J. Venkatesan In The Hindu
Interview with Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan.
Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan lays down office on May 11 after three years and four months at the helm of the nation’s judiciary. He spoke to The Hindu on his achievements, failures and hope of having contributed to strengthening the foundation of the judiciary. Excerpts:
Are you satisfied with your overall performance? Do you feel much more could have been done?
Nearly three and a half years as Chief Justice of India. It is a tough job in a big country like India: handling judicial work and administrative work, appointment of judges, legal education, and communication with the various High Courts. I hope I have done reasonably well in improving the infrastructure in the judiciary, though it is an ongoing thing. I can say that the number of judges in the High Courts has increased, judicial officers were appointed in many states. For the first time, government has come out with Rs.5,000 crore for the development of infrastructure in the judiciary; it is not a small amount. Basics for improvement have been laid down. It is a big institution and it will take time to get results. 1,800 judges got judicial training from the National Judicial Academy, legal education has been streamlined. Over all, I feel I have achieved something in my tenure.
There is an allegation that you got a close relative appointed as Judge in the Kerala High Court.
I never suggested the name of Mr. Ravikumar for judgeship. The [then] Advocate-General of Kerala suggested his name to the then Chief Justice H.L. Dattu. I never knew about this. I have served in the High Courts of Kerala, Gujarat and Madras. In fact, many of the Chief Justices have asked me to suggest some names. But I have never recommended any name — relatives or friends — for judgeship in any of these courts. I have so many bio data with me. I feel it is not proper. Even in the case of Mr. Ravikumar, when his name came to the collegium, I told Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice Arijit Pasayat that they can do whatever they want. They can reject the name or defer the consideration. Why should I stop somebody else’s judgeship? Why should I say that he should not be considered?
Is there any proposal from the Law Ministry for change in the Memorandum of Procedure of appointments to give more say to the executive in judges’ appointments?
The collegium method was evolved from two Supreme Court judgments of 1993 and 1998. We only follow the procedure from these judgments. If the Centre wants to change the system, it must seek review of the judgments, whether on its own or through some other method.
The collegium system is based on judicial decision, not on statute. How can it be changed? Many people criticise us, including those judges responsible for creating the system. We can’t change everything. We understand there are drawbacks to the system. The Chief Justice of the High Court is asked to select four or five persons from 6,000 lawyers for judgeship. On what basis can the selection be made? We understand there are practical problems. If you want a better candidate you need a better system. We welcome any change but we can’t violate the directions in the two judgments. I am leaving the government’s proposal to my successor to deal with it.
Do you feel the need for creating four supreme courts of appeal in four regions and a constitutional court in the capital?
We have to look for some changes in the system, as judges are overburdened. This year, the number of cases filed in the Supreme Court is expected to touch 84,000. Though the disposal rate is correspondingly high, it cannot continue for a long time. The present system can continue for another 10 years, and, thereafter, we must look for some change in the system. Jurisdiction can be curtailed; people should have a different forum that can be done region wise or subject wise.
Honour killings are taking place in many parts of the country. Do you feel that a separate law is necessary to deal with such crimes?
We have got sufficient number of laws. Even if there is a law, if things are done clandestinely, what can be done? What will you do if persons are ostracised by society. What is required is that society must change. Anyway, it is for Parliament to decide whether to come out with legislation or not.
Has the controversy over Justice P.D. Dinakaran finally settled?
It is an unfortunate thing. But I never interfered either in the [initial] inquiry or any other thing. The matter [removal proceedings] is now before a committee. I don’t want to say anything.
Can the Justice Sirpurkar committee [investigating the grounds for impeachment of Justice Mr. Dinakaran] be expedited? Enquiry into allegations against Calcutta High Court Judge Soumitra Sen is also pending.
These things can be decided expeditiously by the committees concerned. I don’t interfere in these things.
During your tenure did you ever feel that corruption is a major issue in the judiciary.
By and large, at least in the Supreme Court there is no corruption. At the High Court level, we receive some complaints without any details;but if we want to probe, they will not come forward. Regarding lower judiciary, in some of the states it is a problem. We can’t say corruption is not there at all; some may be susceptible. But these are only minor aberrations. In Kerala I can say it [lower judiciary] is corruption free. But I don’t think corruption is a major threat to the judiciary.
You are being portrayed as anti-Right to Information Act.
I am in favour of giving information. Certain information about Chief Justices discussed in the collegium cannot be given to the press. Then they will start discussing unfounded allegations against Chief Justices. It is not a desirable thing for our country. I said I had some reservations only on a very limited area. I only said that the office of the CJI is not a public authority under the Act. In all major countries of the world — England, Australia, America — the judiciary is absolutely exempted from RTI.
During my visits abroad, people say the Indian judiciary is highly respected. They say: we see justice system is working in India, people come to courts in India in large numbers. The system is working so well; it is visible.
As a Dalit who occupied the highest post in the judiciary, what do you have to say about suppression of Dalits.
Some incidents still occur in many parts. This is a social problem. It is still there, may be due to lack of education … so many factors are there. In the last 60 years, some change has taken place. But still, of those below the poverty line, more than 30 per cent are Dalits. Awareness must be created. For this, school education should be improved.