Judiciary Must Itself Also Always Speak Truth To Power
If there is one Judge on whom I have blind faith for his exemplary conduct throughout his brilliant career and who can never favour wrongly even his own son and who can speak out even against his own father also on issue which he feels strongly then it is none other than the Supreme Court Judge – Justice Dr DY Chandrachud. We saw in his judgment on adultery as also in his judgment on right to privacy how he differed radically with that of his father – the legendary late former CJI – YV Chandrachud who remained the CJI in India for the longest term of more than seven years which is a record since independence till date and this record I don’t think will be broken anytime soon!
At the outset, it must be mentioned that Justice Dr DY Chandrachud while delivering a talk on the topic “Speaking Truth to Power : Citizens and the Law” as part of the MC Chagla Memorial Online Lecture was quite outspoken in saying that, “The exercise of the right to speak truth to power by the citizens is integral for the functioning of a modern democracy.” It cannot be ever denied that Justice Chandrachud very rightly minced just no words in advocating unambiguously that, “Democracy needs truth to survive and it is not only the right of every citizen to speak truth to power but equally a duty cast upon him or her.” He also very rightly underscored that citizens should get basic education to realize the value of their votes and exercise their right of speaking “truth to power”.
Adding more to it, Justice Chandrachud also waxed eloquent to underline that, “Since democracies are spaces of reasons, truth is important, as reasons cannot be based on falsehoods. Truth is also important to instill public faith in democracy… As citizens of a democracy, we need to commit ourselves to the search for truth as a key aspiration of our society.”
Of course, Justice Chandrachud was also categorical that while democracy was the form of government to avoid tyranny of the law and of the few who get elected, it is imperative for the citizens to strengthen public institutions to hold the governments accountable. He was of the unequivocal opinion that, “As citizens, we must strive to ensure that we have a press which is free from influence of any kind, be it political or economic, which can provide information in an unbiased manner. Similarly, schools and universities need to be supported to ensure that they create an atmosphere where students can learn to differentiate truth from falsehood and develop a temperament to question power.”
Needless to say, the best example to cite here is when the incumbent Chief Justice of India NV Ramana recently termed as “very worrying” the huge number of pending criminal cases in the Allahabad High Court and urged the Bar and Bench to work together to resolve it. He did not shy away from speaking truth to power which includes not just the State and the Centre but also the Judiciary! CJI Ramana along with President Ram Nath Kovind took part in programmes, including the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Uttar Pradesh National Law University in Allahabad and a new building complex of the Allahabad High Court. What I found most remarkable was that CJI NV Ramana very politely yet most powerfully put across his valid point by submitting that, “I hope that this new complex will re-energize the Allahabad Bar. I do not want to point any fingers or lay any blame regarding the pendency in the Allahabad High Court relating to criminal cases, which is very worrying. I request the Allahabad Bar and Bench to work together and cooperate to resolve this issue.”
It cannot be denied that while replying on the pendency of cases in various courts in Uttar Pradesh, Law Ministry’s answer in Lok Sabha on July 28, 2021 was: Allahabad High Court including Lucknow Bench – 5,68,987 (Civil) and 4,51,406 (Criminal); Subordinate Courts – 18,41,155 (Civil) and 73,94,155 (Criminal); Fast Track Courts – 5,43,081.
Truth be told, we saw that recently the Allahabad High Court, in its affidavit filed in the top court over the pendency of criminal appeals in Uttar Pradesh, said that over 1.8 lakh criminal appeals are pending adjudication and it has disposed of 31,044 such pleas since 2000. To deal with the situation where convicts have spent a considerable period of their jail terms without hearing on their appeals in the High Court, it was suggested most commendably by the Uttar Pradesh government that the bail pleas of life convicts, if they have undergone 10 years jail term, and in other cases, where half of the period of the maximum sentence awarded has been spent, can be considered by the Allahabad High Court.
Above all, we cannot gloss over that even former CJI Ranjan Gogoi spoke truth to power when he clearly, cogently, categorically and convincingly pointed out that setting up of more High Court Benches in UP is the job of the Centre to do and not of the judiciary! This he so pointed out while dismissing the plea by a woman lawyer KL Chitra for setting up a High Court Bench in West UP as the women and poor people of more than 26 districts have to travel more than 700 km all the way to Allahabad to get justice which means one full night and the population is more than 9 crore but he appreciated her arguments as they had force in them! All those in judiciary including lawyers must speak truth to power and ask Centre that why when on the recommendations of Justice Jaswant Singh Commission headed by former Supreme Court Judge – Justice Jaswant Singh set up by former PM late Mrs Indira Gandhi to look into where all High Court Benches were needed in late 1970s approved the setting up of a High Court Bench at Aurangabad in Maharashtra which already had 2 Benches at Nagpur and Panaji as also at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and at Madurai in Tamil Nadu but why not a single High Court Bench was created in UP for which it had recommended 3 High Court Benches in undivided UP at Agra, Dehradun and Nainital? It is here where not just the Centre but even the judiciary too has floundered most badly!
