Stepping up his criticism of the Central government, inside the courtroom and outside, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur Sunday expressed disappointment over the silence of “popular” and “nationalist” Prime Minister Narendra Modi over issues of “justice” and “appointment of judges” during his Independence Day address from Red Fort.
“You heard our very popular and nationalist (deshapriya) Prime Minister speak for one and-a-half hours today. You also heard (the) Union Law Minister speak. I was also hoping justice will find a mention (in the speech). They will talk about appointment of judges,” said the CJI as he addressed a gathering on the Supreme Court lawns after hoisting the Tricolour.
Delivering his speech in Hindi, Justice Thakur lamented that a case used to be decided in 10 years during British rule but disposal was now taking even more time. “Now, cases and litigation have increased. People’s expectations have also gone up. It is all becoming very difficult for us and this is why I have repeatedly urged them (government) to pay attention to these problems,” he said.
With Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad present on the dais, Justice Thakur appealed to the government to lend a thought to the justice delivery system, too. “I would want to say only one thing on this occasion. You (government) remove poverty, give employment to people, keep the nation together and frame all your big schemes but also give a thought for justice to your countrymen,” he said.
The CJI also recited a couplet in Urdu to underline the problems faced by the judiciary. “Gul phenkein auron par, balki samar bhi. ae abr-e-karam ae bahre sakha kuch to idhar bhi (you have strewn flowers and thrown fruits in others’ direction but I am waiting here as well),” he said.
Amid the continuing standoff between the judiciary and the government, the CJI asserted that he had no hesitation in speaking his mind. “My position has always been clear before everybody. Inside the court or outside, I speak my mind. I have reached the top and achieved whatever I had to. I don’t have to go any further from here. So I don’t have to think about others or hesitate when I have to speak my mind. If I say a right thing, it would touch everyone’s heart and that is my strength,” said Justice Thakur.
During his brief address, Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, said that the appointment of judges would go ahead irrespective of whether the new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) governing the process was in place or not.
Last Friday, while hearing a PIL on shortage of judges, Justice Thakur had questioned the government over a sense of “mistrust” and warned that the judiciary would “be forced to interfere” to break the deadlock.
“Don’t try to bring this institution to a grinding halt. we won’t tolerate a logjam in judges’ appointment. it is stifling judicial work. We will fasten accountability now. Why is there mistrust? If this logjam continues, we will be forced to interfere judicially. We will ask for every file that was sent to you by the Collegium,” the CJI, who heads the Collegium in the Supreme Court, had told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
The CJI’s outburst had come over a week after the government declined to yield to the Collegium’s objections in the MoP with respect to the executive having the final say in rejecting names.
In April, while addressing a joint conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts, Justice Thakur had made an impassioned plea to the government to help upgrade judicial infrastructure and start addressing the glaring problem of shortage of judges. With the Prime Minister watching, the CJI, in a choked voice, regretted “inaction” on the government’s part in strengthening judicial infrastructure and increasing the judge-population ratio to tackle the “avalanche” of cases. He said that “it is not enough to criticise” the judiciary alone for the huge pendency.
At the start of the Independence Day function in the Supreme Court, the knot did not open when the CJI tried to unfurl the national flag. Referring to this, he addressed Law Minister Prasad from the dais.
“We are also stakeholders. we should also be asked but let me tell you that Ravi Shankar Prasad ji takes these knots very seriously. The knots are not opening the way it did not open when I tried to unfurl the flag. However, I should tell everyone here that if he is so firm about the knots, so are we. And you all saw it today how we took the iron pole out and fixed it again to make sure we hoist the flag here today,” said the CJI as lawyers applauded.
Justice Thakur further questioned the definition of Below Poverty Line (BPL).
“Today, India’s population is 125 crore and around 40 crore people are below the poverty line. But you have drawn the poverty line in such a way that a person earning Rs 26 in a village and a person earning Rs 32 in a city goes above the poverty line. So the big challenge is whether we have been able to remove poverty after 70 years,” he said.
Pointing out the problem of unemployment, the CJI said if he issues a vacancy for the post of a clerk in the Supreme Court, even a post-graduate would apply. “When I was the chief justice in the Punjab and Haryana high court, I asked a clerk about his educational qualification. He said he had studied Masters in Arts. The real essence of independence is when we get freedom from poverty and exploitation,” he added.