Chief Justice N.V. Ramana (Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana) took over as the 48th CJI of India on 24th April 2021. He is well known as the guardian of the rights of ordinary people and always supported their plea. He sent a clear message that the legal community was obliged to protect vulnerable sections of the society from their human rights violations. He himself was the student leader and fought for civil liberties during national emergency in 1975, while sacrificing an academic year.
Hon’ble N.V. Ramana as a Judge
“The little discretion that is given to us, is the area in which the judge has flexibility to display his philosophy” – Justice N V Ramana, during a farewell of Justice Ashok Bhushan.
Justice NV Ramana remarked that the judges should never shy away from their public duty. He always believed that a judge can’t be swayed by public opinion and he must always remember that even if justice commands standing up against popular opinion or popular perception, he must do so. He might become the subject of multiple criticisms after that, but he should never be deterred from duty to protect the rights of one person against many.
As a judge, Justice N V Ramana always hated ‘luxurious litigation’ as it was responsible for delayed and frustrated judicial processes. It is a type of litigation wherein, parties with all the resources attempt to frustrate judicial process and delay it by filing numerous proceedings across the judicial system.
During a recent ‘India Singapore Summit’, Justice NV Ramana defended Judiciary by saying that, the statistics that 48 million cases are pending in Indian Courts is a wrong statement or in fact an over-statement, as pending cases would mean that those cases which are not disposed off and those cases which are filed even yesterday, would come in the pending section and therefore, these statistics are not up to the mark. In this way he always strived to protect the dignity of the judiciary.
Justice Ramana always stressed and encouraged the ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution) mechanism which aimed to resolve the disputes. This will enhance in decreasing the pendency of cases and will save the time and resources of the judiciary. His support for the ADR techniques is more fully reflected when recently last week he stressed that Mediation shall be a first and in fact, a mandatory step in dispute resolution process. He felt that there is a need of a law in this regard.
Lawyers who appeared before him are of the opinion that Justice Ramana is a good listener. He is in no habit of cutting down lawyers and gives them time to state and explain their points. He is known amongst the lawyer’s fraternity that he talks less but has more clarity in his orders and judgements.
Justice Ramana and his Interest in Technology
“In this age of of Information and Communication Technology, we are still looking at the skies for the pigeons to communicate the orders” – Justice Ramana exclaimed when the prison authorities did not release the Prisoners through bail even after court order, as they were waiting for the receipt of Supreme Court order by post.
The Supreme court is trying its best to evolve a system to electronically transmit the bail orders directly to the prisons in order to stop the delay of the release of prisoners, awaiting certified copy of the order and for this, all jails must have internet connectivity to make the transmission possible.
Justice Ramana was praised as one of the few judges who are at home with technology as compared to many of his fellow judges and he is an efficient administrator. This is evident from his recent interest in the live streaming of the court proceedings and he remarked that, it will work as a best tool to avoid the spread of misinformation, as it will increase the transparency and reduce the misconceptions among people.
As a judge, Justice Ramana has dealt with various popular yet delicate issues and has given a shape to the justice system. Some of the notable judgements are summarised herein.
A very recent and highlighting judgement was in Mamta Nair v. State of Rajasthan and others (LL 2021 SC 294), which was decided on 12th July, 2021, wherein Supreme Court set aside the order of Rajasthan High Court which granted bail to a man accused of conspiracy to murder in case of honour killing. The plea was filed by a 29 year old woman who is the wife of the deceased, challenging the order of the Rajasthan High Court granting bail to one of the accused who is also her brother. Here, Petitioner was 6 months pregnant when her husband was shot in the broad daylight in front of her by her parents and her brother along with the other co-conspirators as the said women married a Malayali man against the wishes of her family. The Supreme court bench headed by justice Ramana asked the Accused to surrender and moreover, the trial court was asked to complete the trial within a week.
There is another recent judgement wherein the Supreme court dismissed a batch of petitions on 6th July 2021. The petitions were seeking permission to hold ‘Rath Yatras’ in other temples of the State of Odisha at par with Rath Yatra at Puri Jagannath temple. CJI Ramana remarked that he is also feeling bad but he cannot do anything about it. ‘Hope God will allow the next Rath Yatra, ‘he said and dismissed petitions citing Covid situation. This was a Writ petition against High court order and Supreme court declined to interfere in the State’s decision.
In Anuradha Bhasin v. Union Of India (WP(C)1031/2019), three judge bench composed of Justice Ramana and other Judges asked Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all its curbs on telecom and internet services and told them to put it in public domain. This case is widely known as the internet ban case’ wherein it was stated that access to the internet is a fundamental right. It was a plea filed by Anuradha Bhasin, who said that restrictions on communication services had resulted in the imposition of a de facto blockade on media activities but Justice Ramana assured that civil liberties and rights guaranteed by the Constitution would certainly be protected by his Court. The court also pulled the government for internet blackout in the State of Jammu and Kashmir aftermath the protests which took place due to revoking a special status of the state.
Another case of Central Public information officer v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal (2019 SCC OnLine SC 1459), where five judge bench which included Justice Ramana held that the Office of the Chief Justice of India comes under the purview of Right to Information Act as it is the public authority. This is considered as the historic verdict as it was held that the motive and purpose for making the request of information is irrelevant and it cannot be a ground for refusing the information. The judgement said that, we should not be understood to mean that the independence of the Judiciary can be achieved only by the denial of access to information. Independence in a given case may well demand openness and transparency by furnishing the information. The only condition here was the success of ‘public interest test’ in which public interest is kept at the higher footing.
