Justice S.H. Kapadia, the outgoing Chief Justice of India, has put integrity back on track at the Supreme Court. During his tenure, he delivered some critical judgements involving corporate India—the Vodafone case, the Lefarge Mining case and also the Sahara verdict, asking the group to pay back investors Rs 1,700 crore and pushing the idea of corporate responsibility. While he will be noted for these cases, it will be more fitting to remember this Parsi idoliser of Swami Vivekananda as a champion of probity in the judiciary.
Kapadia was born in Mumbai a month after India attained independence. He rose from the ranks, working his way to the top after starting as a Class IV employee, unlike many who build upon generations of legal practice or their connections. “He has left his own legacy,” says additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh. “From quashing the CVC’s appointment, in which he locked horns with the UPA government, to the Vodafone judgement—it’s his own unique legacy.”
A few days before he demits office, a constitution bench headed by Kapadia will examine the presidential reference in the 2G telecom case—it’s unlikely that he will walk into the sunset without leaving his mark on the case, also one involving alleged corruption at the highest level. It is not uncommon to hear senior advocates, including Kapadia’s critics, talking about how he has restored the dignity of the highest court of the land.
Another judgement bearing Kapadia’s stamp is in the Nagaraj case: he spelt out criteria for the uplift of SC/STs in promotions in government jobs and made it incumbent on governments to determine backwardness before taking a decision. It’s a verdict the government is trying to blunt with a bill in the Rajya Sabha. “I think Kapadia’s was the most balanced way of looking at the issue,” says Dhavan. “He was not taking on Parliament. He merely said the government should do due exercises before bringing in enabling provisions to remove backwardness.”
Judges speak through their judgements and its fine print is what they will be judged by. So how will Kapadia be remembered? In his case, there will be two completely different aspects to address—the professional and the personal, which he strove to keep in watertight compartments. Kapadia was seen as aloof, even standoffish; even to his brother judges. He goes to great lengths to avoid those who might be interested parties. Stories abound of even senior judges not being entertained beyond his reception room when they came to invite him for personal or professional reasons.
Justice Kapadia’s former colleague at the SC, Justice Ashok Ganguly, says, “He doesn’t talk to the media—that is true. However, the image people have about him is that he is a serious man who never smiles. That is wrong. He is a very jovial person. A very observant personality. He tries to always go by Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy.”
Asked about the CJI’s love of music, Justice Ganguly had this observation: “I have never seen him singing but he cracks jokes with all of us. His sense of humour, his timing is very good. I always enjoyed working with him”.
But there are critics as well. Advocate Kamini Jaiswal says, “There is a perception that his acumen in tax laws made him focus entirely on corporates. As CJI, he is like a father of this huge court and I don’t think he was able to carry all the family members together.”
A practice that has come to a halt with Kapadia is the out-of-turn mentioning of matters, a departure from the previous practice of lawyers requesting judges to take up matters of interest. A senior lawyer recalls how, despite having sought prior permission of the judge to take up a matter in his court, the consent could not be given as the CJI had ruled that petitions for such requests had to be received a day in advance. Questions have been raised at the alacrity with which Kapadia framed guidelines for the media in matters relating to court reporting. Since this came at the time when the government was also trying to curb media, eyebrows were certainly raised. But the key thing he achieved was to restore the dignity to an institution that was also perceived to be sliding in an atmosphere of all-round decline. It isn’t an unworthy bequeathment.
By Anuradha Raman and Chandrani Bannerjee
In the article on Justice S.H. Kapadia (The Scales, Restored, Sep 17), the two recurrent qualities were ‘integrity’ and honesty’. The man is a Parsi, and none will quarrel with singling out that community for being truly honest.
The tragedy in India, is that honest CJIs, like "Integrity Singh's", do not make any effort at shaking up the judicial system, and making it dependable, timely, and accessable to the common man. This is what the country desperately requires now, to stop corruption even in its higher echeleons.
Mere integrity should not be worth reporting on.
Justice S.H. Kapadia, the outgoing Chief Justice of India has triued his best to clean up corruption in high places by ensuring that mega scams like CWG and 2G are followed up by CBI and not hushed.
If today Indians have regained a bit of faith in judiciary it is thanks largely to Justice Kapadia.
He has been the pioneer similar to T N Seshan, the first Election Commissioner who cleanup the election process and put an end to booth capturing.
I hope the next Chief Justice improves judicial process further and ensures speedy and equal justice for all - rich and poor, connected and the one with no political connections.
The two qualities that keep recurring in the article while paying a tribute to Justice S. H. Kapadia are "integrity" and "honesty." He is a Parsi, and none will quarrel with singling out that community from among all others in India as being truly honest in every sense of the word.
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