On May 6, his last day in court, Justice Deepak Gupta became the first judge of the Supreme Court to get a virtual farewell, given that congregations are not permitted amidst the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Justice Gupta, who once disposed of 33 cases in a single day in 2017, ends a long and illustrious career.
He is known not just for humane views on the misuse of sedition law and his faith in the power of dissent by a judge, but also for his staunch support of the judiciary’s unique role in looking after the interests of the minorities.
Below is the speech he delivered at his farewell.
Today I hang up my robes after completing more than four decades in the profession.
I have enjoyed every moment in the legal profession both as a lawyer and as a judge.
Therefore, I am a bit sad on ending my formal relationship with the Courts, though I can assure you that in one way or the other I will always remain in touch with my sister and brother judges, members of the Bar and law students. At the same time I look forward to a little more time with my family, a little more time for myself and my hobbies, a little more freedom and maybe a little more money.
The contribution of many plays an important role in the development of any human being. The same is true in my case also. Today, as I demit office from the highest court of the country, I cannot but remember the contribution of all those on whose shoulders I have stood to reach this level.
First of all, my father Late Shri M.R. Gupta, who unfortunately died when I was only 13 years old. He was a first-generation lawyer who built up a roaring practice in Shimla. His name had been proposed for elevation as judge of the Delhi high court but unfortunately, he died before things could materialise.
As a young child he would buy me a book or two every Saturday and encouraged me to read and read. This habit of reading has helped me a great deal even in the legal profession because a lawyer must not only know the law but should be well versed with literature, politics, sciences, psychology etc. He must be abreast with what is happening in the world around him and this can only be done if one is a voracious reader.
My father left behind my mother and three sons aged 13, 9 and 1. I still wonder how my mother, single-handedly brought us up providing us the best education and opportunities in life. She had very limited means and yet she managed to live with grace and dignity.
Fortunately, all three brothers have done very well in life due to her efforts and blessings. A big thank you – Mummy.
When I joined the Faculty of Law in Delhi University, I initially stayed at 17, Tilak Marg, the home of Justice R.N. Agrawal, who was my father’s closest friend and a father figure to me. Justice Agrawal was an Additional Judge of the Delhi high court for almost four years when I started living with him.
The Emergency had just been imposed and there was a lot of pressure on him to pass orders in favour of the government. He did not succumb to these pressures showing a great deal of independence, courage and conviction. He was not confirmed as a judge of the Delhi high court and had to go back as District & Sessions judge, Delhi. Later, he again became a judge of the Delhi high court and retired as Chief Justice of the said court.
He has been one of the greatest influences on me and whenever I have been in doubt I have looked up to ‘Jindi Uncle,’ that is what I call him, for inspiration and he never let me down. Thank you, Uncle.
I also must thank the teachers of the Law faculty of the University of Delhi which at that time was probably the best faculty any law school in this country has ever seen. We were taught by legends like Dr. Upendra Baxi, Dr. Latika Sarkar, Dr. D.K. Singh, Dr. Punnuswami, Dr. Sivaramaiya, Dr. Jafar Hussain, Dr. P.K. Tripathi and many other legendary teachers.
It is because of this wonderful faculty that today even after retirement of three judges who belonged to the Law Faculty, there are nine from this faculty functioning as judges of the Supreme Court.
I used to come back from the Law faculty in the DTC bus no. 210 and get down at Lady Irwin College and walk from there to 17 Tilak Marg, crossing the Supreme Court. Entry to the Supreme Court was not restricted at that time and on many occasions, I walked into the courtrooms and heard arguments.
I was very lucky to hear arguments being addressed by Mr. Nani A. Palkiwala on one occasion. At that time, my highest ambition was that one day I would address arguments in the Supreme Court. I had never imagined that one day I would sit as a judge of this court.
God has been very kind and has given many opportunities and I am very grateful to the almighty for all the blessings he has bestowed upon me.
