a hangover of the British Raj....on the contrary, a crushing load ensures that judges put in equal number of hours, sometimes more, than what is spent by them, in open court, resulting typically in 10-14 hour working days...Most Saturdays too are working days.”