The winds of change have stopped. Hopes have been dashed. And it appears that the protector has turned on his own. There is a growing perception that Justice Handyala Lakshminarayanaswamy Dattu, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has pushed the pedal down and accelerated the demise of the very ideals of what the Supreme Court stands for.
In the last couple of months, under the stewardship of the Hon’ble Justice H L Dattu and his questionable decisions, the reputation of the Highest Court of the land has plummeted to a new low. The perception is driven by the Hon’ble Justice Dattu’s seemingly endless interest in rescuing the convicted former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms.J. Jayalalithaa.
As India witnesses yet another seemingly blatant abuse of judicial powers by the designated Supreme Custodian of the Judiciary, it is not out of place to mention an incident from the past, when a Supreme Court judge, had the moral conviction and the courage to stand against the Government and the all powerful Prime Minister of the time Mrs Indira Gandhi!
Yet this man and bless his moral soul thought nothing of sacrificing the opportunity of becoming the Chief Justice of India for the sake of preserving Democracy and Free Speech in our Country. That episode and he might be the only single reason, why Democracy is still alive in our country and that there is still hope that India will someday rise to shine.
Justice Hans Raj Khanna was such a man. A man so honourable that it cost him his job, so brave that he stood up against the Prime Minister, when others didn’t dare to and a judge so fair, that all that mattered to him were his principles.
Justice Hans Raj Khanna, the legendary judge of the Supreme Court of India during 1971-77, is widely acclaimed as a crusader of civil liberties. He stood for all the qualities required of a judge and his admirable courage is something, which has made him immortal in Indian Judiciary.
Shelley in his Poem on Death tells us:
Death is here and death is there,
Death is busy everywhere,
All around, within, beneath,
Above is death—and we are death.
Death of someone as great as Justice H.R.Khanna must have impacted the Nation and in particular the Indian Judiciary. In a glorifying editorial the New York Times wrote about Justice H.R. Khanna thus “If India ever finds its way back to the freedom and democracy that were proud hallmarks of its first eighteen years as an independent nation, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice H R Khanna of the Supreme Court. It was Justice Khanna who spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for freedom this week in dissenting from the Court’s decision upholding the right of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Government to imprison political opponents at will and without court hearings… The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society; and the Indian Supreme Court’s decision appears close to utter surrender”.
Often it is said, take the good and leave the bad.
Sadly, instead of taking the right lessons from Justice H.R.Khanna on upholding justice and justice alone at any cost which is the ultimate public service and constitutional obligation to the Country that has posed immense faith in the Hon’ble Judges, H.R.Khanna’s life appears to have taught someone like Justice H. L. Dattu and a majority of our Honourable Judges a diametrically opposite set of lessons – a lesson of extreme self-preservation.
Much has changed from the times of Justice Khanna to where we are today. In the corridors of Courts, one can witness a mad rush of “jockeying” for plum posts and positions among Honourable Judges, be it a “lucrative portfolio” for a given period or a post moving up the ladder from a High Court Judge to a Chief Justice of a High Court or elevation to Supreme Court or working towards “post retirement” benefits.
In this whole process, the ultimate sufferer is India, the country’s hopes to emerge from darkness unto light and of course ordinary members of the public who continue to believe in the rule of law!
Today the corridors of the Supreme Court are rocking with the events of the Jayalalithaa case and how the Hon’ble First Court of Justice Handyala Lakshminarayanaswamy Dattu, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, has appeared to have become the most dishonorable.
After 18 years of dragging a criminal trial and eventually a conclusion of the trial court that convicted Jayalalithaa to Four Years Imprisonment and a record Rs.100 crore fine, the act of masterminding Jayalalithaa’s rescue act from the Judiciary from none other than the Honourable Chief Justice of India himself, appears to subvert the very laws of the land he has sworn to uphold!
