Legendary jurist VR Krishna Iyer dies at 100
05 December 2014
Justice VR V R Krishna Iyer, noted jurist who gave India's Supreme Court a humane face, and remained committed to human rights and environment protection all through his life, died at the age of 100.
Vaidyanathapura Rama Krishna Iyer, a legend in his lifetime, died today at a private hospital in Kochi of multiple organ failure.
Justice Iyer is often referred to as the "man who triggered the Emergency." On 24 June 1975 he refused an unconditional stay on an Allahabad High Court verdict holding then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractices and invalidating her election. The next day, Indira Gandhi declared Emergency.
Gandhi had sought suspension of the High Court order that would disqualify her for six years. Justice Iyer's order was still benign as it allowed her to function as Prime Minister, attend the Lok Sabha, but without a right to vote. The order won Justice Iyer both kudos and criticism.
VR Krishna Iyer, however, is better remembered for his decisions allowing victims in criminal cases to appeal against court orders. His orders like banning routine handcuffing of prisoners as in the Shamser Singh case, which interpreted the powers of the cabinet vis-a-vis the President, earned him a place among renowned legal scholars such as Earl Warren, former Chief Justice of the US, and Lord Denning of the UK.
Former solicitor general Harish Salve referred to him as ''the man who led the revolution in jurisprudence which helped a then-floundering Supreme Court find its identity.
''He rescued the Supreme Court from the supreme shame of the Shivkant Shukla judgment (in 1976, Justices P N Bhagwati, A N Ray,YV Chandrachud and M H Beg agreed with the then Indira Gandhi government that even the right to life stood abrogated during the Emergency in ADM Jabalpur vs Shivkant Shukla case)'', Salve wrote in The Times of India.
He expanded the scope of the system of public interest litigation (PIL), which was started by PN Bhagwati, the then Chief Justice of India.
He was famous not only for his fair judgements but also for his mastery over the English language and how he used it in his judgements. Justice Iyer retired from the Supreme Court in 1980.
Born in Palakkad in Kerala, Justice Iyer was a politician turned judge - he was a legislator and the law minister in 1957 in Kerala's first Left government. In 1968, he became a judge in Kerala before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1973.
Chief Justice of India AS Anand referred to him as the `Bhisma Pithamah' of the Indian judiciary.
Eminent jurist Fali S Nariman said, "when Krishna Iyer speaks, the nation listens".
At the age of 99, last year, Krishna Iyer had joined a dharna in Ernakulam, which shows his commitment to his ideals.
He was popular for his sense of humour and authored several books.
Justice Iyer's wife died 40 years ago, but she remained his strength. He is survived by a son and a daughter and grand children.