Justice B N Srikrishna rose to national prominence during the aftermath of the Mumbai riots, as he assumed charge of the one-man commission of inquiry set up in January 1993 to probe the communal conflagration. It took five years for him to complete the report which indicted those responsible for the bloodshed.
Justice Srikrishna knows a dozen languages and holds a master's degree in Sanskrit, a diploma in Urdu and a post-graduate degree in Indian aesthetics. His academic achievements also include an LLB and LLM from Government Law College, Mumbai, and the University of Mumbai.
A specialist in labour and industrial law, he became a senior advocate of the Bombay high court in June 1987. He was appointed chief justice of the Kerala high court in 2001 and was later elevated to the Supreme Court in 2002, where he served till mid-2006.
Recently, he headed the Sixth Pay Commission which completed its report within the stipulated 18 months, with one-third of the staff sanctioned and two-thirds of the budget allocated.
Justice Srikrishna spoke to Rujuta Paradkar about the Mumbai riots report and some of the biggest problems faced by the judicial system in India.
Corruption in the judicial system has become a big problem. How can we change that?
We have to select our judges carefully. Corruption is more a matter of moral perception. Now, I do not buy the theory that a man is corrupt because he is poor, although that's the normal justification given to get an increase in salaries. Man is basically corrupt or liable to be corrupt. Or he is not. So we have to pick up a person who is time tested. If you pick the wrong person, under a wrong incentive, he will become corrupt, even though his track record may show otherwise. So this is really a matter of choice while selecting the judges.
Another issue is the lack of transparency.
A court house is a public place. Every transaction that occurs there is open to the public. So the transactions in the court are not affected by a lack of transparency.
There is lack of transparency on many levels. For example Supreme Court judges are reluctant to declare their assets. Have you ever declared your assets?
I was one of the judges who refused to declare my assets. I assure you, I own no property at all. I told the chief justice, I am refusing it on two grounds: 1. There is no legal obligation, so I refuse to do. 2. I am ashamed to disclose it since I don't have assets.
Does it make me a dishonest man? Does it show lack of transparency in my dealings? So you cannot apply a general rule across the world.
Take a simple example: There is a law which says you cannot have more than one wife. It's not because of that law I have one wife. I have one wife because a) I am happy with her. b) I cannot afford to have a second wife. (Laughs)
So the law doesn't make a difference there. But if it becomes a law then you have to obey it in any case.
Image: A shopkeeper with the charred remains of his store in Khar, north-west Mumbai, in the aftermath of the 1992-93 riots. (Inset) Justice B N Srikrishna
Photograph: Douglas E Curran/AFP/Getty Images
Also read: Dump corrupt, useless judges: Supreme Court