Justice Sunil B Shukre retired on October 24 this year, after serving as a judge of the Bombay High Court for over a decade..Justice Shukre graduated from Pune University in 1980, and did his LL.B. from Dr Punjabrao Deshmukh Law College from Amravati in 1983. He commenced his legal practice at Amravati and completed his LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Nagpur University.He was appointed as a district judge from the Bar in 2000 and served as the principal district judge of Kolhapur and then Nagpur, before taking charge as Registrar General (Administration) of the Bombay High Court in 2011.Justice Shukre was elevated as a judge of the Bombay High Court on May 13, 2013. .In this interview with Bar & Bench's Neha Joshi, the former judge speaks about infrastructure in the High Court as well as the lower courts and the equation between the judiciary and executive.The judge also candidly spoke how judges are not affected by non-constructive criticism on various media platforms and explained the thought process of judges from courts in non-urban regions..Edited excerpts follow..Neha Joshi (NJ): You served as Joint Director of the Maharashtra Judicial Academy while you were principal district judge at Kolhapur. How was that experience?.Justice Sunil Shukre: My experience as a Joint Director was quite memorable. I was asked to complete a task which was very difficult and challenging.It so happened that in June 2009, there was a stone-laying ceremony of a new court building at Kolhapur. The then Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court Swantanter Kumar was invited. He, along with Justice Abhay S Oka, came to Kolhapur and the function went off very well. About a week thereafter, I got a message from the then Registrar General on behalf of the Chief Justice calling me to Mumbai. The next day, I met the CJ at his residence. He said, ‘there is a problem at the MJA. Somehow, the infrastructural work had not been completed and the academy also required a total revamp. So you have to work on two fronts - infrastructure and academics. And the task might be gigantic, but we have got very little time’. He asked me against if I could do it and within 2 months. I said I could definitely do it.He ordered the Registrar General to appoint me as Joint Director. He also directed that I should continue to hold charge as Principal District Judge (PDJ) at Kolhapur. But there was no place to reside at the MJA. The academy was far away from Mumbai, in Bhayander. Ultimately, I took a decision to camp at the MJA only. I shifted my baggage there only and stayed there for almost 2 months. There was no drinking water available and the atmosphere outside was also not conducive. I used to reach the academy late in the night at 10 PM and then many nights, I went hungry as well. But then the task was assigned. I was also passionate about the job because I had given my word that I would be finishing the entire work. So I had to work day and night..The Director of MJA was also the guardian judge of Kolhapur district - Justice DY Chandrachud. .His guidance was of immense importance to me and he was very supportive. The former CJ’s support also helped me finish the job. In this process, an impression was generated amongst the CJ and other judges of the High Court that I should not be allowed to go back to Kolhapur. The CJ then insisted that I continue at MJA. But my daughter was in Class 12 and her exams were approaching, and I had promised her that I would be with her during these examinations. She was sad that I wasn’t keeping my word. Then, the High Court relented and let me go to Kolhapur to meet my daughter.But then I could be there only for 2 -3 months. In June 2010, some issue had arisen in the High Court and I was required to sort it out, so I went to Nagpur. But there, I could not finish my work because in hardly 10 months, I was called to Mumbai to be the Registrar General of the High Court..NJ: Did you ever come across queries regarding promotions and elevations from the district judiciary?.Justice Shukre: No, because they were all youngsters. They had all joined at the entry level. That time, normally, you don't have such kind of thoughts in your mind. And it is very difficult to predict your future progress in the judiciary. At the entry stage, you cannot even afford to have such thoughts..NJ: What changes do you think this present High Court building needs?.Justice Shukre: I feel this building requires some renovation in terms of its basic infrastructure. But considering the fact that it is a heritage building, it is not possible. We should thank the heritage authorities that they have allowed us to function from this very building. The needs of modern times are quite different and this building is not suited for that kind of working atmosphere which we have today. We are now using more and more technology. For that purpose, we require cabling, we require air conditioners, we require server rooms. This building did not have toilets initially. None of the chambers had any toilets. Even chambers of stenographers were not there. Now toilets have been built, there are chambers for stenographers by erecting partitions in the judges' chambers itself. This building is surely not made for these things, but even then, we have created these facilities..And now when this building has been declared a heritage structure, there is no scope to make any further amendments. This is creating obstacles, so we need to have another building..NJ: There was a case in Nagpur where the ceiling had collapsed due to heavy rains. There are complaints about lack of court infrastructure. The new building proposal has also proceeded at a snail's pace. Do you think the state government constantly needs to be