Can anyone deny that even the 18th Law Commission in its 230th report noted : “In almost every High Court, there is huge pendency of cases and the present strength of the judges can hardly be said to be sufficient to cope with the alarming situation. It is also necessary that the work of the High Courts is decentralized, that is, more Benches are established in all States. If there is manifold increase in the strength of the judges and the staff, all cannot be housed in one campus. Therefore, the establishment of new Benches is necessary. It is also in the interest of the litigants. The Benches should be so established that a litigant is not required to travel long. It is true that the new establishments will require money, but it is necessary as a development measure, particularly, when efforts are being made for all-round development of the country. Therefore, the money should not be a problem. We have to watch and protect the interest of the litigants. We must always keep in mind that the existence of judges and advocates is because of the litigants and they are there to serve their cause only. Sometimes, some advocates object to creation of new Benches and selection of new sites for construction of new buildings. But they raise objections in their personal, limited interest. Creation of new Benches is certainly beneficial for the litigants and the lawyers and a beginning has to be made somewhere. A speedy trial is not only required to give quick justice but it is also an integral part of the fundamental right of life, personal liberty, as envisaged in article 21 of the Constitution. Article 39A of the Constitution provides for equal justice and free legal aid. The said article obligates the State to promote justice on a basis of equal opportunity and, in particular, provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities?”
What can be a bigger injustice for the common man of West UP than the harsh and lamentable fact that the High Courts of 8 states including Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and above all even Lahore High Court are nearer to West UP in comparison to Allahabad High Court? Who suffers as a result? It is the common man who is the worst affected.
Why when UP which is among the largest States, has maximum population – more than 24 crore as CM Yogi Adityanath keeps pointing out every now and then, maximum districts – 75, maximum constituencies, maximum tehsils – 350, maximum MPs – 80, maximum MLAs – 404, maximum PM including Narendra Modi, maximum pending cases – more than 10 lakh and here too West UP accounts for more than half of pending cases as noted by Justice Jaswant Commission about 57%, maximum Judges which earlier was 160 and increased to 200 in high court, maximum vacancies of Judges – 75 in high court, maximum poverty, maximum villages more than one lakh as opposed to other states who have not more than few thousands at the most, maximum cities more than 700, maximum fake encounters killings, custody killings, custodial tortures, maximum dowry cases, maximum rape and gang rape cases, maximum acid throwing cases, maximum bride burning cases, maximum cases of human rights violations, maximum undertrials, maximum cases of crime, loot, arson and riots and here too West UP tops with Saharanpur riots, Meerut riots, Muzaffarnagar riots tarnishing our international reputation to the extent that former UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon termed UP as “crime and rape capital” of India and what not yet Centre is not prepared to create even a single bench for not just West UP but entire UP? Why when UP sends maximum MPs to Lok Sabha – 80, maximum MPs to Rajya Sabha – 30, maximum MLAs to State Assembly – 404 MLAs and maximum members to State Legislative Council – 100 MLAs and yet has least benches – only one and that too just 200 km away from Allahabad at Lucknow?
It is so shocking and disgusting to see that West UP is fast becoming the epicenter of all kinds of crimes, rapes, gangrapes, brutal murders, mass murders, dacoity, robbery and what not still no High Court Bench being created! Even the former Chairman of Bar Council of UP – Darvesh Yadav who was the first woman to assume the high office at young age of just 38 years was shot dead in the court premises itself soon after being elected in Agra in West UP! What is even more shocking to see is that all political parties barring Samajwadi Party have openly espoused the creation of a high court bench in West UP but still even after seventy four years of independence we see no sign of it happening anytime soon! What is most shocking is that inspite of West UP accounting for more than half of the crime cases all over UP, not a single high court bench has been created here since 1947 till now in 2021 even though a high court bench was created at Lucknow which is just about 150-200 km away from Allahabad way back on July 1,1948!
Why when Allahabad High Court tops in the pending cases among all the States in India and also it is the biggest court in whole of Asia as pointed out by none other than UP CM Yogi Adityanath himself and has maximum Bar Council members in the world as pointed out in the website of UP Bar Council itself has it got just one High Court Bench and that too so near at Lucknow which is capital of UP and just about 200 km away from Allahabad where High Court itself is located? Why the rest of UP was left high and dry? Why the people of hilly areas now forming separate state called Uttarakhand had to travel thousands of kilometers all the way to Allahabad to get justice? Why Centre refused to create High Court Benches in hilly areas at Dehradun and Nainital? Why even judiciary didn’t intervene and left everything to Centre who did nothing due to which people became fed up facing all sorts of inconvenience while travelling so far to Allahabad to get justice which culminated in agitation for separate state and ultimately it became a separate state in 2000. If Centre had created 2 more Benches at Dehradun and Nainital, it would still have been part of UP! But alas, that was not to be!
