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Is there corruption in Indian Courts?

Recently, on March 22, the Supreme Court rejected Special Leave Application No. 2498/2021 filed by Judge Mrs. Archana D. Jatar, against whom corruption charges have been leveled by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The FIR No. 0025 dated 14/1/2021 under Sections 7 & 12 of the Anti- Corruption Act, 1988, registered by the Dehu Road Police, District Pune, sets out that Mrs. Archana Jatar, who is a Judicial Officer in the Vadgaon Courts in Maval taluka had allegedly demanded a bribe of Rs.5 lakhs from one Swapnil Madhukar Shevkar, so as not to proceed in his case before her. According to the Complainant, as noted in the FIR, Judge Jatar had also had a telephone talk with one Deshmukh, another Judicial Officer from the Vadgaon Courts.

The Bombay High Court in Anticipatory Bail Application No. 591 of 2021 moved by Judge Mrs. Archana Jatar, had on March 3, 2021, and rejected it. Justice Sarang Kotwal had, in fact, come down heavily on her noting that:

 “This is a very serious case, in which a judicial officer is sought to be arrested.”

After the Supreme Court rejected her SLP, Judge (Mrs) Archana D, Jatar was arrested by the Dehu Road Police (through the ACB) on March 29 and remanded to police custody until April 5. The investigations are continuing vis-à-vis some alleged land cases in which she and others may have played a part, according to the Remand Report.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that, particularly, in the last two decades, the faith of the common people in the judiciary has drastically eroded. The poisonous tentacles of corruption have throttled hopes of securing justice for those unable to pay exorbitant fees of lawyers and also grease palms, which appears to be now an accepted norm.  From the lowly clerks to dishonest Judicial Officers, litigants have to pay them all off, through ‘mediums’, who keep a chunk of the ill-gotten money for themselves. Unfortunately, bent lawyers have their roles to play in these dubious deals.

At every level, palms have to be greased.  In smaller Courts, for the clerk to search for your file, it costs around Rs.200. In the High Courts and the Supreme Court, it is a lot more. While the moves to have all functioning Courts online and through videos is laudable, it is akin to Marie Antoinette asking the people to have cakes when they complained they had no bread to eat! On-line filing, video conferencing et al., are not within the reach of the common man. As it is, litigation is unaffordable for most people.

Delay in providing justice, without any justified reason, disturbs the entire functioning of the judiciary and leads to injustice.  Ineffective actions, slow Trials, improper investigations, non-implementation of laws, and complex Court procedures are the major causes of increasing corruption in our legal system. Corruption relates also to the misuse of entrusted power for personal gains.

I admire once-upon-a-time Union Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan and his son, Senior Supreme Court Counsel, Prashant, although I do not share their politics. Yet, I respect them for picking up the gauntlet and taking cudgels against alleged corruption apparently prevailing even in the highest judiciary. The Supreme Court! They have openly cited the names of some of the former Chief Justices of India, who they contend were corrupt. In 2000, a Chief Justice of India was accused of using his position to force the lower judiciary to hold in favour of his wife and mother-in-law in litigation. In 2002-2003 matters alleging sex for acquittal and cash for jobs were widely reported in the media.

The rot has to be stemmed post-haste and on a war footing.

Justice B.P.Jeevan Reddy of the Supreme Court in D.D.A. v/s Skipper Construction Company Pvt. Ltd. decided on May 6, 1996

[1996 (4) Supreme 64] or AIR 1996 SC 2005] lamented that:

“Before parting with this case we feel impelled to make a few observations. What happened, in this case, is illustrative of what is happening in our country on a fairly wide scale in diverse forms. Some persons in the upper strata (which means the rich and the influential class of the Society) have made the “property career” the sole aim of their lives. The means have become irrelevant – in a land where its greatest son born in this century (Gandhiji) said “means is more important than the ends.” A sense of bravado prevails; everything can be managed; every authority and every institution can be managed. All it takes is to “tackle” or “manage” it in an appropriate manner. They have developed an utter disregard for the law – nay, contempt for it; the feeling that law is meant for lesser mortals and not for them.”

