Should ex-judges be given Rajyotsava award?

Bangalore Oct. 31. A new category, retired judges, has come to stay in the annual presentation of the Rajyotsava awards. By including one of them in this year's Rajyotsava roll of honour, the Government has endorsed a precedent set by the Janata Dal Government in 1998.

This year's list of 58 to be conferred with the award includes a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court, H.G.Balakrishna, and he is receiving the award for other fields/services that includes law. It was the J.H.Patel Government which first presented a Rajyotsava award to a retired judge, Justice V.S.Malimath, former Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court and later the Kerala High Court.

This time a four-member committee sat in judgment over the contributions of a former member of the judiciary. It consisted of the Minister of State for Kannada and Culture, Rani Satish, the Secretary to the department concerned, C.S.Kedar, the Director of Kannada and Culture, Somashekar, and the Chairman of the Kannada Development Authority, Baragur Ramachandrappa.

The composition of the committee reveals a tilt in favour of Kannada language and the culture of the State and not other fields though it had two generalist administrators. For whatever reason the Government selected Mr. Justice Malimath for the award in 1998 and now Mr. Justice Balakrishna, the many other retired judges, including those who could not make it to the High Court, can hereafter expect Rajyotsava awards for their judgments.

Now that retired judges are being honoured, even advocates can now lay claim for State awards. In fact, there have been suggestions in that regard and there is no reason for excluding them over the years. The citation of the award presented to Mr. Justice Malimath in 1998 had, among other things, said that as a judge of the Karnataka High Court he had established a national record by disposing of the maximum number of pending cases. It is yet to be seen what the citation in respect of the award to be presented to Mr. Justice Hassan Gundappa Gowda Balakrishna will read. Though the retired judge has varied interests such as sports and public affairs, and served in the Home Guards, and Scouts and Guides, he appears to have been chosen for the honour in recognition of his contributions in the field of law. He has expressed his surprise over the award.

Of immediate interest is the fact that Mr. Justice Balakrishna had been invited to the all-party meetings convened by the Chief Minister, S.M.Krishna, on the Cauvery crisis in the past two months. He was the only one or the few non-politicians invited to those meetings. He has also gone public criticising the Supreme Court for entertaining the Cauvery river water case and the contempt of court complaint against the Chief Minister. The dispute was beyond the jurisdiction of the court, he contended. It is apparent that the Government has viewed at least the contempt of court case differently, and the Chief Minister has tendered an unconditional apology.

There is the view that the Government should desist from honouring retired judges, though they have ceased to hold a constitutional office (in the case of former High Court judges).

Sitting and retired judges have been excluded from the Padma awards of the Centre. Sometime ago, eyebrows were raised when a sitting judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court was selected for an award named after the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The Government will be treading on delicate ground in judging the contribution of members of the judiciary. Moreover, as it is too well known that there is much canvassing to secure the State awards, retired judges should keep themselves away from it.

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