S. Anandan

Kochi: In his birth centenary year, Justice P.T. Raman Nayar's seminal, trail-blazing judgments speak for him. The only Indian Civil Service officer to have become a Judge — and later Chief Justice — of the High Court of Kerala, he won laurels for his erudition, and austere, if not manic, adherence to the rule of law.

Raman Nayar's court was even a greenhorn's tutorial. “Regardless of seniority, he would patiently hear you out. For beginners like me, appearing before him was really an educative experience,” says K.A. Nayar, a former Judge of the High Court.

“[He] did not make any distinction between senior and junior lawyers and he knew only about good and bad cases,” the former Kerala High Court Judge, V. Bhaskaran Nambiar, who had appeared before Raman Nayar as an advocate, writes in his memoirs, Life's Likes and Dislikes.

Raman Nayar expected lawyers to be thorough with his or her case. Anyone caught wanting in facts or advocacy would face terse, but intelligent, comments from him. But he would not be incensed by a repartee.

Whenever a question involving a section of the Civil Procedure Code or an Act came up, before hearing the lawyer on the interpretation he would reach out for the Act or Code and read the section over and over again before engaging the lawyer in a discourse and arriving at a conclusion.

Says Senior Advocate T.P. Kelu Nambiar: “Even if on the same day the same question pertaining to the same section had come up, he would repeat the process. When I asked him about this, he explained: ‘When we interpret a section in the background of a case, we get a perspective, but the same section read in the backdrop of a new case may throw up a whole new perspective'.”

Early career

Born on January 14, 1910, Raman Nayar hailed from Palakkad district. After schooling at Mangalore, Kakinada, Calicut and Madras, he graduated from the Madras Law College. He cleared the ICS in 1932 while an apprentice-at-law under O.T.G. Nambiar in the Madras High Court.

After probation at Cambridge, he held the posts of Assistant Collector, Sub Collector, City Magistrate, Additional District Sessions Judge and District Sessions Judge in Tamil Nadu, and in Mangalore. He became Registrar of the Madras High Court. He was Joint Secretary to the Law Ministry when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was Law Minister. Later he was Special Secretary overseeing State reorganisation in Kerala.

In 1957, Madras High Court Chief Justice P.V. Rajamannar nominated him a Judge of the Kerala High Court.

Among his judgments were those relating to the liquidation of the Pala Central Bank in 1960. Says Senior Advocate C.M. Devan, who represented the Reserve Bank of India in the case: “Justice Raman Nayar … did everything to protect the interest of investors. His legal acumen stood out.” The incisive, lucid judgment was dictated soon after arguments ended. Raman Nayar rarely reserved judgments.

In the Mariakutty murder case — Raman Nayar later termed it the most difficult in his career —he acquitted the accused, Fr. Benedict, a Catholic priest who had been convicted by a District Court. The District Court had reservations about the investigation, but took a ‘serious view' as the accused was a priest. Raman Nayar upheld the principle of equality before the law and exonerated him.

His commission of inquiry report into the Andhra rice deal provided fodder to the ‘liberation struggle' that led to the dismissal of the first elected Communist government. He penalised E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who was Chief Minister for a second term, in a contempt of court case for his statement that the judiciary was “guided and dominated by class hatred, class interests and class prejudices and where the evidence is balanced between a well-dressed, pot-bellied rich man and a poor, ill-dressed and illiterate person, the judge instinctively favours the former.”

Though branded an anti-Communist, he upheld certain vital provisions of the Kerala Land Reforms Act as “it passed the test of law.” Amid opposition from lawyers, he instituted the list system under which cases pending hearing would be posted for a particular day and no adjournment would be allowed.

Former Chief Secretary V. Ramachandran recalls how Raman Nayar shielded and mentored him when he was Fort Cochin Sub Collector. “It's he who made it clear to me that government notifications and orders should be so drafted that they are simple but comprehensive and are clear to the reader who doesn't have the benefit of all the background.”

Simple life

Raman Nayar led a simple life and steered clear of any inappropriate social engagement. “An able administrator and a highly-regarded jurist, he was really generous when praise was due,” recalls M.C. Madhavan, former Registrar of the Kerala High Court. He was personal assistant to Raman Nayar as Chief Justice.

He was not elevated to the Supreme Court. ‘Social justice' had become the buzzword in the late-1960s. Around this time, he gave a speech at Tiruchi in which he remarked that although everyone was so obsessed with socialism, the word did not find a mention in the Constitution. That speech, it is believed, cost him dear. (The word ‘socialist' was later added to the Constitution through the 42 {+n} {+d} Amendment.)

K.S. Paripoornan, former Judge of the Supreme Court, says: “Justice never suffered at the impartial hands of Raman Nayar. By not promoting him to the Supreme Court, the country became the loser.”

According to Mr. Kelu Nambiar, Raman Nayar ‘retired hurt', on September 1, 1971 — four months before completing his term. H.R. Gokhale, Law Minister in the Indira Gandhi-led government, reportedly conveyed to him Chief Minister Namboodiripad's displeasure at not being consulted while nominating judges for appointment in the High Court. The constitutional provision for appointment of judges to the High Court stipulated that the Chief Justices send their recommendations to the President through the Governor. Raman Nayar proceeded on leave.

Until his death in 2003, he kept himself updated with all that was happening around him. “Our regret is that he did not pen anything for posterity…,” says his son, Major General (retd) I. Krishnan.