IN WHAT could cause considerable embarrassment to the government, the family of eminent jurist and former chief justice of India, late Justice J S Verma, has decided not to accept the Padma Bhushan awarded to him posthumously on the eve of Republic Day this year.
It is believed Verma being given just a Padma Bhushan has hurt his family and friends, leading to their decision to not accept the award. Their not being consulted formally before the announcement too has added to a sense of feeling undermined.
“We do not want to accept what we know Justice Verma himself would not have accepted,” Verma’s wife Pushpa Verma has said in a letter written and couriered to President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday.
Pushpa Verma has written that she is yet to receive any official communication but is responding after reading reports in the media that her late husband has been given the Padma Bhushan.
She has written she does not think it “appropriate” to accept the award on his behalf as he “never hankered or lobbied for any acclaim, reward or favour”.
“He always and strictly, put India first before any personal profit or gain. He will always be remembered as one of India’s most pre-eminent jurists and with a legacy of alleviating substantive injustice through the forging of globally acclaimed new legal tools,” she has said.
Verma had most recently headed a three-member committee, set up in the aftermath of the December 16, 2012 gangrape in Delhi, to suggest changes in criminal law to ensure speedy justice to victims of sex crimes. He died after a brief spell of illness in April.
Pushpa Verma has also written how “the greatest honour to him remains how he is held in the hearts and minds of his fellow countrymen, as a true friend not just to women and youth, but to those, most in need of one”.
This, she writes, is what will remain “invaluable to us, him and the constitutional ideal of justice he fought for”.
While there is no hint of rancour in the letter about Verma not being considered for a higher award, his daughter Shubhra told The Indian Express that “there were informal enquiries in my father’s school in Satna and in Noida, at our home too, for the Padma Vibhushan. But when the announcement was made, it was the Padma Bhushan. We have received no communication at all, formally.”
Verma’s contemporaries expressed their unhappiness Thursday on the Padma Bhushan being too small an award for someone of his stature.
Justice Rajinder Sachar, a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, expressed his horror at the “insensitivity” of the bureaucracy and said giving him the Padma Bhushan and not the Padma Vibhushan was a “shoddy job”.
“Justice Verma was universally respected both in Judiciary and the Public. His contribution in Judiciary and post-retirement period was immense. I know personally his pain at the horrible happening in 2002 Gujarat and his bold and persistent intervention as a chairperson of National Human Rights Commission. To calm the situation, the Union government turned to him to do a speedy job for reforming the rape law, which everybody agrees was done with commendable speed,” Sachar said in a statement.
“Bureaucracy has of course bungled. But can the supervising political authorities excuse themselves for this lack of sensitivity?” Sachar has asked.
Leading Advocate Raju Ramachandran said he speaks for many when he says that “a Padma Vibhushan for a former chief justice of his eminence would have been much more suitable. Attorneys General, except one, and eminent jurists like Fali Nariman have all got the Padma Vibhushan, so why not him?”