To start with, it must have been a great honour for all those who could attend the farewell function that was organized in honour of eminent and learned Supreme Court Judge – Justice R Banumathi to bid her farewell as she retires on July 19, 2020. The President and Members of the Executive Committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association hosted a function to bid farewell to her. Her track record is most distinguished and impeccable with many landmark judgments to her credit!
Be it noted, Justice R Banumathi had assumed the role of a Supreme Court Judge on 13 August 2014. She is the sixth women to be a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. It goes without saying that she proved her mettle by her extremely elegantly, effectively and eloquently written landmark judgments and this has been acknowledged even by critics what to talk about others! When she spoke, all used to listen in silence and acknowledged that she had the deepest knowledge of law and everything associated with it! No denying it!
To put things in perspective, Justice R Banumathi’s long and arduous journey in the legal field as a Judge commenced with her direct recruitment as a District Judge vide the Tamil Nadu Higher Judicial Service. Right from the start, she started delivering landmark and laudable judgments! In April 2003, she was elevated as a Judge of the Madras High Court. In November 2013 she was transferred to Jharkhand High Court and was appointed its Chief Justice.
It would be imperative to mention here that the farewell ceremony commenced first and foremost with a “Welcome Address” speech delivered by senior advocate – Kailash Vasdev who is the Vice President of the Supreme Court Bar Association which he did with absolute perfection. The ceremony then progressed ahead with Attorney General KK Venugopal stating that it was a sad day as one of the most beloved Judges of the Supreme Court was leaving. He recounted the multiple great orders rendered with complete perfection by Justice R Banumathi during her time first as a District Judge, then as a High Court Judge and then finally as a Supreme Court Judge.
Going ahead, KK Venugopal also could not restrain himself from saying it straight from his inner heart that, “We are losing a good Judge; a great Judge. So, all I can say is, bon voyage. I know you love your family; you’ve spoken about your grandchild. But, I hope you come back to legal work soon, maybe by way of arbitration.” When such a senior, so experienced and so learned Attorney General like KK Venugopal who in age is even much senior to Justice R Banumathi at 89 says something straight from his heart then everyone sits and takes notice and very rightly so! What greater tribute can be given to her and that too by none other than the eminent jurist and Attorney General of India – KK Venugopal! But she has certainly earned this with her extremely brilliant and bold judgments which no one can ever deny or dispute!
As if this was not enough, then came another legal giant named Dushyant Dave who is the present President of the Supreme Court Bar Association who was even more candid and said suavely yet simply when his turn came for speaking that, “My Ladyship, I must confess that the Court will have a serious vaccum without you and the Collegium will find it difficult to fill it up. The Bar will miss you, as it is in you we found an independent Judge who was always willing to listen to us.” Who does not know the impeccable credentials of senior advocate named Dushyant Dave who never hesitates in calling a spade a spade? This is the best tribute that any Judge can expect but very few are so lucky to get such a tribute and Justice R Banumathi has earned it by her flawless judgments and impeccable conduct!
Not stopping here, Dushyant Dave also noted that, “Justice Banumathi embodied the cornerstone of the rule of law, which was the bedrock of democracy, by being fiercely independent and giving multiple dissenting opinions”. In fact, this is what made her so special just like we see in the case of another eminent Judge – Justice Dr DY Chandrachud who never fights shy to even overrule some of the judgments of his legendary father – late Justice YV Chandrachud who served as Chief Justice of India for the longest term ever till now of more than seven years as we saw in case of adultery and 1976 verdict in the famous ADM Jabalpur case!
Going forward, Dushyant Dave also listed her achievements and contributions by not only being the President of the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy, but also by authoring various handbooks and books on the various aspects of law. He further did not fight shy in highlighting her kind and encouraging disposition towards members of the Bar. He said elegantly and effectively that, “The Bar is really grateful about the way you treated members of the Bar; the affection that you showered on us, even while being firm with us with your decision-making. Specially the younger members of the Bar, whom you treated with utmost respect and kindness.” This is exactly what endeared her to young lawyers so much for which she deserves full credit also!
As it turned out, Dave then after speaking on some other key topics then concluded his address saying that, “In you, the Bar found someone who was really a friend. Today, when you are leaving us, we are feeling quite sad. Fortunately, you are not leaving Delhi and I hope you will join us, maybe by way of arbitration.” Dushyant Dave certainly too deserves praise for having communicated his true feelings so simply and suavely!
