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Portrait of an extraordinary judge

Justice Dipak Misra brought India’s justice system to the popular imagination

columns Updated: Oct 08, 2018 11:56 IST
Dipak Misra, former Chief Justice of India during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, New Delhi, October 5(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Justice Dipak Misra has retired from the highest office in the judiciary. His 13-month tenure as the Chief Justice of India will be remembered for a number of reasons. For the first time in the glorious history of India’s judiciary, the entire justice system became a part of popular discourse.

During this period, a few questions were raised on which analysts were quick to pass judgement. While doing this, they forgot that a person occupying such a post has to be measured on two parameters. First, on the quality of judgments delivered and second, on the person’s administrative capabilities. Along with this, the nation’s political and social milieu should be evaluated with a cool head. Just imagine the kind of allegations which would have been levelled against him had the Ram Janmabhoomi issue not reached the apex court?

Remember this, Justice Misra’s career has been brilliant. As a judge in the High Court and Supreme Court, he adjudicated over hundreds of cases, without being in any controversy, ever. He was always known to be an active jurist who avoided making verbose statements and someone whose verdicts reflected a profound understanding of jurisprudence. People with short memories tend to perceive present-day events as the complete truth. But at times, the past can also help us arrive at the correct path.

Following this old principle, I would like to draw your attention to a case that was heard five years ago. Mumbai blasts accused Yakub Memon had been awarded the death sentence. A section of senior lawyers believed that the verdict needed to be reconsidered. The entire country was looking at the highest court with anticipation. You may recall that the then CJI scheduled the proceedings at his residence. After a night-long hearing, a bench headed by Dipak Misra arrived at a decision that the plea should be rejected. Needless to say, Memon was hanged the same morning. It is true that the petitioners were not satisfied with the verdict and thousands of those who approve of instant justice felt that the Supreme Court had accorded greater attention to the case than required.

But Dipak Misra is that kind of person. He doesn’t bother about popularity when it comes to imparting justice. A death sentence is considered rarest of rare. And he accorded this status to the Memon case. That may be why in cases such as Aadhaar or Section 377, more than the popular sentiment, he paid greater attention to human values and the basic spirit of the Constitution. Playing the national anthem in movie halls was another such case. Many people might not have liked it, but should a judge keep in mind people’s fickle sensibilities? If that happens, the entire justice system may become a victim of emotional ups and downs.

Here I would like to bring up a less discussed, but crucial judgment. In September, 2016 he pronounced a verdict that said the police will have to upload every first information report online. Anybody who has borne the brunt of manipulation of FIRs in police stations can understand the significance of this verdict. Now, let us discuss the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. This was the most controversial issue of his tenure. So, questions were bound to be raised. Here I would like to submit that it would have been better had he desisted from making a few comments after the verdict.

As far as his administrative abilities are concerned, two events that took place during his tenure gave the chattering classes an opportunity to hold forth. The press conference held by four senior judges is still fresh in everyone’s memory. Before this, people holding such high office had never aired their grievances in public. Not just this, Justice Misra is the first chief justice of India against whom an impeachment motion was moved in Parliament. Even as Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu rejected the proposal, a lot of water had flown down the Ganga by then.

Clearly something happened where he could not persuade the government to work in the interests of the judiciary or strike a consensus with his fellow judges. On his farewell, Misra said he would now be able to speak his mind without inhibition. One hopes we will get to know more about what is on his mind in the days to come.

Remember one of the four judges who held the press conference was Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who has now taken over the reins. He has begun his new innings in a unique manner.

All eyes are now on Justice Gogoi.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan

letters@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Oct 08, 2018 11:54 IST