P V Indiresan

We need good judges, not Lokpal

P. V. Indiresan | Updated on May 07, 2011 Published on May 02, 2011

Time to raise the bar to check corruption.

The Lokpal cannot be expected to rein in the high and mighty when the entire judiciary has failed to do so. Instead, judges' salaries should be hiked so that they can work without fear or favour.

My previous article on Anna Hazare's fast against corruption evoked praise and criticism. The criticisms were directed at my suggestions (a) that, in place of a single Lokpal, the entire judiciary should be strengthened, and (b) candidates for elections should be selected locally and not by a central High Command as is the case at present. Critics were also concerned about what would happen if the judges became corrupt.

I had, in mild terms, mentioned the concern of some critics against Anna Hazare's tactics of forcing the government's hand by threatening a fast unto death. That too will ever be a matter for debate.

It is a fact that there is deep concern over the probity of the judges, a sentiment voiced even by the Chief Justice of India. In the early 19{+t}{+h} century, there was similar concern about the officials of the East India Company. They were paid poorly and were expected to make good by taking bribes. In 1830s, the Company increased salaries enormously.

As Philip Mason puts it in his monumental work The Men Who Ruled India, corruption did reduce, not immediately, but within 10 years. A new breed of youth emerged, who were proud to belong to the service and were scrupulously honest.

PAY JUDGES MORE

At the time of Independence, the Chief Justice of India was paid a salary of Rs 7,000, around 50 times the annual per capita income. Unfortunately, our Constitution framers had no idea of inflation; now that salary is about four times the annual per capita income.

Why should present day judges not be paid like their predecessors at the time of Independence — around Rs 20 lakh a month? Considering what private industry pays their far less responsible officers, that is not much.

Senior advocates complain that linking judges' salaries to annual per capita incomes will lead to over-paying quite a few present day judges. On the other hand, much more competent people will come forward to sit on the bench. Perhaps, in another 10 years, we will have an entirely new look and judges will not hanker after post-retirement positions the way they do now.

For some reason or the other, we never considered making judges' tenure lifelong as the way it is in UK and the US.

If we were to equate judges' salaries with what they received during Independence as a multiple of per capita income, and make their tenure life-long (with perhaps an annual medical check-up), we can surely expect judges to be far more independent and honest than they are now. There are over a thousand judges at the High Courts and in the Supreme Court. Their standards can be expected to improve in about 10 years.

Why a lokpal

My concern about the Lokpal is the fact that he (or she) will assume the role of a ‘super-judge' with no guarantee that the individual will always be superior.

When we raise the quality of the judges as a whole, a few mistakes here and there will not matter much — so long as the average level is high. In communications engineering, we have an equivalent called the phased array radar which has an antenna with thousands of independent elements.

Shoot down a few of them or even many of them, the radar will still function quite effectively. That is the advantage of numbers and, more important, of the independence of each of those members. That is what a high quality judicial system offers.

Let us not forget that President Nixon was disciplined, not by a Lokpal, not even by the Supreme Court, but by a lower judge. We are asking for a Lokpal because we have lost confidence in our judiciary.

Improve quality

Which is the correct solution? Is it devising a better quality of life for the judiciary to keep judges beyond the usual temptations of ordinary life or is it devising a different kind of a judge?

If we think the Lokpal is a better choice, why not accord all judges the same emoluments, perquisites and discipline as the Lokpal? Above all, will a single judge strike enough terror into the minds of the high and the mighty when a whole band of judges cannot? We forget that the Lokpal is only a secondary issue; the primary issue is corruption in high places. Lokpal is merely one solution to that primary problem.

We are so bemused by all that has been said about an independent Lokpal that we are not thinking in terms of alternative solutions, solutions that will prevent corruption before it occurs, rather than punish it after its occurrence.

(This is 302nd in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on April 18.)

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Response to > indiresan@gmail.com and >blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

(To be continued)

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Published on May 02, 2011
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