This is a compilation of 31 essays and lectures of Justice Krishna Iyer on a range of issues, not all of them on law. Some are on contemporary concerns such as global warming, secularism, tribal rights, the rights of pensioners, PIL, animal rights, and India-Pakistan relations. Also included are opinion pieces, reflecting his inimitable style, on individuals such as E.M.S. Namboodiripad, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Mahesh Yogi, besides a few correspondences and addresses from the Bar.
It is hard to select the best from the bunch, since his essays philosophise, inspire, nudge, provoke and shake you to work towards ethical standards in life. Therefore, I have opted to cite a few select quotes from the writings which are illustrative of the sharp and incisive nature of his opinions.
Code of conduct
The book starts with his speech on the theme 'Dynamic lawyering, juristic engineering and ethical standards', where he exhorts lawyers to spiritualise the practice of law. In a scathing remark, he describes the practice of the Supreme Court turning down petitions under Article 32, with a direction that the petitioners approach the High Court, as shirking of duty and observes that the seeming short cut "has sterilized Article 32," apart from needlessly multiplying work at a time when courts at both levels are choked with arrears. He advocates a constitutional amendment to provide for a Judicial Performance Commission and an Advocate Performance Commission.
In another article, Justice Iyer seeks public regulation, a Selection Commission, and a code of conduct for judges. On the critical question of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, he observes that to be a judge one need not be a "versatile genius." "It violates all noesis and commonsense to empower a lay collegium which has no constitutional foundation except a self-serving ruling. The court is under the Constitution and not over it."
In the Shankar Guha Niyogi memorial lecture, he minces no words in speaking up for tribal rights. He says the Indian Constitution is "deaf and dumb in these tribal regions. The locomotive of people's liberation is the spirit of autonomy, more human right, less centralism, less illusions about peace through police action".
Talking of secularism, in his Hakeem Abdul Hameed memorial lecture, he observes: "Indian secularism, without borrowing from Western nationalism or Marxian materialism, must go to its roots of comity of religions, camaraderie of faiths, [and a] beautiful blend of divine light and cross fertilization of divergent teachings which made for a vibrant fellowship of church, mosque, temple and other shrines."
The book also has vignettes from legal history including his order granting conditional stay of the verdict of the Allahabad High Court that held Indira Gandhi's election as void, as also his last judgment that addressed the discrimination of historically disadvantaged groups in matters of employment in the railways. ( Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh v. Union of India )
Justice Krishna Iyer introduced the concept of public interest litigation in Ratlam Municipality v. Vardichan . His landmark verdicts on criminal jurisprudence, giving a new dimension to human rights and the rule of law in the 1980s, continue to have great relevance today. As Harish Salve says, the Supreme Court of India was 'Krishnaiyerised' to become the 'Supreme Court for Indians'.
These essays need to be read by all those who are concerned with not just the judiciary but with probity in public life. A flaw in the book is that the dates of the speeches and articles are not indicated.