Close on the heels of former CJI Ranjan Gogoi accepting Rajya Sabha membership, once his colleague on the bench and outgoing Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta said that people feel that a judge has got a political post because of some extraneous reasons.
Mincing no words, Justice Gupta, who hanged up his boots on Wednesday, admitted that the public perception towards judiciary has changed and they have doubts when a judge accepts a government assignment soon after his retirement.
He also emphasised the apex court must stand up for the rights of the deprived and underprivileged classes, including the minorities, who cannot be deprived of their rights just because they disagree with the Government on certain issues.
Here is Justice Gupta's full interview with CNN-News18:
Two former CJIs took up positions in Indian politics. Justice P Sathasivam became a Governor and Justice Ranjan Gogoi has now accepted membership of Rajya Sabha, but not before questions were raised. Have these instances dented the public perception about independence of judiciary?
In my view, public does not accept it very happily when judges take up government assignments soon after their retirement...in the back of their mind, they have certain doubts.
The public feels perhaps the judge has got this post because of some extraneous reasons. That is the perception large number of people have in today’s world. It may or may not be right in many cases but that’s the public perception.
I am not in favour of Supreme Court judges taking up political appointments. Normally, they should not accept such positions. I am not in favour of this. I won’t do it. I won’t accept any such position ever.
What are your views on judges of constitutional courts accepting post-retirement jobs by the Government?
What my late friend Arun Jaitley used to say that retirement age of the judges should go up but there should be no post-retirement jobs for them, especially by the government. It is my personal view that there should not be any post-retiral assignments for judges.
Even Justice Fazl Ali, one of the brilliant judges, was appointed as the Governor but times have changed. With the change in times, the perception towards judiciary has also changed.
However, there are certain posts which have to be filled up by the retired judges. And some of the judges have done exceptionally good work in the tribunals.
But personally I am not in favour of any post-retirement job and I wont take up any such position. I will however leave it to the person concerned to decide for himself or herself.
When the Supreme Court faces crisis such as 2018 judges’ press conference, medical admission scam case, sexual harassment charges against a CJI, do all the judges get together to chalk out future course of action?
Unfortunately, there is no such system in place. It is the CJI who mainly takes these decisions. He may consult some senior judges but in my three years as a judge, all the judges were never consulted. They never sat together. The only time all the judges were perhaps consulted was when a committee was to be to set up to examine the sexual harassment charges against a CJI (Justice Gogoi). Unfortunately, in my three years, there has been no full court meetings in the Supreme Court to deliberate upon anything, including these issues.
In the current times and the spate of incidents smacking of communal biases, do you feel minorities in this country need to be reassured by the Supreme Court about their fundamental rights and their right to dissent?
The Supreme Court must stand up for the rights of the deprived and underprivileged classes, including the minorities who should never get the feeling that they are being treated unfairly or being denied their right to equality guaranteed under the Constitution. All courts including the Supreme Court should ensure that they live a life of dignity. Merely because they disagree with the government on certain issues does not mean that they can be deprived of their life or liberty as long as the protest is peaceful and they do not violate the law.
Do judges keep a tab on social media? Does social media impact them?
Most judges are abreast with the social media. They may not be having their personal accounts on Twitter or Facebook but most of them do keep a tab on what is being said about them and about the cases they decide. At the same time, I think by the time, one reaches the Supreme Court, you can remain uninfluenced by what is being said on the social media. It has never affected me, at least. I won’t say that I don’t read it. I read it. Sometimes, I laugh about it. Sometimes, I get angry too. But I don’t let it affect my decisions as a judge.
Why did it require a pandemic like Covid-19 for the Supreme Court to let cameras in?
I have always been in favour of live-steaming of cases. It is my personal view that live-steaming is the need of the hour. It was always required but with Covid-19, it became indispensable since social distancing has to be maintained and you must have very less number of people in court. That can only be done through live-streaming. Video-conferencing is not an open-court hearing but if these are recorded, there should not be any problem. I have said this not today but about four years back at a lecture that I envisage in the near future a system where a judge sits in his chamber, lawyers argue from their chambers and clients watch from their houses. And even public at large can watch proceedings that interest them. Except for certain prohibited category of cases, I am of the view that even if live-streaming is not possible, audio-recordings should be done.
What is it about the administration of the Supreme Court you would wish changed sooner than later?
I wish the registry of the Supreme Court is changed to become totally computerised with minimum human intervention. It must revamp itself in such a fashion that no questions are raised as to how the cases being registered; how fast or slow they are listed; if cases jump the queue etc. I want registry to change so that voices are not raised against the Supreme Court over how cases are being registered and listed by its registry.
What is it that is going to excite you post retirement?
The biggest excitement is that I will get enough time to read. I am very fond of reading but the case files won’t let me follow my passion. I love to travel too but there cannot be much travelling due to Covid-19. So I am going to spend most of my time reading. I am quite a passionate photographer so I will do some photography too. I will finally get to spend the much-awaited time with my family. I will also do a bit of arbitration and other works that come my way.