RIP Justice Verma: upright and upfront

A former Chief Justice of India listening keenly to testimonies of poor families from across India and then translating them into English for the sake of elitist Delhi audience before delivering his verdict at a public hearing in January this year.

That was former chief justice JS Verma for me. Down to earth, humble, no chip on shoulder man and a hard taskmaster.

There was not even a grin on his forehead when Aruna Roy asked him to translate some of the testimonies, which in any other function would have been the job of a junior-most organizer. He smiled, stood up and went ahead with the job given to him.

Verma was the only person on the dais who heard all the testimonies of the poor seeking better life. Many other sat for an hour and left after delivering a speech.

It may be because Justice Verma could relate himself with their plight as he came from a humble background.

When time came to deliver the judgment, he like in his long cherished legal career made no-holds barred attack on our governance models and how it was rotting by each passing day.

That was characteristic of his style as in the past he had also been critical of his judicial colleagues for indulging in unethical practices which has put the judiciary in a bad light.

Justice Verma died on Monday after a brief illness in Delhi.

Some glimpse of his strong character and his understanding of the rotten Indian system was visible in his report to the government on stronger anti-rape law, which he delivered within time.

Although many of his recommendations related to rape laws were accepted by the government, the others on electoral reforms, child rights and women empowerment are still gathering dust in the government corridors.

If the UPA government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who applauded “his fierce commitment to the public good”, really wants to pay tribute to the noble soul then they should implement his committee’s recommendations on electoral reforms.

What Verma had said on electoral reforms was reiteration of recommendations of several government committees and the election commission in the past.

But, the government had steadfastly remained unmoved knowing well that it would make contesting elections difficult for Indian ruling class who remain embroiled in charges of corruption and crime.

Around 30 % of the elected representatives in assemblies and the Parliament have a criminal case pending against them.

Justice Verma in his report even told the government the way out to push electoral reforms. He suggested specific amendments in various laws to make contesting polls difficult for corrupt and crime tainted politicians.

The UPA government, as I was told, had not moved an inch since the recommendations were made.

To me, real tribute to Justice Verma would be if the civil society activists and media can force the government to implement some of the electoral reforms suggested by him before the general elections in 2014.

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