A year after his death, J.S. Verma’s legacy lives on in the struggle for individual rights.
If those eyes were not twinkling when looking at you, that meant trouble. Justice J.S. Verma had that near-mischievous glint in his eyes most of the time, except on the rare occasions when he was angry. Those same eyes could look cold and hard and the person facing them knew for sure that this was judgement day.
I have seen those eyes quell representatives of big industrial houses, TV anchors with giant reputations, politicians with make-believe charisma and senior editors, too. If any of them had done something wrong and that matter came up for Justice Verma’s consideration, they could expect no kindness, only justice. But, if there was room for clemency, Justice Verma would be the first to hand it out.
I had the privilege of working under his leadership in the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) for roughly six years, and what a great period that was. I saw professional integrity at close quarters, learnt what it meant to give dignity to citizens and realised how important it was to look for the best in others. While I was still trying to consolidate all of these traits in me, Justice Verma passed away and, that was unjust.
On one occasion, we were to discuss the complaint of a leading business magnate when we found a stranger in our midst. He happened to be the emissary of this corporate big-shot, bringing a letter of apology from his boss to Justice Verma. The letter was not accepted and the person was politely told to leave, with the admonition that in future, the organisation he represented should behave more professionally.
It was much later that I realised that the night before, the industrialist actually had the gall to telephone Justice Verma at his house to explain his side of the dispute. Justice Verma sized up the situation instantly and asked his caller if he thought so poorly of judges that he felt a chat was necessary barely 24 hours before his case was to be heard. It was to repair this damage that the boss had sent his deputy with an apology letter that afternoon, which Justice Verma did well to turn down and, in the process, hopefully taught him a valuable lesson.
A senior editor once told me that Justice Verma had reneged on his principles by not allowing a certain matter to be heard by the NBSA. I thought he continued…