NEW DELHI: When general public faced Covid-19 lockdown with trepidation, present and future Chief Justices of India innovated to keep themselves busy by writing pending judgments, reading books, trying their hands at kitchen and getting rare family time while quarantining themselves and their skeletal staff.
How are Judges of the Supreme Court, who devote most of their time at home to read files to prepare for hearings of cases scheduled for next day, are spending their time being mostly home bound since March 16? TOI spoke to CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde and his successors Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, B R Gavai and Surya Kant. Only Justice U U Lalit could not be reached.
As head of judiciary, Justice Bobde has to inquire and look into safety of all his colleagues and staff, requiring him to be on tele-conferences with colleague Judges, HC CJs and senior officials of the SC. He lives alone in a sprawling bungalow on Krishna Menon Marg. With a strict ban on entry of visitors, the bustling CJI’s residence wears a deserted look. All Judges have followed suit in banning entry of vistors to their residences.
CJI Bobde looked at situation-drive positives. “Because of Covid-19 lockdown, we could innovate and hold virtual court. Lawyers argued their cases through vide-conferencing without being in courtroom. Workload has remained the sam. I have to do tele-conferences with officials to determine cases requiring urgent hearing, find out convenience of Judges to set up benches and remain in touch with medical experts to find out additional steps required to be taken for staff and judges to keep them safe while in a state of lockdown,” CJI Bobde said.
“Judges are an innovative lot. They will find something or the other to keep themselves busy constructively,” CJI Bobde said. An avid biker in his lawyer and judgeship days, Justice Bobde as CJI no longer enjoys that freedom. “I do not ride heavy motorbikes anymore. But, I do my routine exercises daily. But, kitchen work is not my cup of tea,” he said.
CJI Bobde’s successor N V Ramana has reduced personal staff at residence by 75% and has even asked the cook to stay home since he used public transport to commute. “My wife and daughter are doing the cooking and I chip in sometimes with cutting vegetables and washing dishes. Never had an opportunity before to work in kitchen. I am enjoying family time after a long gap. The few staff that come to do essential work are advised to keep safe distance from each other and sanitise their hands frequently. I am speaking with old people among my acquaintances and in my village through telephone and video calls and advising them to follow precautions while remaining positive,” Justice Ramana said.
“I am completing pending judicial work. I finished reading Swami Shivananda’s short stories on Mahabharat. Now reading ‘Sundarakand’ of Ramayan and praying for general good health and prosperity of all human beings. I know many in the scientific community and inquiring from researchers about possibility of an early Covid-19 vaccine,” he said.
Like other judges, Justice Chandrachud too is concerned about safety of staff and law clerks with him. Most have been told to keep to confines of their homes. He and his family are doing with skeletal staff. “One of my secretaries is here to help me complete unfinished judgments. Primary focus over last few days was to ensure the Supreme court, a symbol of democracy, is accessible to citizens while protecting safety of staff and every stakeholder,” he said.
How does it feel to be confined to home? “Home seems like home for a change. We are fortunate to always hear chirping of spring birds and appreciate the beauty of spring – the flowers, birds and our organic garden. Spending time with my best friend who is my spouse Kalpana and playing with children – Sanjana and Mahi. I just finished reading Rohit De’s ‘A People’s Constitution’, Abhinav Chandrachud’s ‘Republic of Religion’; Tripurdaman Singh’s ’16 Stormy Days’. Presently reading Dalyrimple’s ‘Anarchy’ and Banerjee and Duflo’s ‘Good Economics for Hard Times’,” he said.
Justice Kant has asked most of his personal staff and entire secretarial staff to stay home. “I use the telephone for dictation. The secretary types it and sends it to me through e-mail. I use this method for all communications except the confidential work. Those among my personal staff, who use public transport to commute, have been told to stay home. I am not required to help out in the kitchen as my wife is a very good cook. She does not want me to mess around in the kitchen. I finished reading Fali S Nariman’s ‘Before Memory Fades” and now reading Chintan Chandrachud’s “The Cases That India Forgot”. I am planning to read memoirs and speeches of jurist L M Singhvi after that,” He said.
Justice Gavai is rediscovering family time. “For the first time in a decade I watched television with my family. I could devote time, for the first time, to play badminton and carrom with my child.” He is a different Judge, who does not hesitate to attend wedding at his PSO’s house, nearly an hours drive from his residence. Naturally, he has asked all his staff, except one or two staying in the nearby quarters, to stay safe in the confines of their homes. “I have also asked our cook to stay home and my wife has taken charge of the cooking. I am reading books of general interest and not related to law,” he said.