Though he retired 15 years ago as Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma continues to be a sought after man, perhaps because he spares none in his belief that those in authority should live by the standards expected of them. As the mood in the country turns cynical with fresh charges of corruption unravelling every day, Verma says he is worried that a solution is nowhere in sight. Excerpts from an interview with Anuradha Raman.
With your reputation as one of the most honest judges the higher judiciary has seen, why have you kept yourself out of the present movement, India Against Corruption?
I was requested by the Bhushans to join the movement much before Anna Hazare came to Delhi. I didn’t agree with their methods as, to my mind, movements should strengthen democratic institutions. I told them that if we knew the institutions that are corrupt, we should protest in front of them. Also, under Article 253, it is Parliament that can enact laws. It is with this belief that Justice Venkatachaliah and I shared our views on Lokpal before a parliamentary committee...and most of them appeared to agree with our view.
Your presence could have given the movement more heft.
I can be responsible only for my conduct. As I see it, those levelling charges are now facing charges themselves. Each passing day, fresh allegations are being traded by everyone. To be part of the movement, I would have to be responsible for everyone’s conduct which would have been difficult.
Doesn’t it worry you when institutions like the judiciary or the government face charges of corruption?
Are you referring to the prime minister here?
Dr Manmohan Singh is honest and is known to be honest. But it is one thing for him to be honest, and another to tolerate corruption around him. The very least expected of an honest man is that he exert moral authority in dispensing responsibilities. If you can’t stand up, you must step down.
In the past you have spoken about corrupt judges in the SC. You also shared your views on a particular judge, Justice M.M. Punchhi, in your correspondence with then PM I.K. Gujral? The reference keeps coming up whenever there is talk of corruption in the judiciary.
I spoke only when I felt hurt by the former PM’s observations in his book that I had remained silent in the entire episode. My letter to him made it amply clear the views taken by the collegium and also demonstrated my willingness for any inquiry initiated by the executive in the matter. It was not in my hands to conduct an investigation. In the absence of any investigations, my views or those of others remain in the realm of allegations. In a similar manner, I was hurt by Justice A.M. Ahmadi’s comments in the Ayodhya case when the Bharatiya Janata Party asked for our view and he gave the impression that the bench was divided on communal lines. Nothing could be further from the truth. If that was the case, it is surprising Justice Ahmadi should still refer to my order whenever the topic crops up for discussion. Also, I have a strong position on those judges who take up arbitration matters after retirement. I head the self-regulating body on broadcasting and don’t take a single paisa for it. I was invited by Harvard immediately after retirement, I declined. I do not think judges should take up arbitration cases after retirement.
The media too now faces charges of corruption in the form of paid news.
After the Radia tapes disclosures, there are no holy cows anymore. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Look at how even cub reporters reported responsibly on the 2010 Ayodhya verdict. This was also made possible because we came out with a code for media on how to report on sensitive matters. We’ll soon be joined by former cec S.Y. Quraishi at the News Broadcasting Standard Authority and we have other highly professional people too. Even the i&b ministry refers cases of violation of guidelines by the media to us for examination. Much of the corruption being highlighted now is through the media.
Press Council chairman Markandey Katju says there is no such thing as self-regulation and that there should be a media council to regulate press and TV?
Katju appears to be a wild man when he refers to organisations like the Medical Council or the Bar Council as examples of how things ought to be regulated. He should choose his examples with care. The Medical Council had a Ketan Desai as head. And the Bar Council has never initiated any action against its errant lawyers. Moreover, for Justice Katju to be immediately appointed even as he demitted office as Supreme Court judge, questions can be asked about the manner of appointment.
Reading my interview as published in Outlook without getting the draft approved by me, I am upset at the distortions therein, which need to be corrected immediately (‘It is not enough to be honest and be oblivious to corruption’, Nov 12). Omitting the minor ones, two major distortions are as under:
Answering the question relating to self-regulation of the electronic media and Justice Katju’s observation about it, I had said: “Justice Katju is a WISE (not wild) man who, when he refers to organisations like the Medical Council or the Bar Council as examples of how things ought to be regulated, should choose his examples with care. The Medical Council had a Dr Ketan Desai as head and the Bar Council has never initiated any serious action against its errant lawyers so the Supreme Court had to punish its chairman for abusing some Allahabad High Court judges. And Justice Katju’s appointment immediately on demitting office as Supreme Court judge has raised the question that he would have been approached for the appointment while in office as a judge.” See the distortion in the publication.