 

Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Justice Mr. A. M. Bhattacharjee, and the late Honorable Justice Mr. V. K. Krishna Iyer had quoted from Justice Felix Frankfurter (New York, USA)

A Judge should be compounded of the faculties that are demanded of the historian and the philosopher and the prophet. The last demand upon him – to make some forecast of the consequences of his action – is perhaps heaviest. To pierce the curtain of the future, to give shape and visage to mysteries still in the womb of time is the gift of the imagination. It requires poetic sensibilities with which judges are rarely endowed and which their education does not normally develop. These judges must have something of the creative artist in them; they must have antennae registering feeling and judgment beyond logical, let alone quantitative, proof.’

Justice Mr. V. K. Krishna Iyer continued, in his own inimitable fashion:

“Few robed brethren, Indian or foreign, have attained this composite excellence. While the pedestrian judicial tribe hardly attempts to celebrate creatively or foresee penetratingly, most of the members on the Bench merely laze through their tenure or drudge as artisans to dispose of the crowding dockets.”

 

To effectively sanitize the judicial system, there must be the political will to catch the bull of corruption by the horns; systematically, and without pulling back any punches; wrestle it down to the ground. To start with, there must be a review of how records are being, presently, handled and modern tracking systems must be introduced, which will cut down the corruption, especially in the lower Courts. Basic laws must be loaded frequently on the internet, with citations from relevant judgments, for laypersons to grasp. They can also then be free of avaricious lawyers. Mediation Courts must be increased so that cases are settled amicably outside the Courts; away from the clutches of wanton and greedy advocates and even corrupt Judicial Officers. Create effective Vigilance Cells, to tend to the grievances of litigants and even officers and staff of the Courts, who may be coerced to commit wrongs by their superiors. All Judges must be subject to review. The Bombay High Court lately reprimanded a Judge from a District Court, who had been passing terse, one line-orders without referring to ratios of Superior Courts which had been cited and also submitted. Instead of commencing with contempt proceedings, however, the High Court Bench, since the Advocate General submitted that the concerned Judicial Officer had already been pulled up by his senior, directed that the errant Judge’s orders be scrutinized by the Principal Judge for a year, to bring him to heel!

This dreadful pandemic which has purged the entire world may have some positive points as far as the Courts in India are concerned.  The clerks, who truly ruled the roost, are out of circulation. There is far less activity on the judicial front at all levels, as well. Most lawyers are like daily wage earners, and they are out on a limb.  The vile specter of corruption has been, relatively, tamed. This is the opportunity that ought to be seized by the   Union Law Ministry and others responsible, to enforce the suggestions made above. They must put their feet on the accelerator instead of the brakes, and take advantage of this chance to implement the genuine restructuring of the Court machinery to provide optimum benefit to the people, especially those who are from the grass root levels. Justice N. V. Ramana, who succeeds Justice S.A Bobde as the 48th Chief Justice of India on April 23, has a short term until August 26 next year. But in this brief tenure, it is fervently hoped that Justice Ramana, who has had a stint in journalism, will endeavor to return the public’s confidence in the judiciary. Justice Ramana, as Supreme Court Judge, has been part of various decisions, ranging from electoral issues to rights of women to bringing the Chief Justice of India’s office under the ambit of the Right to Information. In 2019, a five-judge Bench, of which Justice Ramana was a member, declared the CJI’s office as a public authority accountable under RTI to provide the information sought in the public interest. However, in a separate opinion, he said that: “RTI should not be used as a tool of surveillance”.

While corruption in the Courts cannot be wished away, there still is the hope of, at least, containing it, if stringent and urgent action is taken, without fear or favour, by the powers-that-be.

 

 

Author: AMIT KUMAR BHOWMIK

Amit Kumar Bhowmik is a lawyer based in Pune. He has his practice including in the Bombay High court as also other High courts as well as he appears as Counsel in the Supreme court. Although essentially having his practise on the criminal side he is an all-rounder having taken up matters in the matrimonial courts as well. He is a prolific writer and an unabashed champion of women rights.

DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author

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