OUTGOING CHIEF Justice of India N V Ramana said on Friday that he “was subjected to conspiratorial scrutinies” from the day he joined the bench till he reached “the highest possible position in the judiciary”. “My family and I suffered in silence. But ultimately, the truth will always prevail,” he said.
Speaking at the farewell function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to mark his last day in office, CJI Ramana also spoke about the highlights of his tenure — from filling up “nearly 20 percent” of the sanctioned strength of High Court judges to appointing more women judges and promoting social diversity.
He also spoke about the need to use “modern technological tools” and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reform the functioning of the system.
“I am happy to inform that, thanks to my collegium judges and consulting judges, in the last 16 months, we could appoint 11 judges to the apex court and out of the 255 recommended for the various High Courts, 224 judges are already appointed. This amounts to nearly 20 per cent of the total sanctioned strength of the High Courts…We got 15 new Chief Justices for various High Courts during the same period,” he said.
CJI Ramana, who took charge on April 24, 2021, said progress was also made in appointing more women judges and promoting social diversity on the Bench, adding that “this process is a reflection of the coherence and determination of the judges to strengthen our institution, to further the goal of justice”.
CJI-incumbent Justice U U Lalit, who will take over as the 49th Chief Justice of India on Saturday, acknowledged the work done during CJI Ramana’s tenure. Justice Lalit said that he “will strive hard to make the process of listing cases as simple and transparent as possible”; make the process of mentioning — where lawyers bring urgent matters to the court’s notice — easier; and, ensure that there is at least one Constitution bench functioning throughout the year.
CJI Ramana, meanwhile, said the Indian judiciary “is not defined by a single order or decision” and “at times, it fell short of peoples’ expectations” but he added that “most of the times, it has championed the cause of the people”.
He recalled how the Supreme Court had restored due process in the Maneka Gandhi case (upholding personal liberty), which was said to have been sacrificed in the A K Gopalan case (which upheld preventive detention). He then referred to how the ADM Jabalpur decision (upholding suspension of fundamental rights) “which was seen as a death knell on personal liberty…stood rectified…in the K S Puttaswamy (Aadhaar case)”.
In this context, the CJI said “this institution never hesitated to remedy itself. Your hope upon the institution cannot be so weak that it is shattered with one perceived unfair judgment”.
Speaking about attending public events almost every weekend during his tenure, he said the popular perception is that the Indian judiciary was “alien and quite distant to the general public”. “My experience so far has convinced me that in spite of fulfilling its Constitutional mandate, the judiciary does not find adequate reflections in the media, thereby depriving the people of knowledge about the Courts and the Constitution. I felt it was my Constitutional duty to dispel these notions and bring the Court closer to the people,” he said.
CJI Ramana said that “the issues faced by the judiciary cannot be looked at in isolation”. “The judiciary is independent when it comes to adjudication of cases, but with respect to finances or appointments, it is still dependent on the Government. To coordinate and to get the cooperation from the Government, interaction is inevitable. But interaction does not mean influence,” he said.
The CJI also said he would like to be judged “as a very ordinary judge but one who greatly relished and enjoyed the job. I may be judged as one who meticulously followed the rules of the game and did not trespass into provinces forbidden. More importantly, as one who recognised preliminarily the moral power of a judge. I may be remembered as a judge who heard the senior and the junior alike”.
He added that “as a judge, I always wanted my name to be etched on the hearts of the people through my conduct and behaviour, rather than case law and journals”.
Earlier in the day, presiding over a ceremonial bench in an event that was streamed live, CJI Ramana said, “I must admit that issues of listing and posting of matters is one of the areas on which I could not pay much attention. We were busy firefighting on a daily basis. All sides are equal contributors to this problem.”
He said “the only way out for this is to reform the functioning of the system”. “We need to deploy modern technological tools and Artificial Intelligence to find a lasting solution,” he said.
Listing the challenges, CJI Ramana said that “even though we tried developing some modules, because of compatibility and security issues, we could not make much progress”. “Due to Covid emergency, the priority was running the courts. Unlike commercial establishments, we cannot source the technological tools from the market directly. Needs of the judiciary are different from those of the rest. Sourcing new technologies through government agencies is also a huge task in itself. Then there is inherent resistance to all things new,” he said.
He also pointed out that “unfortunately, during the past 16 months of my tenure as CJI, full-fledged hearing was possible only for about 50 days”.
The proceedings also saw emotional moments with Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave breaking down while recalling CJI Ramana’s contributions. His voice choking, Dave told the bench that the day CJI Ramana took over, he had written an article in The Indian Express that “everything was lost”. “I was skeptical after what the court had gone through,” he said.
“Your Lordship exceeded our expectations…I have no doubt that the kind of atmosphere, culture, power that you have given to this institution will be…strengthened further,” he said.
Dave described CJI Ramana as a “citizen’s judge”. “I speak on behalf of the vast multitude of citizens of this country. You stood up for them. You upheld their rights, you upheld the Constitution…You maintained the kind of checks and balances, which is required to be kept between the judiciary and executive and Parliament…You did it with a spine,” Dave said.
Attorney General K K Venugopal said the effort made by the CJI to fill vacancies in the higher judiciary and tribunals was “remarkable”. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal said, “Even in turbulent times, you have ensured that the dignity and the integrity of the court is maintained. The government is called to answer. The nation is kept in mind in the course of your judicial determinations.”.