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Justice Michael F Saldanha - Doing Justice to the Rule of Law and Fairness
Profile of a Clean Judge, a Green Judge
"Perhaps no High Court Judge in this country since Independence has contributed more significantly to the advancement and growth of the law than the Honourable Mr Justice Michael F Saldanha, senior Judge of the Karnataka High Court. Ever since his elevation as Judge of the Bombay High Court on July 31, 1990, he has produced with almost clockwork precision Judgements that have been marked for their vision, for their being relevant and contemporary to the times and above all providing the type of relief that is real and meaningful," says Venkatesh Kulkarni, advocate and editor of "Jagrut Bharat", Dharwad.
There could not be a better analysis of a brilliant legal and Judicial luminary that is Justice Saldanha. With 3,750 Reported Judgements as on December 20, 2003, concerning 22 varied fields of law is not ordinary achievement. Besides being a Judge, he is also a guest lecturer at leading Universities, Institutes of Management and Law Schools. By his own admission, such a high display of dexterity of high-calibre imitativeness in such varied fields like Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Matrimonial Law and Tax Laws has been possible for him because of his firm belief that a Judge is required to undertake very deep-seated academic research and to be guided by a commitment to Dharma.
Justice Saldanha's concern is to modernize the interpretations, to innovate the relief in order to make it effective and real, and also to add Judge-made law which would provide guidelines for similar litigation and speed up the process of case disposal. Without hurrying through a single case by cutting down the argument time and by reducing the number of hearings, this Judge has achieved another landmark by completing the 29,000th judgement on December 10, 2003.
Approach to Criminal Law
While dealing with cases under the Criminal Law, a few features of Justice Saldanha's Judgements have distinguished a totally unorthodox approach. One of them is the emphasis on the hitherto overlooked rights of the victim, like imposing a heavy fine which will go the victim as relief, rather than the traditional jail term. Another is the meting out of heavy punishment in the place of fleabite punishments and technical acquittals which would give the accused a sense of being able to get away. Third, the streamlining of the investigative process with the help of stringent guidelines to ensure the case is not sabotaged in favour of the criminal. Further, he has ensured that the entire conduct of the prosecution in the Courtroom is cleaned up and speeded up. Prosecutors holding back witnesses, not producing evidence and colluding with the accused have been stopped, while also ensuring integrity and professionalism in their performance.
Most importantly, for the first time ever, the Judicial officers in the trial Courts have been firmly redirected into trying cases responsibly, efficiently and expeditiously, not to mention conscientiously, thereby ensuring quicker and correct disposal and cutting down the number of appeals by 60%, principally because of professional honesty having become the professional guideline. While maintaining an all-time disposal record of 12 criminal appeals a working day as against the normal 2, these steps have opened a new dimension in the role of a Judge by reforming and refining the system.
In matters of Constitutional Law, Justice Saldanha has repeatedly emphasized on the need to reach out and do justice when the rules prescribe a straitjacket formula, devise a relief that is complete. What has distinguished his orders in this field is that they are precise, time-bound and that the Judge ensures compliance.
Dignity and Rights of Women
Justice Saldanha's Judgements have given a special emphasis to the women's dignity and rights. In this neglected field, he has waged a relentless one-man campaign for purpose of restoring the dignity of women, the sanctity of their rights and ruthlessly dealing with any form of atrocity against women. In the shameful and scandalous area of dowry deaths, this Judge has virtually re-structured the entire legal process with has, within five years between 1998 and 2003, reduced the failure rate of these cases from 98.6% to 47%.
Unprofessional and dishonest investigation has now become impossible with inflexible guidelines to ensure that the truth will be dug out, that it cannot be suppressed and that the guilty party will have no escape. His 11 landmark judgements on dying declarations that now ensure that the whole truth and nothing but the truth is reliably and correctly recorded have been confirmed by the Supreme Court and have now become the law of the land. In every instance where property or money has passed under the guise of dowry, the Judge has ensured that it has been restored to the parents or legal heirs of the deceased wife and in those of the instances where minor children have been left behind, provision has been made for their future welfare.