Following the conviction, there were sporadic instances of violence all over the State. The Hindu. The entire party and the Tamilnadu State machinery is in a “panic mode” to instantly save their Amma. The Bangalore High Court is quickly moved for a Bail for Jayalalithaa and 3 others convicted after 18 years of trial. The High Court rejects her bail petition with a detailed order as to why the bail should be rejected. Justice A.V.Chandrasekara, while dismissing Jaya’s bail plea said that “there are no grounds to give bail and corruption amounts to violation of human rights and leads to economic imbalance.” The Hon’ble Judge said corruption had become a “serious malady in human history” and noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly directed that graft cases be disposed of on a priority basis. He also held that there was no reason to extend the benefit of suspension of sentence to the four convicted, including Jayalalithaa.
The Judge further observed, corruption had to be dealt with seriously as otherwise, “it will become a disease in our society.” Business Standard
After losing out all battles in the Karnataka High Court, Jayalalithaa and 3 others move the Supreme Court of India. Even as many wonder whether Jayalalithaa might have to cool her heels in the prison for a long time to come, the Supreme Court now headed by Chief Justice Handyala Lakshminarayanaswamy Dattu, agrees to take up her bail petition matter on mere mentioning.
Distinguished Senior Advocate Fali Nariman makes a forceful plea and Chief Justice Dattu raises all pertinent questions as to how long did the trial take in the Karnataka Special Court to conclude the case against Jayalaltihaa. Nariman admits, “Several years.” At this, Chief Justice Dattu retorts, “Wont you take 20 more years to fight out the appeal in the High Court?” At this stage, as if it was a much expected question, Fali Nariman instantaneously offers to ensure that the Appeal is argued out in just two months and the Bench agrees, without any further ado. Hindu link
It is not out of place to mention herein that it took Kanimozhi and A.Raja more than six months to be released on bail, even when the trial was not completed and no Court had convicted them as on that date and even till date. A year for Y S R Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, two years and eight months for Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju and three years and eight months for Janardhana Reddy of Karanataka in the mining scam. Even Lallu Prasad Yadav and Om Prakash Chautala of Haryana had to struggle hard for a couple of months before getting the relief from the Supreme Court.
When Dr Subramanian Swamy, who has also impleaded himself in the case, says an extraordinary situation was prevailing in the State and refers to widespread incidents of violence in the wake of the conviction of Jayalalithaa, At this, Justice Dattu (as if a Counsel for Jaya) asks whether there was any proof that she had instigated the violence and stresses that one should be worried only if the convicted had sought to escape abroad.
One obvious question that comes to the mind of “ordinary citizens” like us is that if Jayalalithaa had not been responsible for the violence, how did the State become so quiet and all agitations came to a grinding halt, the moment she issued a statement exhorting her followers to maintain peace?
As of September 2014, while there were as many as 63,843 cases pending in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, one obvious question that raises serious suspicion is the manner in which Jayalalithaa’s case was given priority and relief granted within 21 days of her being in jail? And how could anyone, leave alone their Lordships, afford to forget she had done everything that she could to subvert the course of justice and succeeded in protracting the course of hearing for an incredible 18 long years?
If the stand taken is health grounds for Jayalalithaa, why should the other convicts, Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran be shown similar consideration?
Recently elected Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave said the Supreme Court should have taken the views of the prosecution into account before granting bail. Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave added, as head of the Supreme Court Bar Association, he would focus on seeking changes in the manner in which the top court functions. The prosecution has to be consulted before any bail application is taken up, he said. He also objected to the manner in which the case was mentioned in the top court and listed with alacrity. “The grant of bail to certain powerful politicians and rich people is a matter of grave concern. I have nothing to say on the merits of the case but the manner in which it was done. The haste with which justice is dispensed to the powerful but is denied to the thousands of others with the same alacrity send wrong signals to the Nation,” he said. “The Supreme Court should have remembered that it had ordered trial in the case 18 years ago and it was delayed on one pretext or the other. There was clear obstruction of justice – the special public prosecutor, a lawyer of great eminence and integrity, was attacked. Justice was further skewed when lakhs of (Jayalalithaa) supporters tried to exert pressure on the trial court and the high court,” he said. Economic Times
Also remember there are hundreds of thousands languishing in jails, without any chance of a bail whatsoever, irrespective of their sentence terms.
