Exclusive Interview with Justice G S Singhvi, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India
Hon’ble Mr. Justice G.S. Singhvi is a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India and has recently superannuated from the post of Chairman, Competition Appellate Tribunal. He has been part of various benches that made many notable judgments like the 2G Spectrum case, vehicle beacon light case and the controversial upholding of Section 377 verdict. Recently Legal Bites got an opportunity to interview the Hon’ble Justice.
Here are moments from our interview:
Legal Bites: Sir, there are many arguments in favor of and against the collegium system where the transparency in the appointment of judges is being challenged. Please share your views on this issue.
Justice G S Singhvi: The people talk from a distant place. And they make imaginations. Just now the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court about the appointment of judges, for students, I would like to tell you all that it is absolutely wrong to say that the process is not transparent.
I have been a member of the collegium in Punjab and Haryana High Court for 6 years. I was the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court for 2 years. There obviously, I was heading the collegium of the High Court. And then in the Supreme Court also for almost 2 years I was a member of the collegium. It never happened that anybody else would influence our judgement in selecting a person. There used to be a compilation regarding each candidate. His profile, his work, his family, his property, if anything is negative then it was reported, if anything was positive then also it was reported. All these factors were considered together of various candidates and then a decision was made as in who was fit to be elevated. Sometimes our judgement ultimately and after years, is found to be erroneous. But for that it can’t be said that we have made selections for extraneous reasons.
And in the Supreme Court, it never happens. Everything is put in black and white and then a decision is taken.
Legal Bites: Sir, In the light of Supreme Court’s latest observation to settle the Ram Janm bhumi issue as a mediation, I ask, whether any such measures were taken in the past 30 years that the case has been going on for and if there were such measures taken in the past – and they weren’t successful, then why would this one be?
Justice G S Singhvi: Do you know why the UN exists in the world? For settlements of disputes between countries, right? There have been failures in a large number of cases yet, efforts have to be made. We make efforts throughout our lives. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. You can’t say that the efforts have not been successful. There are so many political overtones. These issues are not simple sentiments or simple law. There are several factors that affect making such decisions.
Religion, if you ask me personally, then religion is only one. Humanity. There’s nothing else. How can you make a distinction between a person on the basis of his caste, color, creed or religion? Prick a man of two religions with a knife. If the color of the blood differs, then I would say there are two religions. But, if it does not differ, then who are we to put a sticker on the face of a man on the basis of a religion? How can we do that? It is an unfortunate tragedy and you must come out of that tragedy where man has suffered on grounds of caste, color, and religion.
When we were young, our parents never differentiated between people on the basis of his or her religion. We played with people who now are called to be of scheduled castes. We didn’t know what a scheduled caste was. It never occurred to us. Only when I became a lawyer did I get to know what scheduled caste was. And let me tell you, scheduled caste is nothing to do with a caste. It is only in the schedule of the Constitution where scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are mentioned. It is ridiculous. The idea of scheduled castes which a common man perceives is very different and has nothing to do with castes. Somebody has to put something in the Constitutional schedules, because they were under-privileged. They were suppressed. It is different now where politicians at the end of the day use this as a tool to advance their cause.
Real criteria should have been economic. You should have graded scales on the basis of income and make them fall under 1st, 2nd or 3rd categories. Well, it is very easy for anyone of us to comment on what the politicians did. But they did, and that is why our country is suffering. Why have people from under-privileged classes have not been able to come up? Even within the reserved categories, there are only a few families who have been benefitted, not all.
Our first task after the Constitution was framed, should have been the health of the common man. And it should have been the State’s obligation. Not private institutions. The second task should have been education. Education for all. A universal education system where everybody would have been forced to take education up to the 10th class, at least. Then only could they have come up to the state where they could compete? But, we never provided them with the facilities of either health or education.
Villages were always looked upon as backward. Somebody calls them Adivasis – but let me tell you that they are not backward. They are much more civilized than us. They are more human than us. We, unfortunately, go on dividing the society into caste lines, religion, and of course, geographic considerations.
Why should the people from the North, think that they are not part of India? Kashmir, for example. If you see on the periphery, the problem is huge. But, nobody wants to go deep into it. The amount of money that has been earmarked by the Government of India in its annual budget for Kashmir, is huge. In the last 70 years, not even 10% of it has been spent on the people. You visit the villages of Kashmir, you’ll find the exact poverty as bad as it is in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, and Orissa. Anywhere in the villages of India, poverty lies. And why should they suffer? Are they not the citizens of this country? Merely because they are not economically effluent, should the Constitution mean a different thing to them on the basis of their rights?
