An optimist to the last
Justice Verma worked tirelessly towards a better system
With Justice J.S. Verma gone, for several scribes — not just court reporters, but those interested in law and the intersection between law, politics and justice — it is as if a long and grand conversation has abruptly ended. The Justice indulged our questions, but he was always much more than an almanack of the judiciary. He never gave you the feeling he had retired 15 years ago. Instead of telling us how it had all gone to seed, as others of his age may have done, he always gave one hope for the "system" and remained a gold standard by which to judge court actions.
The 1990s, when Justice Verma rose to prominence as a Supreme Court judge, were a time of great turmoil in politics and, more specifically, the executive. With single-party rule and the idea of a "committed" judiciary giving way, there was space for the judiciary to pursue the issues it deemed important, giving rise to what came to be known as judicial activism. Years before the discourse shifted to judicial "overreach", Justice Verma and some of his colleagues committed themselves to ensuring that the law did its job. In a landmark judgment in the Jain Hawala case for example, Justice Verma raised the bar for handling corruption cases. He clearly laid out the gaps in Rajiv Gandhi's security that led to his assassination. As chief justice of India between 1997 and 1998, he was able to push through the voluntary code of conduct (Restatement of Values of Judicial Life) for how judges must conduct themselves. More, he continued to play by the rules in his own life — living, as a peer said, "in a rented accommodation in Noida, without the trappings of several jet-setting others who conducted arbitration proceedings".