Colonial mindset which pervades treatment of district judiciary must change

By Sanjeev Sirohi*

It must be stated right at the outset that the ghastly manner in which an upright, dedicated, determined and disciplined Judge named Uttam Anand who was an Additional District Judge (ADJ) posted in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand was mowed down by an autorickshaw has sent shivers down the spine. The ghastly incident happened on morning of July 28 near the Magistrate colony of Dhanbad that was close to the Judge’s residence. He was taken to hospitals by locals where he died.

It goes without saying that the whole nation has been caught by surprise and utter disbelief! It was initially believed to be an accident. But the video footage that was accessed and emerged later has made it crystal clear that the three wheeler which rammed him from behind while he was jogging on a deserted stretch of road in Dhanbad was done deliberately, dastardly and determinedly with clear aim to kill him! If this is not a direct assault on judiciary then what else is?

It must be underscored that the judiciary has to deal with this sensitive case on a war footing and must make sure that the culprits are not spared under any circumstances and are brought to book at the earliest! If time is wasted and for years the killers are not brought to book, it will greatly damage the unflinching faith of the people in the judiciary and even create fear among Judges that if they are killed the system also will ensure that the killers are not punished most promptly! This our nation cannot afford at any cost and so strict action has to be taken against the killers! No denying it!

Needless to say, ADJ Uttam Anand was dealing with sensitive cases involving dreaded criminals and so he was targeted as he had refused to buckle under any pressure from anyone! This alone explains why even Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh himself mentioned the incident before the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and said that probe into the killing of a senior judicial officer must be entrusted to the CBI. Vikas Singh minced just no words to say it upright that the Judge was targeted for denying bail to a gangster and that amounted to ‘a brazen attack on independence of judiciary’.

Who can deny or dispute what Vikas Singh has said who has an impecaable reputation and is not just a senior and eminent lawyer of Supreme Court having an experience of more than 30 years but is also the President of Supreme Court Bar Association and in past also was President and also former Additional Solicitor General of India from 2005 to 2008? He was designated a senior advocate way back in 2004. Vikas Singh further also added that the video of the incident was taken by someone who had prior knowledge of the attack.

Truth be told, after listening to Vikas Singh, the CJI NV Ramana said that he has himself spoken to the Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court who has taken up the matter on the judicial side. No doubt, even the CJI NV Ramana is himself quite concerned over this most ghastly incident in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand where an ADJ is murdered in broad day light by crashing a three heeler on him from behind! Jharkhand High Court has now taken suo moto cognizance of the incident. Very rightly so!

Let me be very upfront in saying: This is nothing but a direct assault on judiciary itself. If the killers are not quickly brought to book and punished most strictly and most promptly then people’s faith in judiciary will certainly get completely shattered and not just this even the future aspirants would think twice about joining judiciary to become Judge! Judges also will fear going after criminals and will fear them if the killers of ADJ Uttam Anand are not quickly brought to book!

It merits no reiteration that even Jharkhand High Court has taken a very serious note of it and has ordered prompt action in this which is a good thing to note! Not just this, even the CJI NV Ramana as we have seen has himself spoken to the Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court and this was the crying need of the hour also! This underlines the seriousness of the situation!

Of course, the brutal, brash and brazen murder of upright Judges as we see in the current case can never be taken lying down for if this is taken lying down then we will definitely witness many more such incidents in the coming days as the criminals will get more emboldened due to the inaction of the police and the judiciary if they fail to act in time! Can this be allowed to happen under any circumstances? Certainly not!

It is a sad commentary on the existing state of affairs in our country that when an upright officer of court like ADJ Uttam Anand is brutally murdered in broad daylight then we don’t witness any demonstrations of any kind by MPs and MLAs but if their phones are tapped then they are on their feets and misbehave most shamelessly even in Parliament itself and throw papers, snatch papers from Ministers and tear it up as we saw! Not just this we see how even foreign countries like US and UK who have nothing to do over what happens in our country try their best to jump in and fish in troubled waters and indulge in their usual “India bashing” and “Centre bashing”! Most disgusting!

