On December 9, 2016, five new additional judges of the Patna High Court were administered the oath of office. With their induction the number of judges goes up from 27 to 32.
It’s well known and often talked about that the courts of Bihar, including the High Court, are stacked with pending cases. This is a national phenomenon too.
In March of this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the centennial celebration of the Patna High Court, expressed concerns over the mounting number of pending cases in various courts. He emphasized the use of modern technology to speed up disposal of cases. He also suggested an annual bulletin of all pending cases, perhaps to keep the judiciary on its toes and the people informed. It’s not clear whether enhancement of the number of judges to 32 will ease the pressure in view of the enormity and complexity of the pending cases in the courts of Bihar.
There must also be a public disclosure of the procedure of the appointments of the High Court judges. For the sake of honesty and transparency, people and their representatives have a right to know about the record of the judges either appointed or promoted. In the West, the judicial philosophy or ideological leanings contained in a judge’s verdicts are discussed publicly.
Bihar, like other states in India, has come a long way since the High Court bench was shifted and legal luminaries like the late president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, moved their legal practice from Calcutta to Patna in 1916.
The standards of the judiciary have declined since. As a product of their own contemporary time, the lawyers and the judicial officers (including the High Court judges) are said to be subjected to all kinds of extrajudicial influence. It’s often alleged, for instance, that the High Court bench and the advocate general’s office can keep final consideration of a legal case perpetually postponed. Money may not necessarily exchange hands all the time, but social or political pressure could.
Numerous cases keep coming up where the accused have languished in jails for years and then released by the High Court for lack of evidence or non-seriousness on the part of the government in-charge of pursuing the case. On the contrary, there have been many cases where the High Court has given a judgment (say, for example, in granting bail) and on appeal to the Supreme Court, the verdict has either been stayed or reversed. If the honorable judges had done their home work thoroughly and weren’t influenced by other considerations -- including intimidation or fear of life -- the chances of this kind of inconsistency would have been reduced.
It’s within the jurisdiction and obligation of the apex (High) court to see that the dispensation of justice takes place with the mandatory cooperation of all the involved government agencies (the CBI, for example). If not, then the people have a right to hold the judiciary and the judges accountable as well.
The indefinite lingering on of the infamous Fodder Scam and the consequent roaming around of the marauders destructing socio-political and moral-ethical fabric of the Bihari society remains an unparalleled saga of the paralysis involving the judiciary and the law-enforcement. Someday the nefarious nexus will be unearthed.
What a former Indian Supreme Court Justice, Markandey Katju, observed on his Facebook page (4 September 2016), gives some clue to what might have happened in the Indian judiciary as well. Says he:
"A retired IAS officer, who was my contemporary in the Allahabad University, told me that when he joined the IAS in 1967 most IAS officers were honest, and the corrupt ones were exceptions. Today, he said, it is the reverse. The same can be said of our judiciary. I know it because I am an insider, having served in it at very high levels for 20 years, and know what goes on. People also know it, but are afraid of speaking for fear of contempt."
In a recent article on Jayalalithaa, the deceased-controversially corrupt Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Nalini Mohanty, a journalist friend, referred to a senior judge who confirmed that the "top politicians and top judges" worked "in unison" to protect the illegal granite mafia in the state. Jayalalithaa’s political opponent, Karunanidhi, was equally complicit.
Examples abound world-wide where judges have been caught in the wrong-doing. There’s no reason to believe the judicial appointees in Bihar (including the High Court judges) would be above reproach all the time. The judiciary is the only place and the judges the only saviors where the weak and the deprived would go for the redressal of grievances. And the system has to survive in the state as well.
It’s imperative that the record of the judges is known and is unblemished.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.