Former Supreme Court judge Justice Chelameswar, who retired at midnight on Friday, recently spoke about his career, future plans, and what he felt about the situation in India today.
A child of rural India, Justice Chelameswar went to a school which was closed when it rained because either there were no roofs or the roofs leaked too much. “I have seen that life from very close quarters, it is not a theoretical knowledge that I gained,” he said.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Justice Chelameswar spoke on the January 12 press conference, where he along with three other Supreme Court judges were critical of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and the executive interfering with the judiciary. “I do not find anything wrong with the press conference. Otherwise, I would not have participated in the press conference. Please remember it is not I alone. There were three other senior-most judges of the Supreme Court who participated in the press conference,” he said.
Rejecting the term ‘rebel’ and ‘disruptor’ that he was termed after the conference, Justice Chelameswar said that he was a ‘democrat’. “I want this country to survive as a democratic society. I owed a duty to the people of this nation. I believe that without an independent judiciary, no democracy can survive. I acted according to the dictates of my conscience. It is for the civil society and future generations to decide whether I was right in my belief and action,” he said.
While speaking on the relationship between the executive and the judiciary, Justice Chelameswar maintained that disagreement should not be misconstrued or taken as an adversarial stance. “It is said (that the) Constitution is an intentionally incomplete, and often deliberately open-textured document “for the participatory evolution of democratic practices”. That is the spirit in which all disagreements are required to be viewed,” he said.
He also expressed disappointment that despite the Collegium’s unanimous recommendation, Justice KM Joseph had not been elevated to Supreme Court.
The government had on April 26 returned the Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph seeking its reconsideration, saying the proposal was not in accordance with the top court’s parameters and there was an adequate representation of Kerala in the higher judiciary from where he hails. It had also questioned his seniority for elevation as a judge of the apex court. “It is unfortunate that the matter is still lingering. I believe a man like him should come to the Supreme Court and it will be good for the institution. I still hope that it will happen,” the former Supreme Court judge added.
‘A corrupt judiciary’
Justice Chelameswar admitted to corruption in the judiciary, saying that while there are a number of allegations that aren’t true when serious allegations are made they are required to be scrutinized dispassionately by some authority to find out the truth of the matter. “In my opinion, such a process would really enhance the credibility of the system but not brushing aside the allegation without any inquiry,” he explained.
Justice for the poor
The recently-retired Supreme Court judge also addressed the justice system in India for the poor. “A rich man can come to the Supreme Court if he doesn’t get bail in the district court but the poor cannot. Should Supreme Court hear bail applications at all are the question. In my opinion, it should stop at the High Court level. There is a perception that quality of HC is not good, therefore there is a need of Supreme Court to examine every matter. It is very unrealistic state of affairs,” he said.