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Justice R M Lodha: Law is in his DNA

Last updated on: July 14, 2015 18:43 IST

Justice R M Lodha's attribution of guilt to the owners of IPL teams, rather than to individuals, has laid out the law of command and responsibility, responsibility by virtue of ownership of shareholding, team membership and holding out to be the face of the team, says Indira Jaising, the former additional solicitor general.

If those standards were to be applied to our politicians, she says, many would be out of office. If they were applied to corporate fraud and to money-laundering, this country would be a much cleaner one.

Justice RM Lodha (centre) speaks during a press conference in New Delhi. 

Former Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha, who retired on September 27, 2014, was born into a family of law. His father Srikrishna Mal Lodha was a judge of the Rajasthan high court, his uncles Chand Mal Lodha and Guman Mal Lodha were chief justices of other courts. The law was, you may say, in his DNA.

As a judge he was far from following in anyone's footsteps, he created his own pathway to justice.

When a decision was taken to appoint Justice Swatantra Kumar as the chief justice of the Bombay high court, he chose to seek a transfer back to his home state rather than work under a chief justice who was junior to him, and rightly so. That was perhaps the only Constitutional option left for him.

But it was Justice Lodha who rose to become the Chief Justice of India, not Justice Swatantra Kumar who resigned as a judge of the Supreme Court to be chairperson of the National Green Tribunal.

During his tenure at the Bombay high court, Justice Lodha did have some run-ins with the bar and once faced its censure for being rude. His response was characteristic; realising his error, he pledged to be polite and was never found wanting thereafter. Naturally, he was one of the most loved judges of the high court.

I have never heard corridor whispers about his lack of integrity as I do every second day about others. Perhaps that is the ultimate test of the integrity of a judge, not commission reports or inquiries. The spoken reputation of a judge is far more important than any written record.

Justice Lodha was never found wanting in his preparation of a case, both on facts and on law, and it was a pleasure to argue a matter before him for this reason.

To meet him outside the court, at wedding receptions or get-togethers of judges and lawyers, was equally a pleasure. He was impeccably dressed, and would invite many comments about his physical fitness, which I can see he has maintained to this day.

His May 2013 judgment in the coal mining case is legendary and it was in that case that he made his now famous remark, 'The CBI is a caged parrot.' But the one thing he did not have time to do during his judicial career was to free that parrot from its cage.

I wonder how he feels today, when he sees that the CBI took no action to appeal against the discharge of Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and what kind of solutions he would suggest to ensure the autonomy and insulation of the investigating agency from the ministry of home affairs.

Watching him sign the report on Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings on Tuesday, July 14, was a moment more iconic than the signing of an MoU between heads of State. The report is significant for more reasons than one.

Its attribution of guilt to the owners of teams, rather than to individuals, has laid out the law of command and responsibility, responsibility by virtue of ownership of shareholding, team membership and holding out to be the face of the team.

If those standards were to be applied to our politicians, many would be out of office.

If they were applied to corporate fraud and to money-laundering, this country would be a much cleaner one.

For his tough stand on corruption, Justice Lodha is worthy of being appointed the Lok Pal. Even if that does not happen, I see a larger national role for him in public life, which I for one will welcome.

I hope he does not confine his sights to cleaning up the game of cricket alone, but cleans up the game of politics as well.

Indira Jaising is a senior Supreme Court advocate.

Indira Jaising