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A man taller than an institution
— Gopal Subramaniam
He stood among the finest of those who have adorned the bench and deserves a place in the pantheon
— Harish Salve
The Nation’s conscience keeper
— JP Narayan
A colossus among judges
— Justice Mukul Mudgal
He was cast in the mould of two great judges - Chief Justice John Marshall and Lord Denning
— Economic and Political Weekly
Justice Verma possessed that rare and lonely virtue: courage. He called a spade a spade without fear of consequence
— Soli Sorabjee
He was a creative judge and his judgments remain the most celebrated performances of any judge of any country...I salute him as one of the most glorious of jurists India has produced
— Justice Krishna Iyer
Justice Verma will be remembered for his immense contribution to law
— PM Narendra Modi
Justice Verma was a man of vast understanding…respected for his path-breaking judgments, his deep sensitivity to the concerns of the common man and commitment to public good
— PM Manmohan Singh
The Citizens’ Judge
— Deccan Chronicle


The Jain Hawala Case

Be you ever so high, the law is above you

The Hawala scandal concerned accusations of money laundering which if true revealed a nexus between high ranking politicians and bureaucrats who were alleged to have been funded by a source linked with the funding of terrorists. Public interest petitions complained about the Central Bureau of Investigation’s lethargy in investigations. Justice Verma stated the need for a swift probe that did not preclude anyone from investigation. He devised the writ of continuing mandamus, asking an authority to perform its task for an unspecified time period. This enabled Court oversight, to avoid investigative inertia.

T N Godavarman Thirumulkpad v Union of India

Protecting and preserving an environemnt free of pollution

The Supreme Court (3 December 1997) placed reliance on Article 21 of the Constitution of India but also on the Directive Principles of State Policy to emphasise the principle of sustainable development. The court relied on the principle of trust as opposed to ownership of natural resources and sought to balance the need for development with preservation of the environment. As part of the judgment the court held that The Forest Conservation Act 1980 was enacted with a view to check further deforestation, and must therefore apply to all forests regardless of ownership.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act Judgment

An attempt to reduce rights violations in conflict area, whilst upholding the constitutionality of the Act

Formally known as the Naga People's Movement vs Union of India (1997). The Supreme Court argued that the Do’s and Dont's of conduct by soldiers had to be strictly enforced, and violators punished as per the Army Act of 1950. It also pointed out that there are safeguards in the Act that had to be acted upon. Justice Verma later targetted AFSPA in the Verma Committee Report, arguing that impunity for crimes of sexual violence by troops should be stopped by treating it in ordinary criminal proceedings.

The Vishaka Judgment

A world landmark judgment for gender justice, dramatically increasing Indian rights protection

One of the ’10 Judgments that Changed India’ (Zia Mody).

The gravity of Vishaka v. Rajasthan matched the horror of its immediate cause. The case arose after Banwari Devi, a courageous social worker, was gang-raped for trying to stop a child marriage. In protecting the rights of working women, the Indian Supreme Court pushed the frontiers of judicial activism. It not only recognised the right to work free of sexual harassment based on rights to life with dignity, professional life and prohibition of discrimination in the Indian Constitution. It went further in arguing that when India assents to international conventions, then rights contained in those conventions (e.g. against sexual harassment) are conferred as explicit rights of the Indian Constitution. Not just imputed rights. This greatly enhanced the explicit rights of Indian citizens. Most controversially, the Court argued the judiciary could legitimately create binding guidelines on how to realise rights, if parliament did not. This was widely perceived as ‘judicial legislation.’

The Hindutva Judgment

A controversial judgment on electoral contestation

Formally known as R. Y. Prabhoo v P. K. Kunte (1995), the Hindutva judgment is one of Justice Verma's most controversial judgments, which he believed to have been widely misunderstood. The matter related to speeches by Bal Thackeray that were seen by the High Court as illegal for appealing for votes on the grounds of religion. Verma argued “It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on Hindu religion.” This is given Hindutva is a modern ideological concept, not just a religious concept. Hence his writing “Hindutva is a way of life.”


Jamaat-e-islami Hind v Union of India

Protecting free expression and free association despite the political pressure

The Government of India declared the Jamaat an unlawful organisation that had been carrying out unlawful activities, and a tribunal enforced this decision. Since the government refused to disclose full information to the bench about why the Jamaat was banned, Justice Verma argued that in accordance with natural justice, the Supreme Court had to side with Jamaat. It could not uphold the tribunal and government decision if judicial scrutiny was limited.

The Ayodhya Judgment

Upholding constitutional secularism and avoiding communal discord

Formally known as Dr. M Ismail Furuqui and others v Union of India (1994). The Court upheld the provision by which the site of Babri Masjid was acquired by the Central Government. Although a controversial move, this was seen as critical to defusing tension regarding whether Hindus or Muslims had claim to the site at Babri Masjid, in the aftermath of the Bombay riots. Justice Verma recognised the importance of maintaining state authority to avoid communal violence and unecessary death and destruction.

Bonmai v Union of India

A model in respecting the other branches of government whilst stopping Constitutional abuse

The Court held that whilst it could review whether a proclamation that imposed President's rule was beyond the powers of Article 356, the scope of such review would be limited. This struck a balance between deferring to the decision of the executive, whilst also making sure use of Article 356 was based on reason, and not just as a way of threatening opposition governments in the States. Justice Verma, writing a separate opinion, agreed with the Court's overall view, but felt the area of justiciability was narrower than the Court's overall position.

The Second Judges Case

Protecting judicial independence; creating the Collegium

One of the '10 Judgments that Changed India' (Zia Mody).

Formally known as Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v India (1993). Justice Verma, writing for the majority, argued that the executive and judiciary are to reach their decision on judicial appointments together, given that they both have a vital role in the joint venture. It is only if there is irresolvable disagreement between them that cannot be resolved by joint effort that the Chief Justice would have primacy, and in fact that the question of primacy should even arise. 'Chief Justice' was understood to mean the Chief Justice in consultation with the other senior judges of the Court

Nilabati Behera v Orissa

Protecting us from custodial violence & recognising a right to compensation

One of the '10 judgments that changed India' (Zia Mody).

The mother of a 22 year old man who died in police custody wrote a letter to the Supreme Court, which Justice Verma converted into a writ petition. Justice Verma argued that the state could not violate fundamental rights (including the right to life) and then claim 'sovereign immunity' in public law proceedings. He also argued the state will be liable for fundamental rights violations in custody. This set a precedent for compensation, and in the development of law around custodial violence.

K Veeraswami v Union of India

An exercise in judicial restraint and independence

Justice Verma dissented from the majority opinion that a former High Court Chief Justice could be tried as a ‘public servant’ under the Prevention of Corruption Act. This was because parliament had not intended a member of the higher judiciary to be designated a 'public servant' for the purposes of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1947 as amended. Justice Verma recognised the need for an appropriate mechanism to deal with corruption by members of the higher judiciary. But argued this must be found separately to the Prevention of Corruption Act and in a manner consistent with judicial independence from undue interference.

Kumari Shrilekha Vidyarti v U.P.

Protecting us from arbitrary state action

The State terminated the appointment of all Government counsel irrespective of whether the term of the incumbent had expired or not. Justice Verma asserted that every state action must not be arbitrary even if that state action was in the field of contractual relations between the state and individuals. He argued this was grounded on Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which guarantees fairness in action by the state. This created new standards of justification by the state for its actions against citizens.