In this world there are few entities that can decide on their own as to whether they are guilty of any wrongdoing. They also have the power to punish the person who makes such an accusation, even if he is right.
The first of these chosen ones are, of course, our gods. The second are dictators who do as they please. The third are judges of our courts.
It is as difficult to get an Indian judge found guilty of misconduct removed from service and punished as it is to get an errant god chastised and banished from his heavenly abode. Where the gods wield lightning, the judges wield the contempt of court law to cow down whistle-blowers.
In both cases, the terror of punishment keeps most people silent.
Consider the evidence:
1. A judge against whom financial misappropriation is proven continues to dispense justice because one political party, for parochial reasons, abstained from voting for his impeachment.
2. A judge purchases land worth Rs7 crore for Rs5 lakh from a person against whom 15-20 cases are pending in the court where he is the presiding judge. Documentary evidence is presented to the chief justice. However, no investigation is ordered. Thereafter, a written request is sent to the Chief Justice of India to register a first information report (FIR). Instead of the FIR being registered, the chief justice recommends that the errant judge be appointed the chief justice of another high court.
3. As a direct consequence of the orders passed by a judge, his sons become wealthy. The journalists who point this out are sentenced to jail terms. No inquiry is ordered against the judge, in spite of evidence being presented to the authorities.
4. Over a dozen judges have been recently accused of receiving expensive gifts purchased by money misappropriated from a provident fund account. Another judge’s dishonesty is exposed when a bundle of cash is mistakenly delivered to an honest judge’s residence.
These are real cases and, sadly, they are not aberrations. A depressingly large number of other examples can be quoted.
To make matters worse, the judicial system is not friendly as far as implementing the Right to Information (RTI) Act is concerned. It denies ordinary information to citizens — for example, after it was disclosed that some judges were appointing Class III and Class IV employees in contravention of Article 14 of the Constitution, an RTI application was filed asking for details of the people appointed. This simple request was refused. Many courts have not even appointed information officers.
Responsible people in the legal system, including some senior lawyers, are active in bringing the matter to the notice of civil society. Prominent in this respect is the campaign for judicial accountability and reforms, headed by Prashant Bhushan, the well-known lawyer. They are trying to get a number of suggestions, including the establishment of a national judicial commission (NJC), implemented.
We do not want Themis, the goddess of justice, who is shown holding the scales of justice and adorns the front yard of law courts, to remove her blindfold and cover her nose with it.
For this not to happen, the CJI and leaders of major political parties must work together to make our judicial system more transparent by supporting the formation of the NJC and honest implementation of the RTI Act in courts. They need to ensure that those who interpret our laws and pass judgements on others, adhere strictly to accepted standards of public life — selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty.
Kishore Asthana, formerly of the Tata Administrative Services, is a management consultant and convener of Mensa, Delhi/NCR. Comment at email@example.com