pushed to look after court infrastructure?.Justice Shukre: It depends upon the dispensation. The present dispensation is very cooperative. By and large, the earlier dispensations were also cooperative. Sometimes, some difference of opinion arises, but that is mainly because of the certain doubts expressed by the bureaucracy. But ultimately, at the level of the cabinet ministers, all things are sorted out and there is a good coordination and good cooperation with the State government..NJ: What about the infrastructure for lower courts across Maharashtra?.Justice Shukre: The problem is we don't get complete inputs from the lower courts. Sometimes, because the PDJs do not have any time. Sometimes, there are new judges and they are not informed or not kept abreast of everything which is required to be brought to the notice of the High Court.It is not the case that they want to avoid these things, but then at the district level, the staff is not well-trained. They don't know what kind of demands can be there, what are the deficiencies. If at district level, there are hardly any toilets for women or girls, they don't bother. They say this has been going on for the last 50-60 years and there are hardly 3-4 girls practicing there. They can go home and use their own toilets. There is a difference in perception. Whereas sitting here in a urban atmosphere, we will not be so serious. And then in our guardian judges' office, some women may approach and tell them there are no toilets for them. And then they are shocked. They think about what is happening. And then we say okay, there is a communication gap or the government is not paying attention. It's not the case that the government is not paying attention.It is also not the case that the High Court is not concerned about their issues. The problem is of difference in perception. We are used to urban ways of life. We are very particular about hygiene. Our perception, our concept of hygiene is entirely different to the concept of the villagers. So that difference creates this kind of impression. That the government is not paying any attention is not the case. Now we are trying to also sensitize them that they should also have the same concepts about hygiene, cleanliness, the way that things are done at the High Court Registry. Once that is done, even these buildings will be as good as the High Court..NJ: During the pandemic, you were the senior-most judge in Nagpur hearing COVID-related PILs and you were required to monitor the issues, sometimes sitting way past court working hours. Did you feel the judiciary was required to step up and guide the executive during these times?.Justice Shukre: So as far as Nagpur is concerned, yes, I felt that judiciary was compelled to step in to interfere. But then after we had stepped in, with a little bit of nudging, we found that the state machinery started moving. Then there was a lot of cooperation from the state machinery as well.Initially, there was some reluctance on their part. Probably this came from some fears that there can be some orders which they would not be in a position to comply with. One day, I called a meeting of State government officials and concerned lawyers in the chamber. And then I told them, public interest litigation is not about any friction, it is not about any dispute. It is only about ensuring cooperation in larger public interest. So here, we are not enemies of each other, we are not adversaries. Here all of us have to work in tandem for the public in general. Sometimes you might feel hesitation in expressing your difficulties. Just don't hesitate. You have and think that this (the Court) is your friend. If it is a friend of the public, it is also friend of yours. We are not here to create any trouble or embarrassment for you. But then we want to see if these things can be sorted out. When this assurance was given to them, things started moving and then there was great cooperation..NJ: During the Gautam Navlakha medical bail hearing, you highlighted the poor library facilities in jail. You have also consciously tried to ensure that costs you impose on litigants are donated towards jail libraries. Do you think jail authorities need to be sensitized about treatment to undertrials?.Justice Shukre: Yes, they need to be sensitized, because they are also drawn from the moffusil areas. There is a selection process that involves examinations and interviews. The participants are from all over Maharashtra. They come from villages, where open defecation is the norm. So they are required to be taught that ‘no, this is not good, this is a hygiene issue, you must not be doing it’. They are also used to throwing whatever is left over in the open. If it is plastic, they think that it is just like some leaves. But that is not so. They need to be sensitized, they need to be taught. The difference between urban and rural Maharashtra is only cultural. That has created this divide. Which gives us an impression that the State government or even the High Court is much concerned about the official reports. That is not the case. If there is proper information given, then the High Court does take cognizance of that information and takes steps for improving the situation..NJ: You have travelled across Maharashtra and also worked in towns. It must have given you perspective in this regard..Justice Shukre: Yes, it does help. It helps you a lot in administrative matters. But it also helps you quite extensively even on the judicial side. Because you know the ways and behaviour of rural Maharashtra. It helps you in deciding the cases and interpreting the facts before you..NJ: You recently passed an order on use of roads for festive purposes. You directed the State to come up with a policy to ensure that roads are