Justice Muralidhar Vs SC: Apex Court Missed Boldest Judge
Justice Muralidhar. Image Courtesy: Twitter
Two incidents on February 26, 2020, when communal riots gripped parts of northeast Delhi, exemplified the morality, honesty, impartiality and justice expected of a Judge.
So, when Justice Subhasis Talapatra of the Orissa High Court (HC) said on Monday that Chief Justice S Muralidhar deserved only “adulation, adoration and our gratitude”, he was right.
“We all believe he will continue to his cause of justice and preservation of rule of law ... After all analysis, he is a Judge that is empathetic, serving and honest to the core,” Justice Talapatra at Chief Justice Muralidhar’s farewell.
Orissa High Court holds Full Court Reference to bid farewell to Chief Justice Dr. S Muralidhar who retires today.
Justice Subhasis Talapatra, the next senior most Judge of the High Court speaks. He takes the gathering through important judgments rendered by CJ Muralidhar. pic.twitter.com/j9a82Zq1Dz
— Bar & Bench - Live Threads (@lawbarandbench) August 7, 2023
During the Delhi riots, 22 severely injured victims needing emergency critical care were trapped in Al Hind Hospital in Mustafabad on February 26. The situation was becoming serious as neither ambulances could reach the spot to transfer the victims to a proper hospital with adequate facilities nor the police could immediately provide assistance as the riots raged.
Chief Justice Muralidhar, who retired on Monday and was a Judge of the Delhi HC, was a godsend for the victims.
At an emergency midnight sitting convened at his residence, a Bench of Justices Muralidhar and Anup J Bhambhani contacted the doctor at Al Hind Hospital and immediately directed the police to evacuate the victims to hospitals with adequate facilities and ensure emergency medical care for them, according to LiveLaw.
On the same day, the Bench heard a petition seeking FIR against certain BJP leaders who allegedly made provocative speeches moments before the riots.
When a police officer present in the HC said that he was unaware of such speeches, Justice Muralidhar directed that the video clips of BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s ‘provocative’ speech be played in the court.
When the solicitor general said that the decision on an FIR will be taken at “the appropriate time”, Justice Muralidhar asked, “When is the appropriate time? The city is burning. When you have multiple clips of inflammatory speeches, what are you waiting for?”
Subsequently, the Bench passed sternly ordered the Delhi police commissioner to decide on registering an FIR within 24 hours.
Justice Muralidhar had to face the consequences for his strong stance in the riots. Within eight hours, the Centre notified his transfer to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on a two-week-old collegium proposal—the Union Law Ministry said it followed the routine procedure.
The riots case went into limbo due to the subsequent Bench’s lethargy.
On his last working day, Justice Muralidhar received a warm farewell from the Delhi HC with an unprecedented number of lawyers attending his farewell.
Justice Muralidhar, famous for his eruditeness and independence, gave several landmark judgements.
In 2009, Justice Muralidhar was part of the Division Bench which struck down Section 377 of the IPC and convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar and others for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He called for legislative changes to address “crimes against humanity” and “mass killings” committed by persons enjoying political patronage.
In the Hashimpura massacre judgement, he mentioned the “institutional bias within the law enforcement agents”. Sentencing 16 police men to life for the targeted killings of around 38 Muslim men, he expressed shock at police gratuitously killing defenceless people.
In the Uttarakhand fake encounter judgement, Justice Muralidhar slammed ‘encounter justice’ and called for strict action against trigger-happy cops.
He also stressed the right of slum dwellers to a life of dignity. “Many of them travel long distances to reach the city to provide services, and many continue to live in deplorable conditions and suffer indignities just to make sure that the rest of the population is able to live a comfortable life. Prioritising the housing needs of such population should be imperative for a state committed to social welfare and to its obligations flowing from the ICESCR and the Indian Constitution,” he said in the judgement.
Justice Muralidhar also quashed the transit warrant against Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Justice Muralidhar was also famous for the Orissa HC’s technological transformation.
“Justice Muralidhar in Odisha has set up video conferencing facilities for every district in the state. He has decentralised the system and now there are benches in each district of the state. So, any district lawyer can appear through video conferencing in the High Court by the facilities”, CJI DY Chandrachud said in the open court while hearing a petition related to virtual courts.
In an order passed in March, a Bench led by the CJI put on record the appreciation for the Orissa HC for virtually connecting all districts and suggested that other HCs should follow its model.
NEVER ELEVATE TO SUPREME COURT
Sadly, Justice Muralidhar was never elevated to the Supreme Court (SC) despite his judicial capabilities and administrative skills due to his boldness and independence, and multiple malicious vilification campaigns launched against him by certain right-wing sections.
The Centre acted upon several SC Collegium proposals made in September 2022 but kept the proposal to transfer Justice Muralidhar as the Madras HC CJ pending. Subsequently, the Collegium caved in to recall the proposal.
Mysteriously, the Collegium never considered Justice Muralidhar for elevation despite his exceptional courage and independence, seniority and experience. He is one of the top senior HC judges in the country and second senior HC Chief Justice. The Collegium recommended the elevation of several Judges, except Justice Muralidhar, out of turn by citing regional representation, gender balance, social diversity, etc.
The only apparent reason for the Collegium not recommending Justice Muralidhar’s elevation was not to displease the Centre.
Odisha advocate general AK Parija rightly said at Justice Muralidhar’s farewell, “His absence will be sorely felt by both the Bar and his brother and sister Judges.”
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