Author: Siddhant Radhu
Justice J. S. Verma
Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma (January 18, 1933 – April 22, 2013) was an Indian jurist who served as the 27th Chief Justice of India, holding the position from March 25, 1997, until his retirement on January 18, 1998. Thereafter he was the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission from 1999 to 2003.
Through several innovative landmark judgments, he earned the name of “the face of judicial activism” in India.
He was born in Satna, in Madhya Pradesh. He completed his undergraduate degree from Lucknow and law studies from Allahabad.
Justice Verma began his legal career in 1955 and was appointed as a Judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court in June 1972. He acted as the Governor of Rajasthan twice between 1986 and 1989. In June 1989, he was appointed as Judge of the Supreme Court of India and became Chief Justice of India.
He was appointed as a Judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court in 1972. He became Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court in June 1985 and also served as Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court from September 1986. In June 1989, he was appointed as Judge of the Supreme Court of India and became Chief Justice of India in January 1998. Thereafter he was the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission from November 1999 to January 2003.
In 1973 he made a famous judgment on a juvenile convicted of murder, which became the basis for the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 where such convicts are tried separately, and not treated as adults.
In the repercussion of the gang rape in Delhi, Justice Verma was appointed Chairperson of a three-member commission tasked with reforming and invigorating anti-rape law. His committee members were former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian and Justice Leila Seth. He completed a comprehensive 630-page report in 29 days that was praised both nationally and internationally.
The formation of the panel as a whole eventually led to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. Justice Verma is remembered for his firm commitment to Women’s empowerment, judicial accountability, probity in public life and social justice.
The Hindutva Judgment R.Y. Prabhoo v P.K. Kunte 1996 AIR 1113 is one of Justice Verma’s most controversial judgments, which he believed was widely misunderstood. It is measured to have been particularly misinterpreted by the BJP.
The Supreme Court stated that:
It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on Hindu religion as opposed to other religions or that the use of the word Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion… and it may well be that these words are used in a speech to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian cultural ethos…There is no such presumption permissible in law contrary to the several Constitution Bench decisions.
Supreme Court revisits the Hindutva Judgement
The Supreme Court while revisiting the old Hindutva judgement in Abhiram Singh v C.D. Commachen (2017) 2 SCC 629 has said that nobody should be allowed to misuse religion for electoral gains and has termed it as a ‘corrupt practice’.
Justice Verma will be remembered for his pioneering judgment in the Vishaka and Others v State of Rajasthan and Others (1997) 6 SCC 241 which resulted in a series of guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women at workplace, to be mandatorily followed till Parliament enacted the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013.
S.R Bommai v Union of India AIR 1994 SC 1918
This case related to a Presidential proclamation issued under Section 356 (1) of the Emergency Provisions of the Constitution of India dissolving the Karnataka Legislative Assembly.
Justice Verma has stated that only cases that allow the application of completely objective rules in deciding whether the constitutional machinery has failed are amenable to judicial review and the remaining cases in which there is a significant area of subjective satisfaction are not justifiable due to the lack of a judicially manageable standard for resolving the controversy.