Open Letter to Justice Kurien Joseph


3rd December, 2018


Hon’ble Mr. Justice Kurian Joseph,
Former Judge, Supreme Court of India,
New Delhi.


     Today’s Times of India, on its front page, carried an article by Mr. Dhananjay Mohapatra, one of the illustrious legal reporters of the country, under the caption “We felt the then CJI was remote-controlled: Joseph”.  Within the said main heading, there was a sub-heading titled “Ex Supreme Court Judge says minority tag hinders careers”.  Under the said caption Your Lordship is reported to have said “the minority tag is a hindrance to career progression of members of the minority community and fears it could get burst”.  Your Lordship has been further quoted thus: “Even if a member of the minority community has outstanding merit, he is recognized only because of his minority identity”.

     As someone belonging to the very same Roman Syrian Catholic community and having known Your Lordship from the day you were the student leader, Kerala University General Secretary representing the Kerala Congress (Mani Group) and not one who is totally in the darkness as to how Judges of the Kerala High Court are appointed, the pulls and strings behind it, caste and communal considerations behind it, a stark reality which cannot be denied, I am deeply pained and surprised.  Your Lordship is a Judge whom I hold in the highest of esteem, love and regards as a fellow Christian and as someone who is senior to me in the Kerala High Court Bar.  I am pained because Your Lordship’s statement would give the impression that the minorities, the Christian community to which Your Lordship belongs, is discriminated.  As a sexagenarian and who had occasion to interact with Hindus, more than Christians, during half of my practice outside the State of Kerala, I have never ever experienced or felt any sort of discrimination.  Hindus are most tolerant, most liberal and to attribute discrimination to a Christian in a majority Hindu country is most unfortunate.  I accessed Google only to be reassured that of Kerala’s population Christians constitute only 18%, Muslims 26% and Hindus 56%.  Kerala so far had 13 Judges in the Supreme Court, including Hon'ble Mr. Justice K.M. Joseph, of which 6 Judges were from the Christian community, namely, Justices K.K. Mathew, Kochu Thommen, K.J. Joseph, Cyriac Joseph, Kurian Joseph and K.M. Joseph (son of Justice K.K. Mathew).  Two Judges, Justices Kum. Fathima Beevi and V. Khalid, were from Muslim community.  There were only 5 Judges from the Hindu community, including Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, the first Dalit to become a CJI, and Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer, Balakrishna Eradi, K.S. Paripoornan and K.S. Radhakrishnan, son of legendary Sivasankara Panicker, former Advocate General of Kerala.  A community which has just 18% of population was represented in the Supreme Court by more than the Hindu majority; yet Your Lordship was quoted as having said: “The minority tag has been a hindrance”.

     Today’s Times of India was all about Your Lordship.  At page 7 of “Times Nation”, there was yet another three column news item titled “System of collegium is showing signs of reform”.  Your Lordship, as someone whom I hold in great esteem and close to my heart, I intend no criticism, but to express my pain.  The posterity will unfortunately remember Your Lordship as one responsible for defeating the will of the people, namely, the NJAC, an independent Judicial Commission which would have appointed Judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court and even the CJI by inviting applications from all eligible; so too references from all stakeholders, instead of the collegium system which Your Lordship in your judgment in the NJAC case had denounced as a euphemism for nepotism and favouritism and one which requires improvement like ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost’.  

     My Lord, a day before your retirement, I am afraid to say, a Five-Judge Constitution Bench, of which Your Lordship was a member, forfeited an opportunity to undo the great error, which the NJAC judgment was, by dismissing the Review Petition by the National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms (NLC) along with a few other lawyers and laymen.  The Review Petition was dismissed on the ground of delay even when there was no delay because the Review Petitioners had challenged the judgment in the NJAC case by means of a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, which though was dismissed it was observed by the Supreme Court that the Petitioners therein could file a review.  A review was accordingly filed and the 417 days of delay, which the Registry had noted, was one which is done mechanically.  In reality, there was no delay.  If the delay in filing the Review Petition is tenable, then the generation to come will be barred from filing a review because their petitions will also carry the bar of delay.  Your Lordship along with the other Judges were pleased to observe that there was no ground for review but without uttering a word about the grounds urge and why they were not acceptable.  The NLC and others who were not parties to the NJAC case were never ever heard.  My Lord, I am sure Your Lordship will, in retrospect, realize that the judgment in the NJAC case and the order dated 28th November, 2018 dismissing the Review Petition of NLC as a great error.

     Before concluding, I must, with due apology, add that Your Lordship’s statement “The salary is too little, it is not a respectable salary comparable to the nature of the work a Judge is constitutionally obliged to perform.  The least the Government could do is to exempt it from income-tax as is the norm for those working with the United Nations” came as a shock to me.  My colleague Mr. A.C. Philip, who has served the Army before enrolling as a lawyer, was aghast.  According to him, when compared with the extreme difficulties, including the very sacrifice of one’s life which a service in the Army calls for, the job of a Judge of the Supreme Court is of great luxury.  Indeed, Judges of the Supreme Court live in palatial bungalows and they enjoy the best of salary and perks.

     I part with wishing Your Lordship the choicest blessings of the Almighty and good health so that Your Lordship’s smile which is contagious continue to keep all those who are associated with Your Lordship in good humour and cheer.

     With most respectable regards,

Yours sincerely,

(Mathews J. Nedumpara)