Justice Verma, the face of judicial activism, dies of multiple organ failure


Former Chief Justice of India, and among the most active and respected Indian jurists, Jagdish Sharan Verma, died at a Gurgaon hospital on Monday night. He was 80.

Doctors at Medanta Medicity said he died of multiple organ failure. "He was brought to us with excessive gastro-intestinal bleeding on Friday, and we found that his liver had started failing. We admitted him in the ICU and put him on intensive supportive care. But eventually there was excessive bleeding, and his organs started failing one after the other," said Dr Yatin Mehta, chairman of Medanta's Institute of Critical Care and Anesthesiology.

The face of judicial activism in the 1990s, Justice Verma, who was the 27th CJI and served from March 25, 1997 until his retirement on January 18, 1998, was associated with many verdicts, campaigns and events.

Most recently, he headed the three-member committee to suggest improvements in criminal law to tackle crime against women, after the Delhi gangrape in December last year. The committee's work included a seminal Bill of Rights for women.

Justice Verma authored the Jain Hawala order and was also known for the landmark Vishakha ruling, the basis for the law on sexual harassment enacted many years later. He was also the guiding force for the Judges' code of conduct shortly before his retirement.

Justice Verma headed the first commission that probed the security lapses after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. He also answered the one-point reference that then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao made to the Supreme Court regarding the Babri Masjid. Verma's line that "Hindutva is a way of life" is a much-quoted and contested statement till today.

After his retirement, he was appointed chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, a post he held between November 1999 and January 2003. His sustained interventions after detailed field visits following the 2002 Gujarat riots brought him wide acclaim, and laid the basis for much of the activism in the Supreme Court on the Gujarat issue.

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