'Faced mountain of obstacles for no reason': Justice R Banumathi, second woman to sit on SC Collegium, retires

With the retirement of Justice R Banumathi, the Supreme Court will be left with only two women judges — Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee

FP Staff July 18, 2020 17:23:01 IST
'Faced mountain of obstacles for no reason': Justice R Banumathi, second woman to sit on SC Collegium, retires

Justice R Banumathi, the second woman ever to sit on the Supreme Court Collegium, retired from the service on Friday with a three-decade-long career behind her.

The woman judge, who was regarded 'fearlessly independent' by Bar Association president Dushyant Dave and as a "great judge" by Attorney General KK Venugopal, shared some instances from her private life during her farewell. Narrating an instance from her childhood, the judge revealed that she too had been a victim of delay in justice and complicated legal procedures.

Banumathi said that she was born in a small village in Tamil Nadu, and at that time, the inaccessibility of the justice system meant her widowed mother and two young sisters could not obtain the compensation money owed to them after the death of her father.

"I lost my father in a bus accident, when I was 2 years old. In those days, we had to file a suit for compensation. My mother filed the claim and court passed a decree. But, we couldn’t get the amount due to complicated procedures and lack of assistance. Myself, my widowed mother and my two sisters; we are victims of court delay and its procedural lags. We did not get the compensation till the last day," Banumathi was quoted as saying by Live Law

In her farewell address, she also talked about her struggles in her three-decade-long career. She said that there were "mountains of obstacles for no reason" in her career as a judge.

"Yet no human hand could prevent what Jesus Christ has ordained for me in my life," she added.

Justice Banumathi would be remembered for the landmark judgement in the 2102 Delhi gangrape and murder case, in which the four convicts were awarded death penalty.

She headed the bench, which heard the case till an hour before the convicts were hanged to death on 20 March morning.

Justice Banumathi also recently heard the politically sensitive corruption cases involving former union finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram.

With the retirement of Justice Banumathi, the apex court will be left with two women judges — Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee. Before Justice Banerjee's appointment to the top court in August 2018, there had never been three sitting lady judges in the Supreme Court.

Justice Banumathi started her journey as a sessions judge in 1988. She was elevated to Madras High Court on 3 April 2003. Thereafter, she was elevated to the apex court on 13 August, 2014, and was the sixth woman judge in the Supreme Court.

She was also the second-ever woman to be part of the Collegium." Justice Ruma Pal was the first woman to achieve that feat. She retired in 2006.

A collegium is a closed group of four senior most judges in the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India. The body is responsible for making important institutional decisions, including advising the President on appointment and transfers of judges in the higher judiciary.

Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave praised Justice Banumathi as "a fiercely independent judge who gave multiple dissenting opinions".

In the Bir Singh versus Delhi Jal Board case a Constitution Bench had held that the rule of pan-India reservation that currently prevails in the NCT of Delhi is constitutionally valid. However, Banumathi, noted in her dissenting opinion, “If the reservation to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are to be extended to all categories of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes all over India or to the migrants then there is every possibility of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of other developed States and Union Territories squandering reservations to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who are disadvantaged in the respective States/Union Territories including Union Territory of Delhi.”

In her farewell speech, Justice Banumathi lauded various initiatives taken by the governments and the judiciary to ensure more efficiency of the system as well as to aid in the accessibility to justice.

"The technology present today wasn't there when I entered the judiciary. In the present day, everyone speaks of pendency of cases and they pass a lot of comments saying that the pendency is affecting the economy of the nation."

"I want to strike a positive note that various initiatives have been taken by the Central Government, state governments and the judiciary to aid in the accessibility to justice and to ensure more efficiency of the system," she said.

Various enactments, moves like increasing the strength of judges at the high courts and the Supreme Court, etc, have helped in bringing sweeping changes, she said.

Justice Banumathi added that with more citizen-centric services such as copies of judgements and orders, easier accessibility of cause list, e-payments, mobile apps, etc, are all arms meant to increase accessibility and transparency of the system.

Wishing that a vaccine is developed soon for COVID-19, she said that "at this point, regarding physical courts, that is a decision to be taken by the Committee of Judges. But, we must wait for sometime, because more than appearance, we must understand that it is more of a life concern."

With inputs from PTI

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