It is really outside the Courtroom that the impact of this social commitment has been virtually devastating. His articles and speeches have been so prolific and hard-hitting in this field that the International Human Rights Commission in its report published in December 2003 had occasion to observe that the "pioneering and revolutionary contributions of this Indian Judge have effectively transformed what was a hopelessly dismal picture into one of hope." At one of the largest functions held in Karnataka in 2003, where a rural audience of 200,000 persons was present, Justice Saldanha spontaneously got them to vow that theirs sons would not demand or receive dowry nor would their daughters be given any dowry. Reform through the law is Justice Saldanha's greatest achievement.
Concern for the Environment
Another area where Justice Saldanha has shown unflinching social commitment is in protecting the environment. He is best known as the "Green Judge" all over the country for his personal dedication for environmental preservation and enhancement of the quality of life. Preservation and enhancement of green cover and the water bodies has been his forte. The saving of Cubbon Park which today alive and blooming and has received the award as being the finest tree park exclusively dedicated to the Indian flowering tree, owes its present position to this Judge who makes it a point to visit the park everyday.
Justice Saldanha's pioneering efforts in the field of animal welfare have been recognized by the SPCA in England which awarded him the very unusual distinction in September 2003, of being the only Judge who has consistently fought against cruelty to animals, birds and all forms of life, who has ensured humane treatment and enhanced their welfare. Th dogs in the Cubbon Park and the animals used for haulage of carts and tongas in Bangalore have come in for special attention.
In October 2003, through another path-breaking Judgement, the state government and the municipal Corporations in Karnataka who had been responsible for cutting down thousands of trees were all made to replace the green cover kn the ratio of 2:1 and to take special steps to maintain the saplings. The Government of Karnataka and the Government of India have officially accepted Justice Saldanha's judicial directions that hereinafter, even if it is essential to cut trees, that the replacements will first have to be planted and maintained through the duration of the project before the old trees are removed
As a result of these directions, 29,872 trees have been replaced on the highways and 4,000 trees have been replaced in Bangalore city alone between June-December 2003.
Special Mention in UN Report
Apart from sweeping reforms in the field of environment in which area Justice Saldanha is a specialist, he has significantly contributed to the national cause of de-polluting the air. He first brought about the supply of superior quality unadulterated fuels from the oil companies, he cracked down on adulterators and then got public transport to change over to compressed natural gas (CNG). The Karnataka High Court to which Justice Saldanha belongs, through eight of his Judgements in this field, has come in for special mention in the UN Report published in December 2003, for substantially reducing the vehicular pollution levels in Indian cities. It was his Judgements that were followed by the Bombay, Delhi, Kolkata and six other High Courts between 1998-99 until the Supreme Court issued directions for conversion of public transport to CNG in 1999.
Green Judge is a Clean Judge
Perhaps the most befitting tribute to this Judge is the label attached to him of being the "Green Judge' and most appropriately enough the chapter on India in the UN Report on Environment designatre him as the 'Clean Judge'.
In his relatively long career as a High Court Judge, Justice Saldanha has been responsible for clean-ups at all levels. He has earned the admiration and respect and gratitude of citizens from all strata of society, being regarded as an outstanding human being who has enhanced the status fo the Judiciary through his erudition and unimpeachable integrity.
(Courtesy: Venkatesh Kulkarni, Advocate and Editor, "Jagrut Bharat', Dharwad)
BIOGRAPHY OF JUSTICE MICHAEL F SALDANHA
Born: February 13, 1942
Place of Birth: Belgaum
Student of St Aloysius High School at Mangalore and graduated from St Aloysius College, Mangalore.
First Class student all through and champion athlete, wonnumerous prizes in sports and games, while also distinguished himself in debating and in writing and won many awards in inter-school and inter-collegiate contests.
