Yet another case of judicial corruption was exposed last month when the Andhra Pradesh High Court suspended additional special judge for CBI cases T. Pattabhi Rama Rao following allegations of corruption. Charged on the basis of a complaint filed by the CBI, the special judge had allegedly taken a bribe of Rs 5 crore to grant bail to former Karnataka minister Gali Janardhana Reddy in the illegal mining case. The vigilance wing of the high court found the allegation to hold merit. Former chief justice of India V.N. Khare told Chandrani Banerjee that such incidents are now rampant. Excerpts:
Are bribes for bail endemic now?
There is no doubt about it. It is rampant. Corruption in the lower courts is no secret. Sometimes, in the high court as well, cases of corruption have surfaced, but in my experience while I was in the Supreme Court, I have not witnessed anything similar.
In the lower courts, it’s alleged that everything comes for a price. Rates are fixed for quick divorce, bail and other favourable verdicts.
Cases in the media glare, constantly scrutinised, are different. Otherwise it is very difficult for the common man. There are huge time gaps between hearings. Years are spent to get an order from the lower courts. So, it is difficult.
“Judges are only human, like us. They come from the same society. Our society is all about quick successes. Short cuts are taken. Even by the judges.” Subordinate courts function under the supervision of high courts. Should the higher courts be accountable?
The respective high courts have so much of work that monitoring district courts is just part of the routine. High courts have inspecting judges who are responsible for monitoring district courts. They go with a lot of band baaja and have lunch while on inspection. Inspecting judges are presented with a rosy picture and then they file a report. Now, the greater problem is that they are overburdened with work. Cases are in addition to administrative work, besides other mandatory official work. As a result, the inspecting judges of the high courts have no time to follow up. We need dedicated staff to monitor the district courts.
What kind of monitoring is needed?
A team of three serving judges should be formed. These judges should dedicatedly monitor the district judges. Their judgements should be analysed and questioned. Their attendance and work should be scrutinised. Someone should question them about their performance. I feel doing that will put in some checks.
You mean to say work overload and pendency of cases have themselves become a factor in corruption?
Yes, to a large extent. The high court judges are overburdened and they have no time. They always inform the district court authorities before the visits. It causes a situation where the real problem never comes to the surface. A dedicated committee of judges will help, but we are short of people. To my knowledge, we have 13.2 judges for 10 lakh people. If required to, we use excess strength in a particular situation, but there is no permanent arrangement. We work on an ad-hoc basis and so there are problems.
Would a few suspensions control corruption in the lower courts?
They will certainly convey a message. When I was serving, I did take certain measures which sent the message across the country that any charge of corruption will be probed. Fast actions and decisions on charges levelled against judges always work as deterrent.
What is the role of the inspecting judges in controlling corruption?
They should conduct sudden checks, always unannounced, and also follow up on any complaint registered in the district courts. However, to actualise this, we have to have a sufficient number of good judges. The monitoring will then be effective and result-oriented.
What is the mechanism to keep the lower courts free from corruption?
A dedicated committee of judges that will only monitor lower courts. Punctuality, integrity and court orders—everything should be under the lens. Such accountability will ensure the right kind of order is delivered in every petition.
Is consumerism responsible for fostering corruption in lower courts?
Judges are only people, like us. They come from the same society. Society is all about taking short cuts. Society is about quick successes. So, short cuts are taken and the judges are no different.
Justice V.N. Khare in his interview says ‘corruption is rampant in the lower courts’ (Jul 9), but what of the higher courts he himself presided over? We’ll never know, for the Outlook interviewer, did not ask any hard questions.
Haridasan M., Mumbai
The judiciary is one of the pillars of our democracy and if that institution is vested with white ants, then we can only pray that our hard-earned freedoms don’t tumble like a pack of cards.
Chandru Mani Iyer, Bangalore
When V.N. Khare says “judges are only people like us”, is he, a learned and revered judge, justifying the actions of subordinate judges?
V.N.K. Murti, Pattambi
Khare’s views are grossly exaggerated and reflect the elitist mindset prevalent in parts of the higher judiciary.
A.M. Vijay, Bangalore
The entire edifice of our society is now founded on corruption. Why blame only the judiciary?
