Portrait of justice
New Delhi, Jan. 17: A glossy gallery of sitting judges was showcased in the Supreme Court for the first time this week, but it has been hurriedly dismantled for fear of public criticism.
Portraits of all 24 judges, with the Chief Justice of India leading the pack, sprung up almost overnight on Thursday on the display board outside court 1 of the imposing building. But by today, sources said, they had been pulled down in deference to widespread “disapproval” over what the legal fraternity termed a “needless” exercise in “self-aggrandisement”. “What portraits? Judges’ portraits were displayed outside court 1 but they have been taken off now,” a source said.
The court website — supremecourtofindia.nic.in — has a judges’ gallery, but the glossy portrait-size pictures at the heart of the U-shaped building were both “unexpected” and “unprecedented”, the sources said. Seasoned lawyers and litigants said this was the first time sitting judges had adorned the court walls, although life-sized portraits of B.R. Ambedkar and erstwhile legal luminaries are seen all over the court chambers.
“No one saw this coming. There was no talk about it,” a lawyer said. “The Bar should have been consulted over this.”
Old-timers said they had expected display boards indicating case numbers coming up in the12-odd courts at these spots, but were surprised to see “smiling” portraits of judges staring down at them. “Display boards and cause lists should have been placed at that spot for the convenience of the average litigant,” an old-timer said. Officials of the court bureaucracy said every such proposal passed through the general administrative department but the judges themselves finally vetted any decision taken.
“No portrait can be pasted outside the court or inside without their nod,” a source said, shrugging off responsibility. “Even the senior-most court official cannot do anything without the approval of the judges.”Court PRO Rakesh Sharma said he had no clue either about the unveiling of the portraits or the decision to take them off. “I was on leave for two days… I rejoined only today.”
Other high-ranking court officials huddled together but refused comment.
A section of lawyers questioned the propriety of having a judges’ gallery overlook a Gandhi statue. The statue, with head bowed, as it were, before the scales of justice, sits at the bottom of the imposing flight of steps leading to the building.
Others said the gallery was “unaesthetic” and went against the architectural spirit of the building inaugurated in 1958. Although it was not a “heritage” building yet, “aesthetic considerations should have been taken into account”, they said.
Senior lawyers said “portrait politics” had been unknown in court corridors so far, though it was part and parcel of the political landscape.
Parliament’s Central Hall is, in fact, so crowded with portraits that the government has been mulling a freeze on new ones. At last count, Parliament had over 30 portraits, 28 statues and three busts, both inside and outside the building. The Prime Minister has unveiled statues as recently as December 22, 2008. Among those occupying pride of place in Parliament are Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Kazi Nazrul Islam. The most recent additions include Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi and communist leaders Amrit Dange and A.K. Gopalan.