Was awarded a Gold Medal by Mysore University for having secured a First Class First in English.
In 1962, joined the Government Law College, Mumbai and completed the LL B in 1964, once again securing First Class. He had won for the Government Law College most of major trophies in debating and had also represented the University at Delhi on many occasions.
Simultaneously did a course in Journalism where he was awarded the President's Gold Medal by Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the then President of India, for having stood First Class First.
As a Lawyer
In 1964, joined the chambers of the late Rajni Patel and continued with him until 1970. His specialization was Criminal Law with a fair amount of Industrial Disputes, Matrimonial and Commercial Law. In the first ten years of his practice, concentrated on work in the Trial Courts and before the different Tribunals, i.e., Customs, Central Excise etc. at the same time assisting his senior in Appellate work before the High Court.
In 1974, appointed Assistant Government Pleader on the newly-constituted Writ Cell. Since then he has handled Writ Work in every conceivable field on behalf of the Government of Maharashta, before the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court. He had made it a point to ensure that in all those cases where injustice has been done to a poor government employee or to a citizen who has been deprived of his lands or in any other manner aggrieved, that the litigation should be kept to the minimum and that a fair order be passed at the earliest point of time.
He has achieved a reputation both with the judges and with the Bar for having displayed total fairness and integrity in the conduct of thousands of cases which involved his having to study the matter in great detail, examine the record and where necessary get the government to correct its action. This has been appreciated by the Judges, Bar and the litigants because it entailed speedy disposal and justice to thousands of persons.
Legal Aid Activist
It has been his commitment to devote at least 40% of his time to free legal aid and to assist poor and needy litigants which he had done with considerable success over the years. He has also been keenly associated with Bar Council of Maharashtra in all ist activities and in particular with disciplinary proceedings where he has appeared for advocates who have been guilty of professional misconduct.
Judge of the High Court
Elevated the Bench as Judge of the High Court of Bombay with effect July 30, 1990.
Harsh as a Diamond, Soft as a Flower -
Innovative and High-profile Judge
After joining the Judiciary, Justice Saldanha has been rated as one of the most innovative and high-profile Judges on the Bench. He has been known for injecting a high degree of speed and efficiency into the disposal of proceedings in his court. The pronouncements have been extremely bold, original and path-breaking as will be evident from the fact that in the span of just over eight years, he has the largest number of reported judgements. While showing a high degree of considerationto the government lawyers, he has also been extremely severe while dealing with frivolous government appeals and has awarded heavy compensatory costs in many cases.
The Harward Law Review defined him as "Fair and Fearless" and the Chief Justice of South Africa described him as "A Man for All Seasons".
Judge of the Karnataka High Court
With effect from June 30, 1994 Justice Saldanha has been transferred to the Karnataka High Court at Bangalore. He has continued his innovative decisions. In an extremely hard-hitting judgements under the Contempt of Courts Act, he has held that the rule of law is being subverted by government and public authorities who disregard the court decisionss, and held the authority personally liable for action. Habitual disregard of court decisions has caused a pile-up of over three thousand contempt petitions pending in the High Court which he has regarded as a national record. He has also ruled that stringent measures would be taken to remedy the situation, or otherwise, "a wrong impression will be created in the public mind that the law has not only lost its teeth but also its gums."
True Belief in Speedy Justice
Justice Saldanha has not advocated speedy justice but also shown it in action with his speedy dispensation of justice. He has brought about some sweeping reforms in Environment and public life where, through a series of path-breaking judgements, he has single-handedly bought about reforms in administration, traffic, and every other sphere of public life, bringing out, for the first time in two decades in Karnataka, respect for law.
Recent Academic Achievements
In April 1995, invited to Beijing University, China, to deliver a series of lectures at the world's largest university.
In April 1996, invited by the Government of South Africa to participate in the "Truth and Reconciliation Committee Hearings" in that country, being conducted by the International Human Rights Commission.