Nitaidas Saha, Dhaka
As the bumper sticker says, ‘Mera Bharat mahaan, 100 may se 99 beimaan’.
Mahesh Kumar, Delhi
I refer to your interview with Justice V.N. Khare (‘Corruption is rampant in lower courts’, Jul 9), where the honourable justice attributes judicial corruption to work overload and long-pending cases, and suggests a dedicated committee of judges to monitor the lower courts. This is quite a layman’s suggestion. The truth is, corruption stems from the non-accountability of judges vis-a-vis their judgements. For, they are shielded under the Judges Protection Act, 1985, which says “no court shall...continue any civil or criminal proceeding against any person who is or was a judge for any act...in the discharge of official or judicial duty”. This is regardless of whether such acts were erroneous, irregular or even illegally done or ordered without believing in good faith.
Corruption is there in every court. You have to bribe because you can be behind bars on contempt. Every step in every court it is corruption. Name me one court and one step where you do not need to bribe normally.
Whats the use of picking up lower courts,isn't corruption rampant in all works of life. Let me point out a few; police,customs,income tax,medical service, civil administration,land administration,education,railway. Which one of these is corruption free. The entire advertisement industry is based on falsehood another form of corruption. Take private life,wife deceiving husband,husband the wife, brother cheating the sister,sister the brother.Neighbours jealousy and ill feeling always chasing. Adulteration another form of corruption has come as severe threat to our health and life.Even temples,priest hood are indulging in activities far removed from morality and ethics.The entire edifice of society is now founded on corruption. It has taken root in our genes. Lower judiciary has no business to be angels in a world completely occupied by the devils.
Arun (of Indore) - no body gives up their instiutionalized benefits voluntarily. Judges should also get normal vacation like the rest of the working class. BTW, does anyone know what happens in the US for example. Britian might be like us since this is their "gift" to us anyways.
The problem in the present system is that no body except the "complainant" has any need for timely closure of the case. The judge doesn't really care for quick closure - he/she just needs to go thru the motions, the lawyers of both side want it dragged (as they get paid on appearances), and the "accused" (until and unless really not guilty) wants it dragged ad-infintum.
I have a cheque bounce case against someone, it has been close to 5 years now and we have not even reached 1st base - which is evidence taking and questioning (not that in a cheque bounce once the Bank says it is for lack of funds not forgery there is much about evidence but I am told process is process). My lawyer has no interest in accelerating (I don't think another will either), the accused and his lawyer of course have no reason to move it - so they play all the games they can, the judge doesn't care (the court room is such a dump that I can't imagine him wanting to stay there for much rather than his lovely colonial bungalow or the cololnial clubs). Everything that can happen has happened - I think 4 judges have changed (in fact for 4-5 months it is now waiting for a new judge), lawyers were on strike, judge sick, judge on vacation, not to mention all the tools available to the accused and his lawyers to keep it being postponed. We asked the HC for acceleration and the answer was "we have much bigger fish to fry, do stay in queue". Good news - no one has asked for money - nor have I bothered to ask or give. Now it is just of academic interest to be me, as to how long does it take?
Comes down to we have too much population. Hence the size of our problems and number of our problems all at the same time needing solution was exponentially high compared to say the developed world or the smaller developing countries. (It is another topic and debate that those who suddenly think our population is a boon and we have demographic dividend in our favor, must be smoking something really potent).
I honestly don't see any solution. The problem is too complicated and well beyond our capacity and capability. That is why I am of the opinion, we cannot be "developed" because that needs a functioning system of "rule of law" (and the police which is another critical part of it, is a whole different problem anyways). We have probably achieved the peak of what we can? From here on it is a question of can we stay on this plateau of mediocrity or just go back downhill.
Can you imagine what would happen if like judiciary our armed forces also take en masse long vacation with just a skeleton of staff carrying out day to day tasks. I have not heard any Judge ever suggesting that they must consider it their responsiblity and obligation to work 24 X 7 X 365 till all pending cases are settled.
That is why we are the 3rd world. Our "rule of law" sucks. Our democracy is still too immature, it is today more "an elected monarchy". Mature democracies require a functioning "rule of law", we just don't have it period and whether we can get to it is the million-dollar question. Personally, I keep hoping but I am not really hopeful.
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