From Coalgate to cricket reforms, Justice RM Lodha makes his mark

Justice RM Lodha has always been known for his larger-than-life personality both in and out of court.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | New Delhi | Updated: January 5, 2016 3:25:19 pm
Chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on Reforms in Cricket, Justice (retd.) R M Lodha, at a press conference after tabling the panel’s report on Monday. (Source: PTI) Chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on Reforms in Cricket, Justice (retd.) R M Lodha, at a press conference after tabling the panel’s report on Monday. (Source: PTI)

JUSTICE RM Lodha has never shied away from making bold statements. If anything that’s been his style, his calling card. His judgements over an illustrious career that saw him rise to being Chief Justice of India (CJI) too have more often than not sided towards the risque rather than treading over a cautious middle path. Even if at times Lodha has risked being criticized for ‘judicial overreach’.

And he’s never backed down from taking on all comers, from central governments to army chiefs and the last word has almost always belonged to him. But such is his reputation that whether you agreed or not, you couldn’t ignore him. He ensured that you not only heard him out. You listened. In 2013, it was he who embarrassed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) referring to it as ‘a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice’ during the height of the Coalgate scandal.

WATCH: Lodha Panel Proposes Sweeping Reforms For BCCI (App users click here)

His comments paved the way for the investigative agency to prosecute senior officials without any sanctions from the government. Lodha achieved this by ordering the CBI to not share information from the probe with the then UPA government.

Lodha, a second-generation judge who began his judicial career as a lawyer in the Rajasthan High Court, has always been known for his larger-than-life personality both in and out of court.

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And it was in full bloom at Delhi’s Teen Murti Bhavan on Monday as he dished out a radical future plan of action for the BCCI. As always he was nattily dressed to charm — a catchy yellow tie with bold design lighting up a bespoke grey suit — his polite yet frank disposition was there to see and you could make out why he’s renowned for his penchant for fitness even now in his late sixties.

Not to forget his propensity for drama, and the stage. This is not to call Lodha a showman but he certainly has a reputation for being a judge who loves to hold court, quite literally. And the Shakespeare-quoting judge, played to his besotted audience with dramatic pauses as if he was a Ghazal singer trying to break up two melodic alaaps.

And the pauses seemed that much more poignant whenever he looked set to reveal an important point, like say when he slowly went about explaining his committee’s suggestion for the make up of the BCCI’s new governing council. Whenever possible he would also hold his pose, waiting for the flashes to go off, before resuming his discourse.

All along he was suggesting changes for the BCCI, which if implemented would have ramifications of epoch-breaking value on the Indian cricket board. But never did he find the reason to overstate a point or modulate his tone to any great extent to drive one home. But that’s always been the Lodha way.

He spent a bulk of his years at the Bombay High Court before taking over as CJI in April 2014. His would be one of the shortest tenures ever, lasting a mere five months till September, which included a six-week summer vacation break.

But it was enough for Lodha as always to make a significant impact. While taking over, he spoke about bringing more visibility to the Indian judiciary, and true to his word he did just that while becoming a much-adored judge both in judicial and journalistic circles. For, you were never short of a catchy quote when Lodha was holding court, literally and figuratively speaking.

His rein lasted all of 153 days, but those who recorded his vigil insist on him having made as much of a bang as those who occupied the seat for much longer.

During his time there, he took on the NDA government over independence of the judiciary. He was seen as a crusader for bringing transparency into judicial appointments. And he was a staunch opponent of the NDA government’s judicial appointments bill. He had even insisted that he ‘wouldn’t hold office for even a second’ if the independence of the judiciary was compromised. He fought on the side of the collegium system..

But he was one who understood the place of the judiciary and days before taking over as CJI had spoken about there being a need for a clear demarcation between judiciary and the executive. But he always stuck to his stand on ‘nobody being above the law’. It came through in his handling of a variety of issues. His landmark judgements over a three-decade career apart from the coal crisis and judiciary independence included the ban on any acid being sold over the counter as a defence against the slew of acid-attacks, making Urdu the second official language in Uttar Pradesh and rejecting VK Singh’s claim that he was born a year later.

He also spoke openly about the grossly disproportionate ratio of judges to population, which at the time of him taking over as CJI was 13 per 10 lakh people.

In the wake of the Supreme Court anointing him as the head of the committee to look into the allegations of corruption within the BCCI, Lodha was looked at as an unanimous choice. For, he has always had the reputation of being ‘incorruptible’.

And by now the BCCI knows all about Lodha and his style of delivery. Only six months ago, he recommended that two IPL franchises be suspended and the Indian cricket board duly obliged. On Monday, he came out with proposals that potentially could change the way we look at the BCCI.

It won’t quite be the final verdict for the BCCI and there still hangs a cloud of ambiguity over whether Lodha’s recommendations will be binding on them or not. It’s likely that they might not agree with most of it either. But they are in no position to ignore them. They will have to hear him out. And they will listen.

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