Also invited by the Johannesburg and Cape Town Universities to address Seminars and sit as Guest Judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, by the Chief Justice.
Justice Saldanha is a visiting professor at:
The London School of Economics
The University of Sterling in Scotland
The Sorbornne at Pairs and
The Harvard Law School
apart from several similar academic bodies in the country.
The International Jurists' Association in its World Survey 1996, 1997 and 1998 has listed Justice Saldanha among the World's Ten Best Judges. He is the only Indian Judge to be so nominated for 3 years in succession and has been designated as one fo the most respected Judges on its permanent Roll.
Recently, the American Biographical Institute has conferred on Justice Saldanha the "Distinguished Leadership Award" and listed him in the "International Directory of Leadership - 1996". In January 1998, he was conferred with the " Man of the Year Gold Medal for Community Service and Professional Advancement".
On November 9, 1998, Justice Saldanha left for Monterey, California to attend the World Conference on Environment held under the auspices of the United Nations. It was a six-day conference, where Justice Saldanha spoke on November 16, 1998 which was the inaugural day. As many as 108 countries participated in the Conference and Justice Saldanha is the only Judge invited to attend and speak at the Conference, which is an honour for the judiciary and particularly to India as a whole.
Achievements after 1998
The Harvard Law School in 2000 published a compilation of the Hundred Best Judgements of the last century and listed Justice Saldanha's judgement in that list and exclusive Roll of Honour.
The International Environment Law Institute, Washington, in 2002 cited Justice Saldanha as having been a judge who has contributed the maximum towards saving of the environment in the course of last ten years.
UN Report Quotes Justice Saldanha's 116 Judgements
The International Human Rights Federation in its report for 2003 has highlighted the contribution of Justice Saldanha, over the last one decade in the courts, of 198 hard-hitting judicial decisions, to the cause of human rights, dignity of women and the stoppage of atrocities against women. The report commends Justice Saldanha for the reformation in this field by way of deterrent punishments for sexual assaults when he awarded a life sentence for rape of an infant child for the first time in the world.. In another Chapter devoted to the overhaul of the entire process of dowry death cases which has substantially brought down the acquitaal rate that was 97.8% in India in 1998 and has come down to 45% in 2003, the report also highlights the sociological significance of these judgements in considerably alleviating this social cancer.
A UN Report on judicial contributions to the environmental field published in December 2003 has made a special mention of Justice Saldanha's 116 judgements that have significantly contributed towards preservation of the Green Cover and the water bodies in this sub-continent. In a special section devoted to air pollution, Justice Saldanha's judgements directing conversion of commercial vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG) in 1998 subsequently followed and strictly implemented by the Bombay High Court, the Delhi High Court and six other High Courts until the Supreme Court issued national directions, in that very area, have led to an impressive fall in the vehicular pollution levels in the country and the Karnataka High Court has come up for special mention for having commenced the cleaning process.
Thirteen Years and 29,000 Judgements
As his contribution towards clearance of arrears, Justice Saldanha has ensured that the time factor in case disposal is reduced to the barest minimum and in order to set an example, he has systematically maintained the exceptionally high disposal rate by completing the 29,000th judgement on merits as on December 10, 2003. The list of reported judgements is even more impressive, covering 22 fields of law and numbeing 3,750 as on December 20, 2003 as per computer analysis.
A People's Judge
A talented and prolific writer, Justice Saldanha has contributed over 4,000 articles and Research Papers to publications both nationally and abroad, notably the world's leading Law Journals. An effective and witty speaker, his lectures and speeches have been extensively quoted and published. Justice Saldanha easily qualifies as one fo the all-time greats of the Indian Judiciary - brilliant, effective, caring, respected and admired for his unimpeachable integrity - truly a People's Judge.
(Courtesy: Venkatesh Kulkarni, Advocate and Editor, "Jagrut Bharat', Dharwad)
To read exclusive interview with Justice Michael Saldanha- CLICK HERE