Contribution of Supreme Court judge hailed on his retirement
Justice Markandey Katju retired on Monday as judge of the Supreme Court on his attaining the age of superannuation. He was given a farewell by members of the Bar and the Bench at a function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association amid a standing ovation from lawyers.
Justice Katju was appointed Supreme Court judge in April 2006 and during his tenure spanning a little over 5 years, he has rendered several landmark judgments on various branches of law, in particular criminal jurisprudence, constitutional, and human rights issues. With his smiling face, he endeared himself to members of the Bar and the Bench. Justice Katju was a judge of the Allahabad High Court, the Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts, before being elevated to the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia paid encomiums to Justice Katju, saying he spoke his mind in no uncertain terms. “He is very outspoken and he stood for institutional integrity. Today we live in a world of hypocrisy and to speak the truth one needs courage.”
Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati said, “there was never a dull moment in his court.” President of SCBA P.H. Pareikh described Justice Katju as one who always encouraged young lawyers. “When young lawyers sought ‘pass over' for seniors, Justice Katju used to ask the juniors to argue themselves.”
Justice Katju said: “I do believe that a tribute coming from the Bar is the highest reward a judge can aspire for. As regards my performance as a judge, that is for others to decide. All I can say is that I always tried to do my duty sincerely and honestly. It was a great privilege for me to serve in this august institution. I am sure that this court will continue serving the country honourably in the role assigned to it by the Constitution.”
Justice Katju was part of the Bench that gave several landmark judgments. To cite a few, he was very harsh on honour killings. To stamp out the barbaric and feudal practice of ‘honour killings,' he directed the trial/High Courts to award death sentence to the accused who perpetrated such offences.
For criminal offences relating to dowry death or bride-burning cases, he awarded death sentences unmindful of the demand for abolition of death penalty, saying that as long as the provision remained in the statute, courts would have to award death sentence in the rarest of rare cases.
In another historic judgment, he allowed passive mercy killing of a patient in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) by withdrawing the life support system with the approval of a Medical Board and on the directions of the High Court concerned.
He, however, did not accept the plea of Pinky Virani of Mumbai seeking permission to withdraw the life support extended to Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug lying in a PVS at KEM hospital, Mumbai for 37 years. Though the court dismissed the petition filed by Pinky Virani on the ground that she did not have the locus standi and only the hospital could seek such a request, it allowed passive euthanasia (mercy killing) and laid down guidelines.
In an unusual step, Justice Katju went out of the way and appealed to the Pakistan government to consider granting remission of sentence to Gopal Dass, an Indian detained in the Lahore Central Jail for about 27 years, on humanitarian grounds and to release him. Acting on the appeal, the Pakistan government released him.
In a controversial judgment, Justice Katju said: “If a man has a ‘keep' whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage' for her to claim the benefit of live-in to get maintenance under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.” He rejected the plea for review of this judgment.
Justice Katju, who had granted bail to Binayak Sen, arrested on sedition charges, while dealing with an ULFA case held that mere membership of a banned organisation would not make a person criminal under the TADA unless he resorted to violence or incited people to violence or created public disorder by violence or incitement to violence.
In a strong indictment of a judge of the Allahabad High Court for passing orders for extraneous considerations, Justice Katju asked the Chief Justice of the High Court to take appropriate action against the judge and against certain other judges facing complaints.
He said: “Something is rotten in the Allahabad High Court, as this case illustrates.” Recently, he passed orders for rehabilitation of sex workers and asked the Centre and the States to formulate schemes to provide them employment.