After completing law, I joined the chambers of my senior Mr. Kapil Dev Sood, who was one of the leading members of the Bar in 1978 and today also continues to be one of the most active members of the Himachal Pradesh High Court Bar. From him I not only learnt rudiments of law, the art of tracing out case law at a time when we had no search engines but the most important lesson he taught me was that to be a good lawyer, one must first be a good human being. One must be sensitive and sympathetic to the needs of the clients. I owe a lot to him. Thank you, Kapil ji.
There are many others who helped me in the profession but it is not feasible or possible to name all of them. A few names which I cannot leave out are those of Justice V.D. Mishra and Justice P.D. Desai, Chief Justices of my high court, who encouraged me as a junior.
Justice C.K. Thakker before whom I appeared almost day in and day out and Justice V.K. Gupta, who found me suitable to be elevated as a judge of the high court. Amongst lawyers, other than my senior, others who have encouraged me a lot were Mr. Chhabildas, Justice Devender Gupta, and Justice Arun Goel, who were then practicing at the Bar.
My karambhoomi as far as practice is concerned has been the Himachal Pradesh high court. I have also served as the Chief Justice of Tripura and Chhattisgarh high courts. I take this opportunity to thank all the members of the respective Bar Associations and colleague judges of all these three courts.
My last three years in the profession have been in the Supreme Court. I say it with a sense of satisfaction and pride that in my court especially when I presided over the Bench the proceedings were conducted in a very cordial manner.
By now most of you know that I love a strong debate in my court. Heated arguments also have their place in the court, but with the cooperation of the members of the Bar the exchanges never turned acrimonious or distasteful. I appreciate the pleasant and respectful manner in which proceedings were conducted by you and I am grateful to the members of the Bar for helping me maintain a cordial atmosphere in court.
For me, the most important attributes of judiciary and judges are independence, fearlessness and impeccable integrity. In a country which professes to follow the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers, there is no alternative to a totally independent judiciary.
The concept of separation of powers is a system of checks and balances to ensure that each wing stays within the limits of its power or jurisdiction. All three wings are expected to and must work for achieving the goals set out in the constitution. There must be harmony between the three wings.
However, the judiciary under the constitution is empowered to set aside even laws promulgated by Parliament if they be unconstitutional or set aside other executive actions when they are illegal, arbitrary or discriminatory. Under the constitution a duty is cast upon the superior courts to protect the rights of the citizens of this country and it is the duty of this court to ensure that no person is deprived of his life or liberty except in accordance with procedure prescribed by law.
This court also has a duty to ensure that every citizen of this country lives a life of dignity and is not deprived of the “right to life” guaranteed to him under the constitution. In times of a crisis such as the ones we are living in, the courts must protect the poor and the underprivileged, because it they who are hit the hardest in trying times.
When the court does its duty and acts in favour of the citizens, sometimes there will be friction, but a little friction in my view is a healthy sign that the courts are functioning properly.
It is for the judges of this country to ensure that they maintain high standards and live up to the high expectations of the public which can only be fulfilled by an independent judiciary. In my view, there is no difficulty in maintaining the independence, the integrity of the institution of judiciary as long as we think about the institution and not about the individuals. I am sure that under the guidance of the Chief Justice and my sister and brother Judges, the Indian judiciary will rise to the occasion.
As judges we take an oath to uphold the constitution and the laws. This clearly means that we must decide matters according to law and not according to our personal likes and prejudices. For any judge when he sits in court, his only Gita, his only Bible, his only Quran, his only Guru Granth Sahib, his only Zend Avesta is the constitution of India.
A judge has to decide cases only according to the constitution and the laws.
This is not such a difficult job if one goes by the constitution and the laws. The constitution has been my polestar. Whenever a case is difficult, I go through the Preamble and more often than not I find the solution there.
In addition to being independent, honest and courageous, the judiciary must also be humane and compassionate.
