Only months ago, a very senior public official had appealed to the High Court for relief from victimisation by some State authorities mostly constituting his colleagues. On the day the matter was listed, lawyers struck work. The bureaucrat was aghast as precious time was running away. It was past 4.30 pm. His designated court would remain closed. His smart lawyer tipped him to explore a remote possibility: just enter the only functioning court with a division bench at work and implore them for an extraordinary hearing out of turn. This technique works in rarest of rare cases if only the presiding judge is sympathetic to the aggrieved party. The public official entered the courtroom and made an earnest appeal to be heard. The senior judge said ‘yes’ and instantly called up the registry to produce details of the matter. This division bench comprised Justices Indrajit Mahanty and DP Choudhury. Justice Mohanty not only permitted the petitioner a good 25 minutes, he also analysed the issue thoroughly within seconds and blasted the Government lawyer for having committed a ‘fraud’ which was the exact charge levelled against the incredibly upright officer seeking relief. The bench spoke eloquently to explain the meaning of fraud to the gaping lawyers defending the opposite party. That such a thing happened became big news across the legal community. Everyone praised the bench particularly Justice Mahanty for taking up a case not listed in his bench. This gesture is not the first of its kind, but judges hardly take up extra burden as the prevailing load of cases is perpetually heavy beyond capacity. The event never spilled out of the judiciary domain. There was no media coverage nor much talk about it outside to glorify the bench. But as slowly the news leaked, the conscious people thanked God that the justice delivery system in the judiciary is still intact, though limited to benches with truly law-knowing judges. Not that judges are dumb, but a few are very sharp in interpretation and application of law. This write-up is of course to feel great in glorifying judges who are able to figure out what’s ailing a petitioner due to poverty-linked ignorance and helplessness or callous attitude of the field delivery personnel of the executive.
Odisha is reputed for having sent perhaps the biggest number of judges to the Supreme Court: Justices Ranganath Mishra, Gopal Ballabh Patnaik, Radha Charan Patnaik, AK Patnaik, BS Chauhan, Dipak Misra, Venkate Gopala Gowda, Adarsh Kumar Goel and Amitava Roy, some still occupying benches today. Some more names may have been missed. Ranganath Mishra, despite his unacceptable political adventure, had pioneered the ‘lok Adalat’ which is bringing relief to millions on supersonic track mode. Justice Anang Kumar Patnaik created history by debarring convicts from fighting elections and fixing corrupt Srinivasan of the BCCI. Justice Deepak Mishra became known across the world because of a midnight hearing session to close the Memon execution matter as the d-day was only hours away. He will occupy the CJI chair soon. Justice Indrajit Mahanty incidentally is the most impressively trained among known judges of Odisha. Schooled at the famous Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling up to the intermediate stage, Bachelor’s degree from the Ravenshaw College. As the elder son of legendary lawyer Ranjit Mahanty, he was keen to become a lawyer of substance. So, he chose the Campus law Centre under the Delhi University for his llB degree. To sharpen his skills more, he did his llM under the University of Cambridge of England. He maintained highest grades all his life. As a lawyer, he became too eminent too soon only because of his keen commonsense, command over the English language and the superb manner of making complex Acts simple for judges and clients alike. He drives points home the same way as smart kids do tricycles. He became a High Court judge only in his early forties. He had convinced himself that the best way of serving the suffering humanity would be by restoring the Rule of law, which is only possible if one becomes a superior court judge. He earned a lot less than as a super lawyer. When he argued cases, court rooms would witness excitedly packed houses.
The reason behind placing these glorious facts is that the inimitable Justice Indrajit has been pulled into a controversy for a terribly misplaced allegation. As if he kept hidden on purpose, some sensation-seeking activists claimed to have discovered the routine fact that he carries a loan burden for his long-time business outfit on a plot of land gifted by father Ranjit Mahanty. Yes, there is a loan burden, not a robbery charge. Yes, he ran it to add value by generating employment for many. The only thing people would like to know is whether or not his ‘judicial conduct is appropriate and above board’; whether or not he is selling judgment, and if he has the knowledge and skills to help the suffering humanity. He is not personally known at all. He was last seen at a Transparency International event where he opened a ‘whistleblower’ protection system in Odisha. People heard him explain corruption in layman’s language and shared simple tricks with which an ordinary citizen could knock at the doors of the judiciary and get justice virtually free of cost. That day many frustrated faces had lit up with hope and confidence.
The detractors have raised another issue of conflict of interest for as hotel owner he had dismissed a move by activists to ban ‘bar dancing activities’. He only went by the ruling of the Supreme Court citing protection of rights of young men and women
to make a legitimate living within parameters of social civility.
They never dug deep to know that the daughter was de facto in charge of the business since long and subsequently it was leased out to a professional agency on ethically correct modes.
If a judge is delivering justice without bias or fear, he is a ‘lord’. Most of the judges may not be corrupt or ethically wrong, but justice delivery is not as sharply perfect and timely as Justice Mahanty ensures. At an intellectual gathering he had said, “Activists are noble-minded, but probably they fail to know the suffering humanity is benefiting from our rulings, verdicts and observations. An old business outfit runs on its own. The banks have found the original owner credible and have extended a loan for a concern which provides food and shelter to some poor and needy people.” He was respectfully keen to know if the activists chasing him for sensation are performing their fundamental duties themselves (Art. 51A, Part IVA of the Constitution)
2 to abide by the constitution and respect its ideal and institutions;
2 cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
2 uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
2 defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
2 promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional diversities, to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
2 value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
2 protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wild-life and to have compassion for living creatures;
2 develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
2 safeguard public property and to abjure violence;
2 who is a parent or guardian, to provide opportunities for education to his child, or as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years.
(The writer is a core member of Transparency International, Odisha)