not blocked..Justice Shukre: I always thought that the roads are meant for the public, they are meant for the traffic, vehicular movement and pedestrians. They are not meant for holding some public functions. And we are not England where the population is so small that you can afford to have small public functions being held at the square for speeches. The crowd which gathers there is hardly in the hundreds, while here, it is in lakhs. So you can't follow their practice. Here, you need to have proper open spaces, open grounds to hold such kind of functions. The State government has to think about this seriously..NJ: You had recently passed an order directing the Registrar General to consider making a toilet more disabled-friendly. Does it bother you that the court has to intervene in such issues of basic necessity?.Justice Shukre: Yes, it gives us pain. This is not the job of courts, it is the job of administrative authorities. They should be sensitive to the requirements of women or persons having special needs. But unfortunately, the courts have to exercise their extraordinary powers under the Constitution of India. Of course, it's a different matter because of this PIL jurisdiction. The power and importance of the courts has increased. That is a different thing. But then Anglo-Saxon system of adjudication of disputes is not meant for settling public issues like this..NJ: Your March 2023 order, where you had made observations about Sanatan Sanstha, created quite a stir. Judges are often trolled for the judgments they pass. How do you deal with such things?.Justice Shukre: We pass orders where certain observations are there. There can be always opinions about your orders. But orders are orders and opinions are opinions. People in this free country are at liberty to form whatever opinion they have. And if the criticism is good, then it is taken in good spirit by us also. But if it is not good, then we simply ignore. Because what can be done? Nothing can be done. People have their opinions. As far as rise in use of social media, I have never felt any botheration or any interference. Whatever they might have said on the social platforms, nothing has bothered me. In fact, I hardly read those comments..NJ: Do you think that such kind of trolling would probably make a judge a little more fearful to give opinions? Is that one of the reasons why judges are reluctant to have virtual proceedings?.Justice Shukre: No. As far as I am concerned, I am not influenced by any opinion. Judges may have different reasons. I don't think there is anything wrong. We can go for live-streaming. What is there to conceal or hide? If we are expressing our opinion in open courts, we have to be careful. We have to maintain a certain amount of restraint. If we know our limits and we keep ourselves within the limits, then live-streaming should not bother us. In fact, it is good for society. People should know what is going on in courts. .Sometimes, there is a misconception about judges. Some people think that judges think and behave like gods, but that is not true. In fact, we repeatedly say we are only human beings. And what we do is justice as understood, perceived and executed by a human being. And who is this human being who is presently sitting as a judge? He is also just like you. He is drawn from the mainstream society. He also has his own fallibility. But of course, because his mind is trained as a judge, maybe he is slightly better than you in the job of a judge. That is the only difference. But then, ultimately what he does is human justice. The final justice, as they call in the Bible, is always done by God..NJ: What are the barriers to having full-fledged hybrid or virtual proceedings in Maharashtra courts?.Justice Shukre: The main barrier is the availability of internet signal. Second barrier is availability of electricity supply 24x7. These are the only barriers. Judges are well-trained. They are well equipped with the gadgets. They know how to operate gadgets, but they are unable to do so because the signal is weak or sometimes power supply is not there. That is the only problem..NJ: You have spent an equal amount of time as a judge at the Nagpur bench and the principal seat. What was your experience on each bench?.Justice Shukre: The difference is there only because of cultural differences. Otherwise, qualitatively, I do not find any difference. In Nagpur, the approach of the advocates is quite forthright, and they won't be taking much of your time. Whereas in Mumbai, the approach is sometimes indirect and sometimes might be taking time.But then, you have to adapt to those differences. If you have a practical approach, then one can adapt oneself to any region where he is working. There is bound to be a difference in the way people react to your questions. So if you accept this, then things are very easy..NJ: Was there any particular case during your career as a judge where you found it difficult to come to a decision?.Justice Shukre: The challenge was there only in my initial period as a district judge. And that helped me. My father was always my guru because his fundamentals were so clear. Initially for 3-4 years, I had extensive consultation with him in almost every case, and thereafter, there was not a single case where I had faced any difficulty or doubt in reaching a conclusion. In fact, my conclusion in a case would be ready the moment the argument is over. So, I never felt that any case was difficult..NJ: Certain cases that you heard at the principal seat had political parties involved. Did you face any pressure?.Justice Shukre: No. No pressure, no hesitation, nothing of that sort. I always had my emotions very clear. And whatever I thought, in whatever manner I draw conclusions, I am 100% sure.