The portrait of Justice was unveiled by Dr. K.Veeramnai at Periyar Thidal, Chennai. Self Respectful Vaiko, Former Public Prosecuter K. Duraisamy paid tributes. Justice R. Subbiah, his son and family members were present
Justice S. Ratnavel Pandian has been associated with the Dravidian Movement from the beginning and he moved closely with the stalwarts of the Movement, Thanthai Periyar, Arignar Anna and Kalaignar Karunanidhi. When he took over government appointments and was finally appointed as a judge of the High Court and later of the Supreme Court, he discharged his onerous responsibilities with utmost fairness.
When he was the judge of the Madras High Court, a case that came to him revealed the shocking fact that a number of under-trials were languishing in various prisons of Tamil Nadu without even FIR having been filed. Many of them were too poor to engage lawyers to represent their plight.
Justice Ratnavel Pandian took the just decision of releasing all such pitiable undertrials from all prisons. The total number of people so illegally remanded was approximately three lakhs. But for the timely intervention of the justice who approached the problem from human rights as well as humanitarian point of view, they might have spent a good part of their life time in jails.
The crowning glory of Ratnavel Pandian’s career as a judge was his judgment in “Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India”, popularly known as Mandal Commission Case dealing with the question of reservation for Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which was decided by a constitutional bench of nine judges. Though all the judges were unanimous in their judgment, Ratnavel Pandian decided to write a separate judgment pouring forth his anguish as well as dealing with the historical perspective.
He put forth his feelings in the following observation which makes part of the judgment:
“Though forty five years from the commencement of the Indian independence after the end of British paramountcy and forty two years from the advent of our constitution have marched on, the tormenting enigma that often nags the people of India is whether the principle of ‘equality of status and of opportunity’ to be equally provided to all the citizens of our country from cradle to grave is satisfactorily consummated and whether the clarion of ‘equality of opportunity in matters of public employment’ enshrined in Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India has been called into action. With a broken heart one has to answer these questions in the negative.”
“It should be a journey of thousand miles in achieving the equality of status and of opportunity, yet it must begin with a single step. So, let the socially backward people take their first step in the endeavour and march on and on.”
“When new societal conditions and factual situations demand the Judges to speak, they without professing the tradition of judicial lock jaw speak out. So I speak.”
He expressed his indebtedness to the Dravidian Movement for having elevated him, born in a community that had been ostracised for years together, to the level of the Justice of the Supreme Court of India.
It was made possible by the bloodless revolution carried on by the Dravidian Movement.
The sole reason for the Justice writing a separate judgment, though his fellow judges on the bench did not see the need for it, was his intention to bring Periyar into it and register the indebtedness of the entire country to him. In his judgement he brought out the services of Thanthai Periyar, Dr. B.R.Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia, the great men who tirelessly strove for the cause of Social Justice, to enable the lowest of the lowly of our people get a fair deal in the dispensation. He was also cautious not to let anyone point a finger at him saying that he did it on account of his Dravidian learning’s. He made the Prime Minister speak for him. That is he quoted V.P. Singh’s speech in Parliament while introducing the Bill for implementing Mandal Commission recommendations.
Gratefully referring to it, Asiriyar K.Veeramani said in the memorial meeting on 17th March at Periyar Thidal, Chennai that “Justice Ratnavel Pandian did the right thing in the right place for upholding Social Justice. His scales of justice were upright, without learning on any side. He was a humanist par excellence. The Asiriyar has also lauded that “the judgment is a lesson on Social Justice fit to be included in text books on sociology.”
Yet another case came before the same nine member bench, while disposing which Justice S.Ratnavel Pandian pointed out the lamentable state of the judiciary of the country, with not a single representation for the Scheduled Castes in 12 out of 18 High Courts, and for the Scheduled Tribes not a single judge in 14 High Courts, not a single judge from OBC’s in 12 High Courts. He observed,
“However, unpalatable the above scenario may be to some, it is nevertheless a ground reality. Our democratic polity is not for any self-perpetuating oligarchy but for all people of our country. If the vulnerable sections of the people are completely neglected, we cannot claim to have achieved real participatory democracy.”
Yet another historic case was S.R. Bommai and Others Vs. Union of India and others, As the presiding judge Justice Ratnavel Pandian, registered his opinion that
“the power under Article 356 should be used vary sparingly and only when President is fully satisfied that a situation has arisen where the Government of a State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Otherwise, the frequent use of this power and its exercise are likely to disturb the constitutional balance. Further if the proclamation is freely made, then the Chief Minister of every State who has to discharge his constitutional functions will be in perpetual fear of the axe of Proclamation falling on him because he will not be sure whether he will remain in power or not and consequently he has to stand up every time from his seat without properly discharging his constitutional obligations and achieving the desired target in the interest of the State.”
This judgment is quoted again and again while discussing the power of the President in dismissing a state government.
Yet another noteworthy act of the learned justice was his exemplary services as One Man Commission of Kashmir Firing Incident in Barakpara, Bulbul, Nowgam, Anantrag District, which he took up with alacrity and rendered with utmost thoroughness. He made spot enquiries, freely mingled with all sorts of people and gave his ear to their outpourings. He enabled the victims to speak freely by sending the Collector and the S.P. out of earshot. He also gave a patient hearing to the lawyers representing them. After all these strenuous steps, the justice completed his report, running to 225 pages, within a record period of less than six months. He identified who were responsible for killing 7 innocent people and injuring 14 without any provocation. The government accepted the findings in toto and proceeded against the offender.
In short, Justice Ratnavel Pandian will be remembered for ever not for his legal acumen, not for his tireless service, not even for his meticulous decisions, but for his humanism, his support for the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the victimized. In fine, he will be remembered as a product of the Self Respect Movement.
JUSTICE S.RATHNAVEL PANDIAN GREAT LOSS TO DRAVIDIAN SOCIETY!
The sad demise of our great friend Hon’ble Justice S. Ratnavel Pandian (89), Former Judge of the Supreme Court, fills us with immense grief.
Brought up in the cradle of Dravidian Movement, he became a reputed advocate and an activist in the political field for a while, until he was appointed as Public Prosecutor in Kalaignar Karunanidhi Government. He had won the admiration of Thanthai Periyar, Arignar Anna and Kalaignar Karunanidhi. He had a special regard for us. He wrote his own judgment as part of the nine judge decree in the famous Mandal Commission case. He made history in his judgment, which was noted for its originality, quoting Prime Minister V.P.Singh’s reference to Periyar and his words in his parliamentary speech. We hounoured him in our Justice Party Centenary Celebrations conducted at Periyar Thidal to which he gave a unique reply. His departure is a great loss not only to his family but to the entire Dravidian society. We give him our heroic salute. We express our heart-felt condolences to the bereaved sons and daughter, especially to Justice R. Subbiah.
President, Dravidar Kazhagam