Last month, I attended the fifth K.R. Ramamani Memorial Lecture held at the Tag Centre auditorium on TTK Road in Chennai. The speaker was Hon. Justice Shri T.N.C. Rangarajan (Retired Judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court) and the topic of the lecture was "Corrupting the Constitution".
The full transcript of the lecture is available online.
This is the first time I had heard of K.R. Ramanani and was curious to find out more about him. I was very disappointed with the presumptous attitude of the person making the introductions who said Shri Ramamani needs no introduction and left it at that. But ironically, he went on to say that though the speaker and Mr. Seshasayee, the managing director of Ashok Leyland (the chief guest of the day) were well known to the audience assembled there, he would be failing in his duty if he didn't introduce them. I managed to glean from the Justice Rangarajan's brief mention that Shri Ramamani was a noted lawyer and colleague of his from yesteryears. I googled a bit to find out if there was any information on the previous Ramamani memorial lectures, but all I could find was the fact that the Ramamani memorial lecture was delivered in 1999 in Chennai by the Honourable Michael J Beloff, QC, who is/was on the staff of Trinity College Oxford.
Justice Rangarajan started off by saying,
Shri. Ramamani once told me that a catchy title is half the speech. I am taking that advice in choosing the title. I hope the other half will come up to your expectation. I am using the word corruption in a hi-tech sense, meaning that there is a deviation from the objective, such that, it does not serve the purpose. The savant Gurdjieff said that somehow, "having begun to do one thing, we in fact constantly do something entirely different, often the opposite of the first, although we do not notice this and continue to think that we are doing the same thing that we begun to do... Such a course of things, that is, a change in the direction, we can observe in everything. ...The same thing happens in all spheres of human activity we can observe how the line of the development of forces deviates from the original direction and goes, after a certain time, in a diametrically opposite direction, still preserving its former name." So when we look closely, we would be astonished to see how the Rule of Law, which we want to sustain, is insidiously undermined in the field of administration.
The talk was illuminating (on a topic that I knew nothing about before I heard the talk) and focussed on the proliferation of Administrative Tribunals with judicial control (dealing with matters like income tax-related disputes between citizens and the Tax Department in India), which the speaker said has happened not as a result of a systematic search for an alternative to the slow and complicated civil litigation, but more as a matter of expedience on the part of the government. The Tribunal system, Justice Rangarajan said, is touted as a cheaper, faster and more efficient way of adjudication by bodies, which have greater technical knowledge of the subject of the litigation, but the Supreme Court has noted that the functioning of these alternative institutional mechanisms had left much to be desired and suggested a review by the Law Commission to find remedial measures.
The main points that the speaker made include:
- The rule of law has been insidiously undermined in the field of adminstration and departmental bias (by the officers of departments like the Income Tax department) is the fundamental reason for this.
- The manner in which tribunals are set up under the different Acts can be perceived as an attempt by the government to control the litigation against the government.
- The virus of corruption is a parasitic programme built into the measures to control litigation against the government. If the citizen is unable to get justice from the Departments through proper error correction mechanisms, he has only two choices - either he has to accept the injustice or seek extra judicial methods, which may be either money or might.
Justice Rangarajan called for a debate on the proper composition of tribunals and said that there has been practically no debate in Parliament on these matters when statutes were enacted.
One statement that Justice Rangarajan attributed to Lord Devlin stayed with me long after the lecture.
"The judicial function is not just to render a decision. It is also to explain it, wherever explanation is possible, in words, which will carry the conviction of its rightness to the reasonable man, whom in his mind the judge should always be addressing.".