“I come from a poor family. I started my career as a class IV employee and the only asset I possess is integrity.” – CJI Sarosh Homi Kapadia
At a time when the Indian judicial system is mired in controversy, thanks to the likes of KG Balakrishnan and PD Dinakaran, comes a man with the courage and the integrity to say all is not well with the system.
India’s 38th chief justice S H Kapadia began his life as an office assistant who ran errands at a law firm. But deep down, he wanted to study law and be a judge.
Homi Kapadia hailed from a lower middle class Parsi family: his father was a clerk and his mother a homemaker. Quality education was a luxury. Which is why, in 1960, he took up a humble job at the law offices of Behramjee Jeejeebhoy.
His colleagues hadn’t imagined even in their wildest dreams that he would one day go on to become the chief justice of India.
A co-worker from his early years told The Indian Express, “He was a young boy when he joined us to help senior advocates carry their heavy case briefs. His self-conscious demeanour would force me to wonder at times what he was doing in such a smart law firm”.
The young Sarosh first sought to help his father and finance his younger brother’s education before embarking on his journey to become a lawyer.
At 27, in 1974, he became counsel for the income tax department. He was appointed additional judge of the Bombay High Court in 1991 and made a permanent judge in 1993. He decided on matters relating to the environment, banking, industries, and taxation. He also presided over the high-profile Ketan Parekh stock scandal case in 1999, and played an important role in the proceedings of the Joint Parliamentary Committee constituted to investigate the scam.
On 5 August 2003 he became the Chief Justice of the Uttaranchal High Court and on December 2003 was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court.
Here, Kapadia delivered some landmark judgments. In one, he ruled against DNA testing in a property dispute case. He was also part of a three-member bench that heard the income tax case of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. The case went in Lalu’s favour.
On 12 May 2010, Kapadia was sworn in as the Chief Justice of India by President Pratibha Patil.
Soon after his appointment, Kapadia wrote to retired Justice V R Krishna Iyer, replying to his congratulatory letter, “I come from a poor family. I started my career as a class IV employee and the only asset I possess is integrity. Even as a judge of the Supreme Court, I have used my knowledge of accounts and economics for the welfare of the downtrodden, including tribals and workmen. I hope to fulfill my obligation to the Constitution in the matter of achieving the goal of inclusive growth.”
His actions, after he took over, clearly show that he is here to set the judicial house in order.
Kapadia has warned against frivolous public interest litigation (PIL). “Huge costs will be imposed against those filing frivolous PILs,” Kapadia said, during a hearing. But the Indian courts are choked with cases filed by frivolous litigants who, for example, want to teach their political and business rivals a lesson. Citizens hope Kapadia will deal with them as firmly.
Reviving judicial activism
Kapadia was instrumental in asserting the supremacy of the apex court by exposing the irregularities in the telecom sector. He has ordered a thorough probe in the 2G spectrum scam and told the CBI to investigate the process of granting of licences which caused the Indian exchequer huge losses.
In fact, a Supreme Court bench questioned PM Manmohan Singh’s inaction and silence on the 2G spectrum scam and asked the centre to file an affidavit on the PM’s silence on Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy’s petition seeking action against A Raja.
Kapadia is a judge who is unafraid of the politically powerful. In the latest case, he has unseated central vigilance commissioner PJ Thomas, and rattled the power elites of the nation. In 2010, a bench headed by him had questioned the appointment of Thomas as the CVC when he faced charges of corruption in the palmolein import case. The appointment of Thomas had been challenged in two public interest petitions, one of them filed by former chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh.
When it comes to PILs with merit, Kapadia has been sympathetic. In another landmark ruling, the Supreme Court said mentally challenged rape victims could have babies.
A bench headed by Kapadia ruled in favour of a 20-year-old woman, raped at Nari Niketan, an institution run by the Chandigarh administration. She wanted to have the baby but the Chandigarh administration moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court citing it was in best interest of the mother to undergo an abortion, to which the court gave a go-ahead. The Supreme Court overturned the verdict saying that human rights for a disabled woman in state custody should be strengthened, not weakened.
When it comes to human rights, the Supreme Court under Kapadia has held that narco-analysis, brain-mapping and polygraph tests on suspects can only be done if the suspect agrees to undergo such tests.
In another important verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that the governor of a state could not be removed if he/she does not agree with the policies or ideologies of the union government or with the party at power at the centre. It also ruled that the state government could not remove a governor on the grounds that it has lost confidence in him/her.
The rigorous intent with which the apex court has pursued a wide range of cases has given new hope to ordinary citizens. Kapadia’s efforts could repair the damage that our judicial system has suffered durring the tenure of Balakrishnan.