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Raising the bar for judges
In late 1989, when I was commuting to Delhi for the trial of the Bhopal gas tragedy case, I read a brief report in an evening newspaper, hidden amidst entertainment and fashion news, that Justice V Ramaswami, soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court, had spent far in excess of his sanctioned limit on furnishing his residence, phone calls, and many other things. I could not believe this was the court I was migrating to from Bombay. With a group of friends, I set out to Chandigarh to gather evidence. It came in the form of an internal audit report documenting the expenditure. I published it in Lawyers' Collective, a monthly magazine I was editing, again the first of its kind that set out to break the culture of silence around the judiciary and address issues of concern to the legal profession. I wrote a letter to the then Chief Justice of India, the late Justice Sabyasachi Mukerjee, demanding an enquiry. In an unprecedented move, he sat in open court, summoned the president of the bar and addressed the bar, from court No. 1, stating that in the light of the evidence produced, he was instituting an enquiry into the allegations of misconduct and asking Justice Ramaswami to withdraw from work during the enquiry.
Meanwhile, I walked the corridors of the Supreme Court selling the magazine at Rs 10 an issue like a hawker, even stopping passers-by to press them to "read all about it". This ensured that the issue got the publicity it deserved. I also boycotted the court of Justice Ramaswami and demanded that my cases be listed before some other judge. The then editor of The Times of India, Dileep Padgaonkar, followed up on the news and wrote an editorial expressing concern about the state of the judiciary.
The rest is history. I was satisfied that the issue had been addressed by an upright Chief Justice as it should be and looked forward to a clean judiciary. The courts are, after all, meant to be temples of justice sitting in judgment on other peoples' lives, so how could one tolerate violations of rules and regulations by the very people who man (rarely, women) these courts?
Jaising is now additional solicitor general of India
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