This begs the moot question: Why should anyone get disturbed if one has nothing to hide from the public? It is wrong and illegal to tap phone but why politicians over the issue of privacy are most agitated and so sensitive that they start beating their chest over it! But, on the contrary, when a Judge is brutally murdered no one cares to even mention it once in Parliament or call a special session of Parliament to discuss it?

It is a no brainer that this is because they consider it a very trivial issue for which they should not get perturbed! It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that if our lawmakers in Parliament care a damn for the safety of our Judges then even God cannot save our country from turning into lawlessness where anarchy, criminals and mafias prevail and for this politicians cannot exonerate themselves from their liability nor can the Judges themselves nor the police who investigates the case as we will now be seeing in case of the departed great soul named Uttam Anand who was a very young and promising Judge and had lot to offer to our country but criminals didn’t allow him to do so! Most unfortunate, most shameful and most disgraceful!

Bluntly put: Why was the security of this young, dynamic and upright ADJ named Uttam Anand compromised? Why do we see that our lawmakers scream over tapping of phones but when Judge gets brutally murdered then they don’t consider it worthy enough to even discuss it in Parliament and vow to punish most strictly those culprits who carried out the most dastardly, cowardly and ghastly act? This has to change if we want our country to progress, prosper and become powerful!

It needs no Albert Einstein to conclude that our Judges have to be safeguarded from violent attacks because if this is not done then Judges will fear for their personal safety and procrastinate in front of powerful criminals and this we see also to some extent in our country even though many Judges are still upright and one such Judge named Uttam Anand we saw being brutally murdered in broad daylight! This should never have happened but it has happened in Jharkhand! One only fervently hopes that the culprits are quickly brought to justice and all those who are behind it are also brought to book and are not left scot free under any circumstances!

It is a sign of some reassurance that Vikas Singh who is the President of Supreme Court Bar Association took this key issue most seriously in the most proactive manner for which I laud him and so also the CJI NV Ramana personally spoke to the Jharkhand Chief Justice to ensure that the culprits are quickly brought to book which is the crying need of the hour also! We all keep hearing that even Supreme Court in its judgments underscore the due importance of lower judiciary and it is realized that for judicial system to operate smoothly the lower judiciary has to operate smoothly without fear from anyone!

It merits no reiteration that all the Judges of High Courts in India including the Chief Justices also must definitely read the latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment titled Somesh Chaurasia vs State of MP in Criminal Appeal Nos 590-591 of 2021 @ SLP (Crl) Nos. 4998-4999 of 2021 delivered on July 22, 2021 by a two Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice Hrishikesh Roy in exercise of its criminal appellate jurisdiction wherein it is held that the colonial mindset which pervades the treatment meted out to the district judiciary must change. The Bench also noted with dismay that the trial Judges work amidst appalling conditions. In a telling commentary on the actual sorry state of affairs prevailing in our country, the Bench said that, “Lack of infrastructure, inadequate protection, examples of Judges being made targets when they stand up for what is right and sadly, a subservience to the administration of the High Court for transfers and postings which render them vulnerable.” This is exactly what must be addressed right now as it merits no more delay anymore!

Most significantly, the Bench then without mincing any words states what forms the cornerstone of this brilliant judgment stated above in para 40 that, “During the course of this proceeding, an enquiry was directed to be made into the apprehensions expressed by the ASJ in his order dated 8 February 2021. An independent and impartial judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy. Judicial independence of the district judiciary is cardinal to the integrity of the entire system. The courts comprised in the district judiciary are the first point of interface with citizens. If the faith of the citizen in the administration of justice has to be preserved, it is to the district judiciary that attention must be focused as well as the ‘higher’ judiciary. Trial judges work amidst appalling conditions – a lack of infrastructure, inadequate protection, examples of judges being made targets when they stand up for what is right and sadly, a subservience to the administration of the High Court for transfers and postings which renders them vulnerable. The colonial mindset which pervades the treatment meted out to the district judiciary must change. It is only then that civil liberties for every stakeholder – be it the accused, the victims or civil society – will be meaningfully preserved in our trial courts which are the first line of defense for those who have been wronged.”

