“Easy to mud sling”: Heated exchange between Kerala High Court judge and State lawyer over pension payment to widow

"You have made a drastic statement against me all because I chose to stand with an old lady," the judge said to the State lawyer after he objected to an observation by the bench.
Justice Devan Ramachandran and Kerala High Court
Justice Devan Ramachandran and Kerala High Court

The hearing in a case concerning the pension payment due to a 78-year-old widow named Mariyakutty on Friday ended with a heated exchange between a Kerala High Court judge and a government pleader who appeared for the Kerala government.

Justice Devan Ramachandran was told today that the State government could not cater to Mariyakutty's pension needs owing to its present financial state.

The State's government pleader also submitted that the Central government had not been contributing its share to the pension scheme concerned (the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension) since July this year.

The Court, however, took objection to the State government pleader's argument that the widow's actions were politically motivated.

“An ordinary woman against the might of the state. I don’t have the information you are saying. Please don’t say I have to take judicial notice of anything you say. I don’t know what you get by discrediting the petitioner. I will record your statement,” Justice Ramachandran remarked.

Mariyakutty's plea sought a monthly widow pension of ₹ 1,600.

The High Court had previously come down heavily on both the State and Central governments for failing to disburse the pension on time.

Justice Ramachandran had also opined that a senior citizen like Mariyakutty is a VIP for the court.

The judge on Friday began his order by recording with consternation, the State lawyer's submission that the widow had not approached the High Court with any (actual) "desire" to get relief.

However, the order dictation was quickly cut short when the government pleader interjected to ask the bench why this particular aspect was being given primacy in the Court's order as well as in media reports.

Justice Ramachandran took strong exception to this turn of events.

"Please clarify that statement of yours, that I have spoken without substance," the judge said.

"Your Lordship took one word from my statement and began the order with that statement. I fail to understand. If it was a simple case of a writ petition by a person for a benefit, probably it would have been conceded earlier ... Every kind of insinuation is made against the government," the government pleader replied.

"Please clarify, (what) insinuations?" the judge asked.

When the government pleader referred to certain remarks made by the Court during yesterday's hearing in the case, Justice Ramachandran added, "What statement did I make which is not part of my order? See my order. Which statement of mine is beyond the order?"

"The elected government knows the pulse of the people. They realise the sufferings of the people," the government pleader said.

"Please clarify your drastic statement against me," the judge asked again.

"Not against you, milord," the government pleader replied.

Justice Ramachandran, however, went on to express his anguish over the turn of events, saying,

"I am recusing myself if you cannot clarify (the drastic statement). You have made a drastic statement against me. If there is anybody across the Bar who can clarify the drastic statement against me, I call upon you, beseech you to do it. All because I chose to stand with an old lady against whom you have made certain insinuations. We have heard the insinuations you have made, which is not part of your statements. You withdraw that (argument that the petition is politically motivated) or I will record it. I cannot let the petitioner be humiliated. Please withdraw it if you are a responsible officer," the judge said.

The government pleader, in response, clarified that if at all he has made a statement to insinuate that the widow has taken any money from another, that statement is withdrawn.

"I will go by your statement now. It is easy to mud sling. You have any idea how it thrusts you? It goes through your heart. Only the person who suffers will understand. I did not expect this from you. The whole Bar heard you and unfortunately it is an open forum," the judge went on to observe.

The Court proceeded to pass a revised order in which it noted that it could not issue any interim order to the Kerala government to pay Mariyakutty, given its financial position.

The Court noted that it could itself arrange for an alternative way to pay up the dues that the widow was entitled to, which amounted to about ₹5,000 by a conservative estimate. However, this would be unfair to other similar claimants who cannot afford to come to the Court, the judge observed.

All the same, the Court asked Mariyakutty's counsel whether the widow would be amenable to getting financial aid from other sources, such as with the involvement of the district legal services authority (DSLA).

“I will leave the petitioner for the destiny of this month. I will adjourn this. I will ask the DLSA to be involved,” Justice Ramachandran said.

The Central government, which was yet to get instructions on whether it failed to make its contributions to the pension scheme, was also asked to give aid to the widow if needed. This was after the Centre's counsel said that it would extend aid if possible to the widow.

The Court also appreciated the petitioner’s will to fight for her right to a pension and not accept money from others.

"I salute her dignity. She said she does not want charity,” Justice Ramachandran noted.

After today's hearing, Justice Ramachandran added that he has no Christmas celebration this year, now that he knows that the petitioner is suffering.

Justice Ramachandran also reiterated his objection to arguments being made by referring to media reports on the judge's comments.

"What did the media say I have said? I have no idea, I don't carry a phone, I am not on social media at all. That is the kind of detachment I am trying to make because I don't want to be governed by what others say. If the media interprets a comment, how are we concerned? Whatever the comment is, did you read the order? Do I have any fear in writing orders? Like how Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul asked - we (judges) are under so much protection, how can we act with fear or favour? (Justice Kaul was) one judge who actually acted without fear or favour, I am proud to call him my senior brother (judge). With all the protection that we have, if we can't act without fear or favour, then where are we going?", Justice Ramachandran added before moving on to the next case.

The matter will be heard next on January 4.

[Read Order]

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