Another interesting case which is worth to be cited here is that of Md Anwar v. State of NCT Delhi (2020 SCC OnLine SC 653), wherein a three judge bench of N V Ramana and other judges held that in order to successfully claim defence of mental unsoundness under section 84 of IPC, the accused must show by preponderance of probabilities that he or she suffered from serious enough mental disease or infirmity which would affect the individual’s ability to distinguish right from wrong. Mere production of photocopy of an OPD card and statement of mother on affidavit have little evidentiary value. Further, it is also important to be shown that the accused was disabled at the time of the crime. The facts of the case are that there were three accused who were held guilty of robbery with an attempt to cause grievous hurt, by the trial court. One of the accused contended that he was of tender age and was undergoing treatment of mental disorder. The court tried to analyse all the facts and circumstances and reached to the conclusion that the plea of mental illness is nothing but a made up story and is far from genuineness.
Last but not the least, it is worthwhile to note that the supreme court recently laid down its observation in one of the compensation cases in a motor accident where the Delhi high court reduced the earnings of the deceased’s wife as she was a homemaker. The top Court enhanced the compensation to the relatives of the couple who died when a car hit their scooter in April 2014 at Delhi. Three judge bench headed by justice NV Ramana decided to enhance the compensation and mentioned an observation that could go a long way towards gender equality. It said that, “the value of women’s work at home was not less than that of her office going husband. It is sad that the conception that housewives do not work or do not add to the economic value of the household is very much disturbing”. He also referred to a recent report of the National Statistical Office titled ‘Time use in India- 2019’ which suggested that on an average, women spend nearly 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members versus 97 minutes spent by men on an average. Justice Ramana said, “a woman prepares food, manages procurement of groceries and shopping needs, cleans and manages the house and surroundings, undertakes decoration, repairs and maintenance work and tends to children and aged members of the household. Despite all of this, the conception that house makers do not work is a disturbing idea”.
Views on Sedition law
“The enormous power of the Section (124 A) can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item and uses it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree” – Justice Ramana, speaking on the effect of sedition law in our country.
The Supreme Court expressed rampant alarm at the misuse of sedition law in the country. Section 124A of IPC was inserted during the colonial era in 1870, basically to Curb dissent. Justice Ramana observed whether this section is still relevant in today’s time. It is very unfortunate that these laws are in continuance, he remarked. He also said that the motive behind sedition law was colonial and therefore, even if the people are forced to sing the national anthem or salute to the monarch, they still might curse you silently in their hearts while pretending to sing and hence, a law is needed which will ensure the subject’s loyalty which is of utmost importance.
The distinction between democracy and monarchy is that in a democratic setup, citizens are able to call out the government’s flaws and prevent blunders. They are as patriotic as the rest but just a little smarter and braver. Our CJI disappointedly cited an incident of a UP journalist’s tweet. The journalist tweeted that a farmer had died in police firing while the Autopsy later indicated that he had died in an accident. UP government’s filing of sedition against the said journalist for merely tweeting and blaming police was not a good ground to pursue the same. Since the journalist even corrected the earlier tweet, it was not a good sign to file FIR against them as these FIRs will be used as a tool by the government against the journalists, whenever they irritate the government or try to to put forth their Views or point out the faults in the government.
According to him, 124A is the best tool in the hands of political parties or the governments to use it as a sword to cut the throats of people speaking against the government. He also noted that the conviction rate in sedition laws is very poor which shows that the idea of sedition laws never aimed to Convict or punish, but it is only to harass through the process. A silent protest is of no harm and police should know that simply leveling charges of sedition against the citizens for raising their voice against their unsatisfaction or discrimination is not a solution.
Those who know justice Ramana, opine that he is a ‘God fearing’ person and has always maintained a calm and composed manner during the court hearings, only speaking through his judgements. He took over as the head of Judiciary during this very difficult time, where the physical hearing of the court proceedings are not happening, but by far he has been able to win the confidence of people and fiercely proved that the Supreme Court is an independent constitutional body who cares about people’s sentiments too. Thus, making a balance between law and social responsibility.
It is very interesting to note that, recently a fifth grade student wrote to the Chief Justice of India appreciating the supreme court’s efforts to save lives during covid crisis. It was a very heartwarming letter and in response to that, CJI sent her a signed copy of the constitution. This shows the effect of Supreme Court intervention in order to resolve covid crisis. The intervention has helped to keep the Central government / State Government in check and helped to mitigate covid crisis.
Chief Justice Ramana has a lot to do during his remaining tenure and by now ‘the Ramana effect’ has changed or influenced many things. For example, a bail was granted for a young activist in Delhi violence to a filmmaker Aisha Sultana and also recently, a Manipur activist, Erendro Leichombam was set free upon immediate instructions by the Court which said that, we can’t keep him in custody even for one day. He was held in custody for saying that, “cow dung and cow urine won’t cure covid but science and common sense will”. It was a remark made against one of the BJP leaders who ensured that cow dung and cow urine cure covid. We might even see a major change towards sedition law in the coming months and Justice Ramana would set an example and restore the faith of the common man in the judiciary.