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Guiding spirits of the judiciary

It’s important to publicise decisions of judges who cannot be swayed by dangling carrots

Guiding spirits of the judiciary

Exemplary: Justices Anand Venkatesh (left) and S Muralidhar have shown the way. File photos

Julio Ribeiro

THE Madras High Court should be proud of Justice Anand Venkatesh, who suo motu ordered the reopening of a corruption case against Tamil Nadu Higher Education Minister K Ponmudy last month. Justice Venkatesh also ordered the reopening of another case of corruption, involving possession of assets disproportionate to known sources of income, against TN Revenue Minister KKSSR Ramachandran and Finance Minister Thangam Thennarasu.

All is not lost. The judiciary and the armed forces are our last refuge for justice and security.

The case against Ponmudy was to be heard in a court in Villupuram. It was transferred by the administrative side of the Madras High Court to the court of the principal judge of Vellore for reasons not known to the public. Justice Venkatesh felt that the court in Vellore was “too hurried to be natural” and did not give any cogent reason for the minister’s acquittal.

The cases against Ramachandran and Thennarasu ended in their discharge by the Special Court at Villiputhur in Virudhunagar district. The cases had been adjourned for months and years, during which the two accused ministers were reinstated in the DMK Cabinet. The investigating police officer who had filed the chargesheets was replaced by another, who whitewashed the original findings, established when the AIADMK was in power.

It was apparent that the truth changed according to who was in power. If this is how the rule of law is going to be enforced in Bharat that was India, we, the citizens, will be forced to “cry for our beloved country”. The trend is truly frightening.

Take the case against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the Surat district court over a cheap joke he cracked without giving it a thought. The case came up before the Chief Judicial Magistrate. The prosecution obviously found the magistrate uncooperative. It approached the High Court in Ahmedabad and sought a stay on the proceedings, which was granted. When the Chief Judicial Magistrate was transferred, the prosecution got the High Court’s permission to resume the original proceedings.

We all know that for that poor joke, Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison. He had to approach the Supreme Court for redress after failing to get it in the Gujarat High Court. The Supreme Court remarked caustically that there was something wrong with the High Court in Gujarat. Rahul, it is hoped, must have learnt a lesson from that episode.

But what are we to conclude about our judicial system from these two cases? A common thread that runs through both cases, one from Tamil Nadu where a government aligned to the Opposition’s INDIA bloc rules, and the other from Gujarat, where a ‘double-engine’ government is in power, is that the ruling party in a state can influence certain decisions. It is disturbing to find that criminal trials can be “derailed by the active design of those at the helm of political power,” as Justice Venkatesh observed in his order.

If disturbed citizens don’t bemoan this disregard for judicial integrity due to a fear of reprisal in the form of contempt of court proceedings, our country will never be the same. It is the ‘suicide’ of justice that the citizens of Bharat should dilate upon. It is of utmost urgency that concerned citizens shed the fear they now harbour of raising their voices lest they are sent to jail for doing their duty to their motherland. Citizens are constantly told to excise dynasties from the political system. It is much more urgent to excise questionable means that serve political ends and breed dishonesty and corruption. Dynasties will die their natural deaths when more non-dynasts like Modi enter the political arena.

All is not lost as yet. There are many upright, honest and conscientious judges like Justice Venkatesh in most states of the Union. We must celebrate them, like we celebrate upright, honest and conscientious civil servants and police officials who are true to their oath of serving the people. It is important that we publicise the decisions of such judges who cannot be swayed by dangling carrots.

When a calculated false propaganda was unleashed on maulvis, many from foreign countries, accusing them of spreading the Covid virus in India after attending a markaz in Delhi, Justices TV Nalawade and MG Sewlikar of the High Court of Bombay, sitting on a Division Bench in Aurangabad, discharged the accused and passed severe strictures against the government agency that brought them to trial unjustly. It required extraordinary courage to go against the ruling party’s propaganda machine. The judgment restored the citizens’ faith in the administration of justice.

Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to register FIRs against a minister in Modi’s government and two other BJP leaders for spewing hate against those who were opposing the CAA and the NRC in Delhi. However, Justice Muralidhar was hurriedly transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He retired as the Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court. The government did not agree to give him the more important charge of the Madras High Court, which the Supreme Court Collegium had recommended. In 2018, the same judge had sentenced Congress leader Sajjan Kumar to life imprisonment in a 1984 Delhi riots case.

The judiciary and the armed forces of Bharat are our last refuge for justice and security. They have not succumbed yet, unlike the police, the civil services and the media. But the onslaught is severe and relentless. We must salute those judges who are true to their conscience.

#Tamil Nadu

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