Legal Bites: Recently, retired judges are being appointed to executive positions. Does this curb the independence of the Judiciary?
Justice G S Singhvi: There are just one or two instances where this has happened. Yes, people think that it erodes our credibility. In my opinion, judges should not accept executive positions, except, of course, a judicial task. Somebody will have to do the judicial work too. For example, if you have a system of tribunals somebody from the judiciary will have to execute that task. It cannot be given to executive officers. Therefore, tribunals will necessarily be manned by the judicial officers or retired judicial officers.
Legal Bites: In original British Law, which was in the feudal society, disobedience in the form of ‘contempt of court’ is still practiced in India. For example – criticisms of a judgment or even raising questions about a judgment can be charged with contempt. Are the people of India abstained from their right to question, in this regard?
Justice G S Singhvi: No. Never. If somebody questions a judgment he can never be charged with contempt. Criticizing a judgment is absolutely not a contempt. But, imputing a motive is an absolutely different thing altogether. If one imputes a motive then he or she casts an expression on the judge or the institution.
There is absolutely no need for any amendment in the contempt clauses. In how many cases have the Supreme Court or the High Courts punished people for contempt? There is a vast difference in the number of cases where they initiated the process and in the number of cases where they punished.
Legal Bites: Sir, lastly, what are your suggestions and golden words of advice for budding students who strive to become judges, and what are the values that they should inculcate in themselves for justice to be delivered and to be a judge with a clean image, as lately, corruption is on the peak.
Justice G S Singhvi: Why is corruption at its peak? This problem has become acute. It’s not that it wasn’t there earlier. It has always been there. Till humanity exists this problem will remain. Greed is something which is absolutely personal to an individual. And it has increased in the last 40 years or so. Power by itself won’t make them corrupt. Right from the President of India, who is also a servant of the people, to the Government, to courts, to bureaucrats, to all the civil servants, everyone in this hierarchy is a servant of the people. Unfortunately, we think that they are the masters.
Now, 35 years ago, we started the mantra (and I’m not blaming anybody) of Globalization and free economy. Good. Technological advancements were definitely good as they benefited the society. But then what came with it was materialism. Use of natural resources for creating material things in our society and making them as attractive as they could. They find ways to intensify the desires of man which in turn makes them crave for more money to buy these new mobile phones, cars, and branded products.
For example, a judge’s salary does not permit him to buy a mobile phone worth 60 thousand rupees. But, the desire for that mobile phone does not end till the man ensures that he owns that product. From where will the money come? They will opt for unfair means to satisfy their materialistic desires. This greed of globalization is the root cause of the increasing corruption in our country.
Secondly, our lust for land is another reason for this corruption. Everybody wants to have a house. If someone has a flat of two rooms which is sufficient to accommodate a small family, it is never enough. That person definitely wants to have a 3 bedroom flat. People are never satisfied with what they own and they forget their morals by being blinded by greed.
Materialism is the fundamental cause of corruption in our country and unfortunately, the development yard in India is based on cutting down of natural resources to produce these material resources. It is very dangerous for your generation because after twenty years or so, there may be a scarcity of water to the last drop. With the advent of the concrete jungles, people require air conditioners. And air conditioners will definitely pollute the atmosphere. We are inviting ourselves.
My advice to young students is very simple. Lead a simple life, because every one of us must remember that one who was born on this earth by the grace of almighty god, will go back. He came empty handed and will go back the same. And those who feel that they have achieved something today will always find that many more important persons are lying in ashes. If you remember this every time, perhaps, you will commit fewer mistakes. Always be true to yourself. Never by the night feel that you have committed a wrong because no one will ever know that you have committed that wrong. But you will know that you have committed that mistake. You can never escape from yourself.
I quote a song from the Bollywood movie ‘Kaajal’ featuring Meena Kumari and Raj Kumar – “Tora man darpan kehlaye, bhale bure saare karmon ko dekhe aur dikhaye.” A stanza that gives a message of life.
[This interview was brought to you by our Amicus – Shivam, Prashant and Keshav]