Markandey Katju: India’s eminent critic or a gadfly?
New Delhi: Indian judiciary is routinely called out for not engaging with criticism and dealing with critics with a heavy hand.
Making an exception, the Supreme Court has invited one of its critics to appear personally in court and ‘participate in proceedings’.
The critic in question is retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju.
Clearly, the court has not taken lightly his criticism of commuting death sentence of Govindaswamy, the lone convict in the 2011 rape and murder of Soumya in Kerala.
Justice Katju, in his personal blog Satyam Bruyat and through Facebook posts, had said that even a law student would know “hearsay evidence that the victim jumped off the train would be inadmissible in court”. He called the ruling, “a grave injustice”.
Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Prafulla. C. Pant, U.U. Lalit, reproducing the entire blog post in their order, asked Kajtu to participate in proceedings and debate the law. The court is slated to hear a review of the court’s order filed by the Kerala government and the victim’s family.
Although the Constitution prohibits former Supreme Court judges to plead before any court, the apex court invited Katju to apprise the judges of his concerns in the Govindaswamy case.
Justice Katju, however, is yet to respond to the court’s order.
Just weeks ago, justice Katju took on the apex court-appointed Lodha panel looking into administrative reforms of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Katju was appointed by the BCCI to give his opinion on implementation of the apex court’s orders.
The Lodha panel, headed by former chief justice of the apex court R.M. Lodha. mentioned Katju’s comments in its affidavit to the court, as it did not take his stinging criticism—”excessive exercise of jurisdiction”—lightly.
Katju has also made allegations of impropriety against many former and sitting judges and has called them incapacitated for their jobs in many instances.
A quick look at his blog or Facebook posts indicates he has an opinion on almost every issue in public discourse and very often he tells his social media followers that he doesn’t care about offending people with his radical views.
Last year, the court had also discussed whether it befits a former Supreme Court judge to comment on issues callously. The court was hearing Katju’s plea seeking the quashing of parliamentary resolutions against him.
In March 2015, the two Houses of the Parliament adopted resolutions condemning Katju’s comments that Mahatma Gandhi was a British agent and Subhash Chandra Bose a Japanese agent.
Senior Advocate Fali. S. Nariman who was appointed to assist the court in the case opposed Katju’s plea. He told the court that Katju’s views would influence people as he had been a judge of the top court and asked the court to not look into the issue.
The court has reserved its verdict in that case. But all these criticisms seldom bothers Katju, India’s eminent critic.
It is to be seen when and where the court will draw a line for a critic who is one of them.