No doubt, this brief, brilliant, balanced and bold judgment by a two Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice Hrishikesh Roy makes it amply clear that trial Court Judges work amidst appalling conditions. It also reiterated that the colonial mindset towards district judiciary must change. Only then can our judicial system function properly. This alone explains why Shri PN Bhagwati who is our former CJI and longest serving Judge of the Supreme Court for 13 years had once famously said that, “When finances are needed for the purpose of improving the judicial system at the lower levels, there is reluctance to make such finances available. We do not seem to realize that it is subordinate courts which form the basis of the pyramid of justice and unless the base is strengthened, the pyramid is bound to crumble. It is often forgotten that the contact of the common man with the justice system occurs only at the level of the subordinate courts, he has rarely occasion to go to the High Court and therefore, if we want to inspire confidence in the common man that he can get justice, it is imperative to strengthen the subordinate judiciary.” All the High Court Judges including the Chief Justices must always remember what the legendary former CJI Shri PN Bhagwati said as stated hereinabove! If this is done, the district judiciary will always get its due and the base will get stronger and stronger which will be in the overall interests of the judiciary itself of which the High Court too forms a part!

If Judges of lower courts are openly in broad daylight murdered so boldly, so brazenly and so brashly as we see in this case of ADJ Uttam Anand then the breed of fearless Judges will soon certainly become extinct and this should definitely ring alarm bells among all right minded people because if this happens then cases will keep pending for decades and compromised Judges will take no bold decision of any kind and we see to some extent this happening also in our country due to which cases get inordinately delayed and it is the people, victims and hapless litigants who suffer the most due to all this! This is the foremost reason also why even foreign companies fear so much to invest in India as they know how excruciatingly slow our judicial system operates especially at the lower level and for decades the cases keep pending in lower courts alone! This has to change now and it must change and for this to happen it is the top court which has to take the lead and ensure that this is done at the earliest and criminal cases are decided at the earliest and all criminals are barred from becoming MPs and MLAs which is the real cause why criminals feel that there are powerful MPs, powerful MLAs and powerful politicians to protect them always sitting right in the corridors of power who inspite of themselves being involved in serious cases like murder, rape yet are making the law of our country!

No wonder, we see such most worst lumpen behaviour by MPs and MLAs right inside Parliament and State Assemblies that makes an open mockery of our democratic system and our democracy! This has to stop now forthwith! Those MPs and MLAs who misbehave in public must be promptly barred for life! Only then will politicians behave but most shamefully this is just not happening in our country and Supreme Court too has not been able to act most firmly till now on this unlike we see in case of other services like even for becoming Judge even one act of misconduct is taken most seriously and even the aspirants are barred even if someone foists a false case. But in case of politicians there are no such checks and balances and no such zero tolerance shown for them and they happily contest elections even from jails which makes a mockery of our democratic system!

This must end now once and for all if we really want our nation to earn more respect from the world and to emerge as a nation with some reputation of its own to be proud of! Most of the people always follow their leader and when the leader themselves indulge in criminal activities then what will the people do? This is the reason why we see such ghastly murder of fearless Judges like ADJ Uttam Anand.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that our whole system has become rotten and it must be addressed in totality. Just band aid solution like punishing only the real killers of ADJ Uttam Anand is not the real solution. All those who are behind it and all such criminals with several serious criminal cases pending against them and yet sitting most comfortably in Parliament and State Assemblies with some even becoming Law Ministers themselves or their juniors like Minister of State must be thrown out right now whether in the Centre or in the States!

This alone will be the best tribute to the departed Judge named Uttam Anand! If politicians don’t act themselves now it is the Supreme Court which must now immediately swing into action and take this as nothing but as a direct assault on the judiciary itself! It brooks no more delay anymore! How many more Judges are we waiting to be killed in such callous manner by the ruthless criminals?

*Advocate, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh

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