Even the lawyers of West UP have always lead from the forefront their sacred agitation for a High Court Bench in West UP and had set up Central Action Committee in Meerut comprising of 26 districts of West UP and started striking every Saturday since May 1981 till 2021 which means more than 40 years and even went on strike for 6 months in 2001 and also for three months in 2014-15 and so also many times for 2 days in a week on Wednesday and Saturday in 2009-10 apart from weeks together many times yet Centre has not acceded to their long pending demand! When Lucknow can have Bench for just 12 districts then why can’t West UP with more than double the districts have a Bench for more than 9 crore people which population is more than several states put together? If Lucknow is capital then so also Bhopal is also capital of MP, Dehradun which is capital of Uttarakhand, Bhubaneshwar is also capital of Odisha, Dispur also is capital of Assam, Raipur is capital of Chhattisgarh, Thiruvananthapuram is capital of Kerala, Bhubaneshwar is capital of Odisha and so is the case with many other big cities but they neither have high court nor even a bench! In Odisha, High Court is at Cuttack, in Madhya Pradesh, High Court is at Jabalpur and two Benches at Gwalior and Indore, in Assam High Court is at Guwahati, in Chhattisgarh High Court is at Bilaspur, in Kerala High Court is in Ernakulam and in Uttarakhand High Court is in Nainital! Why Karnataka has just 6 crore population yet has High Court Bench at Bangalore and 3 Benches at Hubli, Dharwad and Gulbarga and West UP with more than 9 crore population has not even a Bench even though more than 57% pending cases are from here as was pointed out even by Justice Jaswant Singh Commission itself?
When Dr Sampoornanand who was the UP CM way back in 1955 very strongly recommended a high court bench for West UP at Meerut, Jawaharlal Nehru refused as he felt that one bench at Lucknow was enough. The number of pending cases way back in 1948 were not much but see the situation now! West UP now accounts for more than half of the pending cases of total pending cases of UP and UP tops the maximum pending cases state list with 10 lakh pending cases still it has just one high court bench as no more benches were created in UP since 1948! Other states like Karnataka and Maharashtra don’t have 10 lakh or 9 lakh or 8 lakh or 7 lakh or 6 lakh or 5 lakh or 4 lakh or 3 lakh or even 2 lakh cases still they have got 3 high court benches but UP has only one! Is this fair? Why West UP with 9 crore population which has more than 20 districts also has not even a single Bench leave alone having High Court and 3 Benches as we see in case of Karnataka? Why this raw discrimination?
Why for 4 and 8 districts in Karnataka are Benches created at Dharwad and Gulbarga but for more than 20 districts of West UP not a single High Court Bench is created till now? Centre cannot maintain a deafening silence on it all the time! Even former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had demanded High Court Bench for West UP right inside Parliament in 1986 as Opposition leader! Even the incumbent UP CM Yogi Adityanath demanded High Court Bench for Gorakhpur in Purvanchal in 1999 while he was MP from there right inside Parliament! Eminent and senior Supreme Court lawyer and former Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal himself had recommended a High Court Bench at Meerut but the then State Government led by the then UP CM Akhilesh Yadav vehemently opposed it and refused to endorse it and this was candidly disclosed by another former Union Minister RPN Singh himself!
Most significantly, Justice Chandrachud then went on to add that citizens cannot bank only on the State to find the truth, particularly when totalitarian governments are associated with a constant reliance on falsehoods in order to establish dominance. He also very rightly brought out that, “It can’t be said that the State will not indulge in falsehood for political reasons even in democracies. The role of the US in the Vietnam War did not see the light of day until the Pentagon papers were published. In the context of COVID, we see that there is an increasing trend of countries across the world trying to manipulate data. Hence, one cannot rely on the state to determine the truth.”
All said and done, it is not just the people alone but the judiciary also which must speak truth to power and this fits the bill most on creation of more High Court Benches where not even a single has been created since 1948! I am most certain that sooner or later judiciary itself will definitely realize that it grievously blundered in allowing Centre to get away with not creating even a single High Court Bench in UP even though it allowed creation of more Benches for small states with fewer pending cases and which already had High Court Benches which is most discriminatory and reprehensible, to say the least! Let’s hope so fervently so that people from West UP, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and so also people from other places other than Eastern UP benefit a lot but this should not have happened at the first place and yet it is continuing unabated, unattended and unaddressed since 1948 till 2021! No denying it!