The other relates to the query about the Ayodhya case. I had said: “When the BJP raised the demand for release of some land claiming it to be surplus misconstruing my majority opinion in the case, a senior journalist came to me. I told him that I would not discuss the judgement which had all answers for anyone to read pointing out the relevant part of the judgement, to which he said that Justice Ahmadi also was quoting my majority opinion to counter the BJP’s claim.”
I then said “I wish Justice Ahmadi also had signed my majority opinion which would have avoided the false insinuation by a few that the bench was divided on communal lines.” See the distortion in this published part also.
Giving the benefit of the doubt to Anuradha Raman that the distortions are not deliberate, it is obvious that the short notes she was scribbling contained mistakes committed in a hurry.
Justice J.S. Verma is absolutely right (It’s not enough to be honest..., Nov 12), the UPA’s failure to punish the corrupt has shaken our faith in democratic institutions. The recent cabinet reshuffle, where some of the guilty have even been rewarded, is a prime example of this.
P. Gautampurkar, Kota
There is too much state, and hence too much corruption.
A.N. Banerjee, Newcastle
There are too few Indians like Justice Verma, and we owe so much to them.
Nasar Ahmed, Karaikkudi
Justice Verma is right to say that ex-judges shouldn’t take up arbitration cases after retirement. Conflict of interest, insider status, just too many nudge-nudge variables.
M.Y. Sharif, Chennai
There are two reasons for this state of affairs. Firstly, when you have been part of the Indian bureaucracy as long as Dr Manmohan Singh, fighting corruption becomes a low priority area. For, very early in their careers, Indian babus realise that corruption is a given, and that advancement is directly proportional to their not rocking the boat. Secondly, in the case of Dr Singh, he really has no powers, which makes the situation almost untenable.
Manish Anand, Delhi
How can one say, a person is corrupt? Ms. Sonia Gandhi is a person who gives the impression, she is not eager to converse, let alone be a corrupt person. By looking at her, people feel she makes an effort to be corrupt? Why? I feel, that she makes many people feel nice about being Indian. She is aware, that she might be more Indian, than others feel she is, which is really a foolish expression of mine.
For the sake of clarity, in para 2 of my comment submitted earler, the sentence in " brackets" should read as follows:
" (When an IAS/IPS/IRS officer takes on corruption, they often end up being targetted and harassed like K.J.Alphons, Kejariwal, Kiran Bedi, Y.P.Singh or Ashok Khemka were.)"
Outlook India : ‘It Is Not Enough To Be Honest And Be Oblivious To Corruption’
The former CJI is worried that a solution to corruption seems nowhere in sight.
Anuradha Raman Interviews J.S. Verma
Justice J S Varma former CJI is equally respected by the Bench and the Bar for his impeccable integrity and honesty. His views on corruption across the board and higher judiciary in particular are a must read.
Contrast these with the views of Justice (Retired) Markandey Katju in his chat with Madhu Trehan ( News Laundry).He sounded pontifical,pompous and ponderous. He recently went overboard by condemning the higher judiciary in Pakistan. He did not even spare the present Chief Justice of Pakistan in a letter to a Pakistani lawyer.
Katju ji’s appointment as the Chairperson of PCI immediately after demitting the office of the Judge Supreme Court of India, raised eyebrows in the Bench,Bar and the Media.
This is without prejudice to anyone.
A K SAXENA
It's not about merit. Only about people who are not corrupt, when people see them as Judges. The whole idea of meritocracy is bunkum, when one understands people don't want a high I. Q., nor exceptional intelligence from Judges, and people will respect a Judge for a Judge. I don't have any I. Q., it seems, comparable to a Mensa member and really, if I appeared for an official Mensa test, people would be amused. I really like the fact that the ex-Chief Justice doesn't seem to be a Mensa member, either, and I really must be gratified, that he was the ex-Chief Justice.
Justce Verma ji is unquestionably right when he says that -Head of the Instition, while being Honest (which is a pre-requisite ) should be an efficient and a strict Administrator too to ensure that Institution which he heads functions to the expectations of people. This fully applies to our Govt. at Centre . PM Dr.Man Mohan Singh despite his being immaculately honest is often blamed for his utter failure to punish corrupt ministers in his govt. appropriately .And this has resulted in shaking of people`s fait badly in democratic Instittions.Recent reshuffle is the latest example of how alleged ministers in his councils have been rewarded instead of gettng allegations levelled against them probed.
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