Sunday, April 2, 2023

Justice Muralidhar’s transfer stirs a controversy

While the timing of the transfer of the Delhi High Court judge remains a bone of contention, it is a sad loss for the Court where he pronounced several landmark judgments. By Gautam Mishra

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While Delhi’s streets were convulsed by violence and death, Justice S Muralidhar was taking a unique approach to the crisis in the Delhi High Court. While hearing a petition seeking filing of FIRs against BJP leader Kapil Mishra and others for giving inflammatory speeches, Justice Muralidhar asked for the videos to be played in the courtroom and said: “This is really disgusting. How can a police officer say that he hasn’t watched the videos which are all over the place? I’m shocked to see such a sorry state of affairs of police which is responsible for maintaining law and order in the national capital.” He added that there was no reason why FIRs shouldn’t be registered against those involved in violence. “Everyone who is responsible should be brought to book,” said the judge, while ordering police officers present in the Court to communicate his anguish to the Police Commissioner of Delhi and decide on filing of FIRs. Shortly after this hearing, the official notification for the transfer of Justice Muralidhar was sent out.

The Supreme Court Collegium had recommended his transfer to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on February 12, 2020. Justice Muralidhar had agreed to his transfer and subsequently, a notification was issued by the Department of Law and Justice declaring the transfer official. While the timing of the order remains a bone of contention, it is a sad loss for the Delhi High Court where he was appointed as a judge in 2006 and pronounced several landmark judgments, such as:

Section 377 Verdict

A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court, including Justice Muralidhar, had decriminalised sex between consenting adults of the same gender by holding the penal provision “illegal”. Later, the Supreme Court too legalised homosexuality in India. The verdict was praised by the LGBTQI community worldwide.

Hashimpura Massacre

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Muralidhar overruled the verdict of the trial court which had acquitted 16 former Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel in the Hashimpura massacre case and sentenced them to life.

Balmiki community

In the murder of a 60-year-old Dalit man and his handicapped daughter in Hisar, Haryana. a bench comprising Justices Muralidhar and IS Mehta convicted 33 people belonging to the Jat community. Justice Muralidhar in his order said that the attack was deliberate targeting of the Balmiki community. He also observed that “71 years after Independence, instances of atrocities against Scheduled Castes by those belonging to dominant castes have shown no sign of abating”. He observed that the incidents that took place in Mirchpur over April 19-21, 2010, served as yet another grim reminder of “the complete absence of two things in Indian society,” as noted by Dr BR Ambedkar while tabling the final draft of the Constitution—one was “equality” and the other “fraternity”.

Conversion Case

The Muslim father of a girl filed a complaint before Justice Muralidhar’s bench, saying his daughter had converted to Hinduism after marrying of her own free will. The Ghaziabad police had arrested the couple from JNU. Justice Muralidhar observed: “In the status report filed today nothing is stated about how the police of PS Loni could so easily come to JNU and take away the petitioner Nisha and how Nisha, despite being over 21 years of age, was simply handed over to her parents by the investigating officer knowing fully well that she had married Sandeep of her own free will. Inspector Rajesh Kumar, Additional SHO of PS Vasant Kunj (North), stated that he had no prior intimation of the visit by police officials from PS Loni in Ghaziabad. If that is the case, it begs the question as to why they did not insist on following the letter of the law and instead simply allowed the police officials from PS Loni to take away two adults from the JNU campus.” He ordered that the couple be reunited immediately.

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