The Preamble to the constitution which is the soul of the constitution promises justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to the citizens. A reading of the constitution, especially the Preamble clearly indicates that it is the duty of the courts to not only protect the rights of the citizens, but also to ensure that they live a life of dignity.
Therefore, it is very necessary that the judiciary should also be humane and compassionate. A compassionate superior judiciary which lives up to the principles enshrined in the Preamble to the constitution to provide justice – social, economic and political, and to ensure the dignity of the individual, is something which we all must strive for.
Many times, I hear voices being raised especially by members of the Bar that the judiciary is no longer independent or it is no longer a humane judiciary. Today is not a time to blame each other but I must remind the members of the Bar that the judiciary is drawn up primarily from the Bar.
Therefore, my request to the members of the Bar is that when they talk about independence or lack of independence of the judiciary, they must also introspect as to whether they have been totally independent or humane.
I have no problem with sky-rocketing fees being charged from commercial organisations or from rich litigants. But, at the same time, the poor litigant should not be priced out and should not be denied his legal rights only because a citizen does not have the means to fight a long drawn out battle.
Our laws and our legal system are totally geared in favour of rich and the powerful. If somebody who is rich and powerful is behind bars then time and again, he will approach the higher courts during the pendency of the trial till some day he obtains an order that his trial should be expedited. This is done at the cost of the poor litigant whose trial gets further delayed because he cannot approach the higher court.
On the other hand, if a rich person is on bail or wants to delay a civil litigation, he can afford to approach the superior courts time and again to delay the trial or the proceedings till the other side gets virtually frustrated. Both the Bench and the Bar owe a duty to that section of the litigants which does not really have a voice, to ensure that their cases are not put on the back-burner.
In this battle between the rich and powerful on the one side and the voiceless, poor and downtrodden on the other, the scales of justice can never be balanced equally. One cannot equate apples with oranges. If real justice has to be done then the scales of justice have to be weighted in favour of the underprivileged.
In Tripura my wife had designed some murals for the court building which were completed by local artists on the basis of certain inputs given by me. One day one of the senior members mentioned that the scales of justice were not even and the eyes of the Goddess of Justice were not blindfolded.
I had purposely done this because of my strong views that in the present day and age judges cannot live in ivory towers but must be aware of what is happening in the world around them. The scales of justice to be really equal, must, in fact, be balanced in such a way that the poor and the underprivileged are not denied justice.
The members of the Bar need to do more pro bono work.
I am happy to say that the assistance rendered by the amicus curiae in the Supreme Court has been of the highest level. There are, in fact, many members of the Bar who do a lot of pro bono work.
Unfortunately, there are many members of the Bar who are not willing to do any pro bono work. In my opinion, every member of the Bar whether a senior or a junior must do at least some portion of the work pro bono not only in public interest litigation which gives them publicity but for the poor and needy.
To conclude, the Bar should also be totally independent and members of the Bar while arguing matters in court should shed their political or other affiliations and argue the matter strictly in accordance with law. Members of Bar should also spend some time doing pro bono work for the poor and the needy.
I am very grateful to the SCBA and all its members for not only organising this innovative farewell, but also for the warmth and affection showered on me during my tenure and even more for the valuable assistance rendered to me in court.
In the Supreme Court I have developed new friendships especially with my sister and brother judges some of whom have retired and I am grateful to all of them for their support, love and affection. I am sure that our friendship will not come to an end with my demitting office.
I place on record my thanks to the Secretary General, Registrars, officers and officials of the Registry of the Supreme Court of India as well as Registrar General, Registrars, officers and officials of the Chhattisgarh, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh high courts.
I am very grateful to the members of my personal staff, the staff at my residential office and my law clerks.
Before ending, I must thank my wife Punam and daughters Diya and Damini, my mother-in-law Smt. Santosh Manchanda and other members of my family and friends who have helped me in maintaining the standards which were expected of me.
Justice Deepak Gupta has been a judge of the Supreme Court of India.