Friday, February 18

Judgement Call

In context of the controversy regarding Shri Justice KG Balakrishnan and his family's recently acquired munificence, I heard a few judicial fraternity old-timers urge him to go the extra mile in clearing the air. 'Caesar's wife should be above suspicion' was the shibboleth they asked to be upheld; exhorting the immediate past occupant of the exalted chair of India's Chief Justice. Messrs Iyer, Verma and Nariman, luminaries all, should know: with long, distinguished career records serving the law and jurisprudence. Oft-quoted as the tenet is, I appreciate and endorse it as touchstone of propriety in high places. Yet, I found the suggestion over-hopeful, and somewhat puerile.

First, the allegations: the litany of charges against Shri Balakrishnan is significant. Coincident with his tenure as CJI, fortunes of multiple members of his family (son-in-law, brother, nephew etc) are reported to have skyrocketed. The asset accumulation is rumoured to be in tens of crores: houses, farms, jewellery shops, hotels and other business interests etc; presumably by peddling favour in judicial verdicts and administrative decisions. He also stands accused of playing godfather at large, shielding A Raja, 2G-scam kingpin and Middle India’s reigning bête-noire, from prosecution on attempt to influence a Madras HC judge in a corruption case against one of his cohorts. It’s complicated; or is it?

Next, consider the nation’s mood. Our collective consciousness is beset with an unending saga of corruption. We may not end up as a Tunisia or Egypt, but despair over this disgraceful dance of adharma is palpable. In this widespread morass, our higher judiciary’s stellar activist tilt has been aam aadmi’s last refuge for over two decades. Having presided over this venerated arm of our government (for one of its longest tenures), better could have been expected from Mr Balakrishnan. Instead one is presented with the sight of his portly form scurry away with an inane smile, TV journos in pursuit. It is not quite the picture of one with ‘nothing to hide’. It is also farthest from desired, in our current national context or dignity of his last office.

Unfortunately, there’s more. Yesterday Mr Balakrishnan said ‘no’ to sharing information on his or his family’s assets. This is piquant. At a time when his supposedly illicit gains weren’t yet the talk of the town, he had led the higher judiciary’s resistance to publicly declaring their assets. I had been surprised: the wise men in black robes had uncannily called right India's public mood on every issue since late 80s. Yet, in an ostensible no-brainer, where they could have easily continued at the vanguard of probity, under his leadership they refused to play ball. Given the monolithic, opaque nature of its functioning, it is difficult to surmise to what extent the erstwhile captain moulded the team’s stance. They were, in any case, made to yield, but not before an unseemly fraternal spat; thus ceding the high moral ground in a manner unprecedented in recent memory. The ex-CJI’s latest denial to an RTI query adds a somewhat macabre slant to those developments.

Noteworthy too is the purported reason for the nay-saying stance: information sought is not of public value! If talk of malfeasance, millions flying thick and fast, CJI-ship incumbency (not to forget existing stewardship of NHRC) etc don’t qualify as community interest, it stretches one’s imagination to think what does. His may be a nuanced legal view, disdain for the spirit of the law, or simply PR hara-kiri; but if unchanged, the afore-mentioned eminent jurists’ conscience call has no hope. Unless, Your Honour...

PS: No surprises in the redoubtable Law Minister’s hasty endorsement under an equally specious argument (no questioning folks in sensitive positions, or words to that effect). The wily Karnataka politician had readily absolved Shri Balakrishnan in the Raja tangle too. Lesson then: swear by the forwarding letter, ignore the attached actual. And now: (apropos the Rajas, Kalmadis and Chavans) no uncomfortable enquiries please, we’re Indian. Let’s just send them flowers!


Aparna said...

Your comment on this acutely critical issue of judicial integrity as highlighted by the Balakrishnan case is extremely relevant because it is not just a case of individual corruption but a far more sinister trend of ethical deficit in one of the most sanctified pillars (judiciary) of the other wise resilient democracy of India.
This is probably another manifestation of globalisation that is rapidly eating away at the notion of nation, patriotism and moral obligation towards the society. Extreme materialism has brought a paradigm shift in the traditional Indian ethos of simple living and high thinking.

As far as RTI is concerned, it was long overdue and it is rather audacious of the judges to presume that they can be above the law of the land that they are meant to serve. more so in the light of the fact that the constitution has made ample provisions to make their lives comfortable to empower them in resisting temptations of corruption.

Mahesh Misra said...

There is only a singular course of action that can restore credibility in the higher judiciary. The current incumbent ought to put propriety over protocol and lead the charge.

The judiciary has to be seen to be introspecting and cleaning itself up. Only then is there some hope of the aam admi retaining his faith.

Anonymous said...

Arrey! Maalik! acridity at its best and no doubt! is being used for best … “Let’s just send them flowers” bam! Because we all know they expect a bunch. For seasoned, thick skinners like me, it was convenient to shush the news away thinking, who’d boil the blood for this endless list of scams and their respective protagonists … “magar ye ho na saka”.

Sir! … the list indeed is getting lengthier and look at the variety here … Jaya’s TV scam, Big Bull’s Capital Market scam, Chara Ghotala (in case you are touchy about this then -‘The Fodder Scam’– 190 odd mil $ eaten; no one burped hence none acquitted), Stamp Ghotala, CWG scam (PWD is the one this rhymes with, alas! Do not have much evidence)... by a little creative assertion we can have our own new Scam created. Sure want this laundry list to last, however, even if this corruption or a mere fashion of being rich gets drained, would always want a great stirring read like this to be a part of my daily (too demanding … guess not) dose


Anonymous said...

Ho -- our dude's hitting out at something closer home -- if you'll pardon the pun ;-) But like the gentleman before me says -- this aint new -- though some of the local commentary -- WSJ etc no less -- seems to think the current spurt is life-changing. For India's sake I sure hope so. Amen!


Anonymous said...

I am not sure I understand the issues here. Before I say that, I have to put out the disclaimer that I know little of these going ons.

So we are talking about a guy who by luck or effort (read 'hook or crook') got to be CJI. And he has made /is making a few bucks out of it.

Isn't it what he is supposed to do? I'd maximze my payout when I look to take on a new role - Bonuses, equity, profit sharing, base pay - whatever it takes!

Why single this guy out? Maybe there is a more fundamental problem that needs to be addressed?

With usual sarcasm,


zaphod beeblebrox said...

last week i had a similar debate with a lawyer in making. did manage to rough up the feathers big time! said she that some people should never be suspected and thus should be taken to virtuous and this should be truer as it goes higher. said me (ref to our friendly neighborhood superhero)With great power comes great responsibility. what had me wondering that there are educated people who are lining up to form the future judiciary and hold strong belief that "ceaser's wife should never be suspected".
guess anna hazare better get prepared for some severe malnourished times ahead (although holding the govt to ransom is not something i approve of)