How come such issues were not factored in by Chief Justice Dattu when he so readily granted bail to a politician, notorious for her vulgar display of wealth, arrogance and corruption?
Even the insistence of a judgement in just four months from the High Court could be a blessing in disguise for the appellant as it casts serious doubts on the conduct and dispensation of justice by the Highest Court of this land.
A couple of months later our irrepressible Traffic Ramasamy seeks the recusal of Chief Justice Dattu from the Jayalalithaa’s case and the matter is raised in the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Dattu shrugs it off, saying, “Somebody will say I have taken Rs.1,000 crore to grant bail etc. Don’t worry. I can take care of it. I am too thick skinned for such allegations.” India Today link
As per the whispers in the Karnataka High Court, the Chief Justice of India Dattu had exerted pressure on Karnataka Chief Justice D H Waghela to have a “pliable judge” to hear Jayalalithaa’s bail plea, but in vain. The plea was turned down and eventually one can only witness the Chief Justice Dattu himself coming to the rescue of Jayalalithaa.
Sources say that pressure was mounted yet again on Chief Justice Waghela in regard to the judge to be assigned to hear Jayalaltihaaś Appeal.
Subsequent to these developments, it was widely rumoured that Chief Justice Waghela was being transferred out of Karnataka and a judge from Allahabad, Vineet Saran, was being brought in.
The idea apparently was that when Waghela was transferred out, the man to assume charge as Chief Justice would be Justice Manjunath, seen as someone who would be more favourably disposed towards Jaya and a man who is most likely to follow the footsteps of Justice H.L. Dattu, as per the whispers in Karnataka High Court.
But the news was out in social media siteṣ. Savukku too reported the move as early as on December 31, 2014.
The very next day Chief Justice Waghela announced the appointment of Justice C R Kumarasamy to hear Jayalalithaa’s appeal. Not barring that January 1 was a court holiday, Justice Waghela signed this paper.
Vineet Saran himself was not keen to move to Karnataka for his own reasons. Besides two judges of the Supreme Court had opposed the transfer. Indian Express link . However, Justice Dattu appears to have prevailed over and Vineet Saran joined the Karnataka High Court on 12 February 2015.
But there was no resisting the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Newspapers reported on April 13, “Justice Dhirendra Hiralal Waghela, Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, has been transferred to Orissa. He has been directed to assume charge as Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court within two months.” Tamil Nadu leaders such as the former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and PMK Founder Dr Ramadoss have denounced the transfer of Waghela.
In case Bhavani Singh’s appointment as the prosecution counsel in the disproportionate wealth case is eventually quashed, the appeal will have to be heard afresh again, whereas Kumarasamy himself is set to retire in August. So with Waghela out and another person in, it would be possible to have a more ‘acceptable’ judge to hear Jayalalithaa‘s appeal. Such is the apprehension in many circles in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, for that matter even in the corridors of Supreme Court of India.
Also look at the case of Justice Bhanumathi who sat with Justice Madan Lokhur and upheld the appointment of Bhavani Singh. She was known to have been close to Jayalalithaa when she served in the Madras High Court. As per sources she had met Jayalalithaa before she went as Chief Justice to Chattisgargh High Court. In any case, she had used a popular honorific (Maanbumigu Amma meaning Honourable Amma) while referring to Jayalaltihaa at a function in Judicial Academy and it is in Dattu‘s stint she has been appointed to the Supreme Court of India.
His Lordship has lost no time in constituting a new bench to hear the Bhavani Singh case.
Justice Dattu’s term expires in December this yeaṛ. In the absence of any documentary evidence to show that the Chief Justice Dattu has been compromised, one can only go by reasonable conjectures.
Most point to his being guilty, and so the Human Rights Protection Centre has collected signatures from as many as one thousand advocates and presented a petition to the President of India demanding that Justice Dattu keep away from cases related to Ms Jayalalithaa. But the Chief Justice himself has not heeded and has gone ahead, extending bail to her and the other co-convicts yet again.
Will the legal community get together to save the Supreme Court as an Institution or will they allow the Honourable Justice Dattu to change the Supreme Court to what appears as a Sotheby auction with judgements being granted to the highest bidder?