Simply put, Justice R Banumathi then commenced her farewell address by thanking everyone for joining her on a Friday evening to share good words and also good thoughts about her. While speaking straight from her heart, she could not restrain herself while recounting her childhood days and her journey to the top court from saying that, “I was born in a very small village, in a backward district in Tamil Nadu. I lost my father in a bus accident, when I was 2 years. In those days, we had to file a suit for compensation. My mother filed a claim and the court passed a decree. But, we couldn’t get the amount due to complicated procedures and lack of assistance. Myself, my widowed mother and my two sisters, we are victims of court delay and its procedural lags. We did not get the compensation till the last day.”
Having said this, she further also observed that, “Despite comments on pendency of cases, various positive initiatives had been taken by the Central Government, State Governments and the judiciary to aid in the accessibility to justice and to ensure more efficiency of the system.”
Furthermore, she also added that, “With more citizen-centric services such as availability of judgments/orders online, easier accessibility to cause lists, e-payments, e-summons, mobile apps etc., these are all arms meant to increase transparency of the system.”
What is the best tribute that Centre can give to Justice R Banumathi and the likes of her? Centre must take all such good measures which can ensure that pending cases are expedited swiftly and smoothly so that people get justice in time and not suffer endlessly as we saw in case of Justice R Banumathi herself in her childhood days! As for instance, creating more High Court Benches as was also strongly recommended by the 230th report of Law Commission of India especially in big states like Uttar Pradesh which is the most populated state in India, has maximum pending cases in India and still has least benches just one bench and that too at Lucknow which is just 200 km away from Allahabad where High Court itself is situated leaving the remote areas like West UP where people numbering more than 9 crore have to travel more than 700 km all the way to Allahabad to get justice as the Justice Jaswant Singh Commission’s landmark recommendations to create a high court bench in West UP was not implemented even though benches were created in other places like Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and Madurai in Tamil Nadu!
None other than the former CJI – Ranjan Gogoi while in his capacity as CJI had in a case brought by a lady lawyer named KL Chitra had accepted the dire need for a Bench of High Court in West UP but put the ball of decision making in the court of Centre! What is Centre waiting for? 74 years have already lapsed yet not a single more Bench created in UP which figures in bottom index in state list while Maharashtra which tops the index has 4 Benches! Is Centre waiting for 75 years or for 100 years? It is for Centre to answer!
It is most shameful and most disgraceful that Allahabad High Court has the dubious distinction of accounting for 14,207, or 98% of a total of 14,484 appeals that are pending adjudication for more than 30 years as was noted by a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justices LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat and yet no Prime Minister starting from Jawaharlal Nehru to present Narendra Modi has ever dared to create one more Bench apart from the one at Lucknow!
To be sure, Justices Rao and Bhat also noted that over 33,000 appeals were pending in these 10 High Courts for a period between 20 to 30 years, and again Allahabad HC had the lion’s share accounting for nearly 20,000 of them. The appeals waiting their turn to be heard for the last 10 to 20 years numbered at 2,35,914 of which 88,732 were in Allahabad high Court! Apart from this, it cannot be denied that Allahabad High Court is biggest court in whole of Asia and has 160 Judges which is maximum in India and yet has just one Bench only!
What a pity that an anguished Supreme Court said that, “These facts pose a challenge to the judicial system, inasmuch as the right to speedy trial would also include the right to speedy disposal of appeals of those convicted. If such appeals are not taken up for hearing within a reasonable time, the right of appeal itself would be illusory, inasmuch as incarcerated convicts (who are denied bail) would have undergone a major part, if not whole of the period, of their sentences!” Why should all such steps not be taken to put our judicial system back on rails and not allow it to be in ventilator as most unfortunately we have allowed in last 74 years!
Apart from creating more Benches, more Judges must also be appointed so that the cases are decided more quickly! Out-of-court settlements must also be encouraged through mediation and other mechanisms! Judgments must not be too long so that other cases also get time to be decided! Appropriate use must be made of information technology such as digitization of appeal records/paper books, feasibility of creation of a dedicated pool of amicus curiae who would assist the court in such old matters; feasibility to creation of dedicated special benches for hearing and disposal of old cases as was pointed out by none other than Apex Court itself just recently! Adjournments especially in lower courts on one pretext or the other must be checked and only then can we expect that our moribund judicial system will come back to shape as it ideally should also be! All such steps must be taken like creating a definite time limit for deciding mercy petition, review petition, curative petition, appeal for Presidential pardon etc so that cases don’t just keep lingering endlessly!