By I.J.S. Shet
Mangalore, May 27, 2011: This great personality is a lover of this nature blessed land called Mangalore and its people! Hear him speak to an audience of a cross section of Mangaloreans, which he does at every possible opportunity, and you will hear him say ’Nanu ondhu Mannina Maga’. His efforts to preserve the traditional harmony and nature of Tulunadu that is Kudla and Canara can never be extolled enough. In the first week of May 2011, he managed no less a wonder than meet in person the President of India and Vice President. His main aim was to brief both these key personalities on the deep concerns of people and seek the powerful and urgent intervention of the executive to refresh the peace and harmony of this naturally beautiful land. Few would achieve such a daring and lofty mission for the good of fellow men! His personal message here, to the readers of "Mangalore Today" bares his love for nature and ecology which he safeguarded in many of his judgments.
As a legal luminary and social activist, the positive ripple effect he created is awesome - his activities after relinquishing the position of Judge,High Court of Karnataka are numerous and impossible for ordinary persons. But, for Justice Michael Francis Saldanha all this is taken in his stride one day to the next. A talented and prolific writer, Justice Saldanha has contributed over 4,000 articles and Research Papers to publications both nationally and abroad, notably the world’s leading Law Journals. An effective and witty speaker, his lectures and speeches have been extensively quoted and published. Justice Saldanha easily qualifies as an all-time great of the Indian Judiciary - gifted, brilliant, effective, caring, respected and admired for his unimpeachable integrity - truly a People’s Judge and a personality extraordinary of Indian ethos, who thinks out of the box.
Most importantly, for the first time ever, the Judicial officers in the trial courts have been firmly redirected into trying cases responsibly, efficiently and expeditiously, not to mention conscientiously, thereby ensuring quicker and correct disposal and cutting down the number of appeals by 60%, principally because of professional honesty having become the professional guideline. While maintaining an all-time disposal record of 12 criminal appeals a working day as against the normal 2, these steps have opened a new dimension in the role of Judiciary by reforming and refining the law courts. Unfortunately good has little space in our dear land as of now - Justice Saldanha has not hankered after any Government financed position.
It is really outside the Courtroom that the impact of his social commitment has been evident. His articles and speeches have been so prolific and devastating in this field that the International Human Rights Commission in its report published in December 2003 had occasion to observe that the "pioneering and revolutionary contributions of this Indian Judge have effectively transformed what was a hopelessly dismal picture into one of hope." At one of the largest functions held in Karnataka in 2003, where a rural audience of 200,000 persons was present, Justice Saldanha spontaneously got them to vow that theirs sons would not demand or receive dowry nor would their daughters be given any dowry. Reform through law empowerment is Justice Saldanha’s great achievement.
During his tenure in the Karnataka High Court, eight of Justice Saldanha’s Judgements came in for special mention in the UN Report published in December 2003, for substantially reducing the vehicular pollution levels in Indian cities. It was his Judgements that were followed by the Bombay, Delhi, Kolkata and six other High Courts between 1998-99 until the Supreme Court issued directions for conversion of public transport to CNG in 1999. Perhaps the most befitting tribute to this Judge is the title of being the "Green Judge" and most appropriately enough the chapter on India in the UN Report on Environment designated him as the ’Clean Judge’.
AS VISITING FACULTY:
Just to mention a few: He has been to Beijing University, China, in 1995 to deliver a series of lectures at the world’s largest university. In April 1996, invited by the Government of South Africa to participate in the "Truth and Reconciliation Committee Hearings" in that country, being conducted by the International Human Rights Commission. Invited by the Johannesburg and Cape Town Universities to address Seminars and sit as Guest Judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, by the Chief Justice. Justice Saldanha is a visiting professor at: The London School of Economics; The University of Sterling in Scotland; The Sorbonne at Pairs and The Harvard Law School.
Prodigious Judicial Action:
A UN report on judicial contributions to the environmental field published in December 2003 has made a special mention of Justice Saldanha’s 116 judgements that have significantly contributed towards preservation of the Green Cover and the water bodies in this sub-continent. In a special section devoted to air pollution, Justice Saldanha’s judgements directing conversion of commercial vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG) in 1998 subsequently followed and strictly implemented by the Bombay High Court, the Delhi High Court and six other High Courts until the Supreme Court issued national directions, in that very area, have led to an impressive fall in the vehicular pollution levels in the country and the Karnataka High Court has come up for special mention for having commenced the cleaning process.
As his contribution towards clearance of arrears, Justice Saldanha has ensured that the time factor in case disposal is reduced to the barest minimum and in order to set an example, he has systematically maintained the exceptionally high disposal rate by completing the 29,000th judgement on merits as on December 10, 2003. The list of reported judgements is even more impressive, covering 22 fields of law and numbering 3,750 as on December 20, 2003 as per computer analysis.
Justice M F Saldanha hails from a well known intellectual Konkani Catholic family of Mangalore; he had his schooling at the famed Jesuit St Aloysius High School at Mangalore and graduation from St Aloysius College, Mangalore. A student of distinction all through and champion athlete, he won numerous prizes in sports and games, as well as an award winner debating and in writing securing many awards in inter-school and inter-collegiate contests. Was awarded a Gold Medal by Mysore University for having secured a First Class First in English. In 1962, joined the Government Law College, Mumbai and completed the LL B in 1964 securing First Class. He had won for the Government Law College most of major trophies in debating and had also represented the University at Delhi on many occasions. Simultaneously did a course in Journalism where he was awarded the President’s Gold Medal by Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the then President of India, for having stood First Class First.
In the Law arena:
In 1964, M F Saldanha joined the chambers of the late Rajni Patel and was with him until 1970. He specialized in Criminal Law and also took up Industrial Disputes, Matrimonial and Commercial Law. In the early years of his practice, concentration was in the Trial Courts and different Tribunals - Customs, Central Excise etc., simultaneously assisting in Appellate work before the High Court.
In 1974, he became Assistant Government Pleader on the newly-constituted Writ Cell. Since then, he has handled Writ Work in every conceivable field on behalf of the Government of Maharashtra, before the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court. He ensured that in all possible cases where injustice has been done to a poor employee or to a citizen who has been deprived of his lands or in any other manner aggrieved, the litigation should be kept to the minimum and fair orders passed without waste of time.
Advocate Saldanha achieved a reputation with the judges and the Bar for the total fairness and integrity in the conduct of thousands of cases which involved his having to study the matter in great detail, examine records and get the government to correct its action. This won him great appreciation from Judges, the Bar, the media and the litigants because it resulted in timely disposal and justice to a wide cross section of people.
It has been Justice M F Saldanha’s commitment to devote time to free legal aid and support poor,needy and harassed litigants.He did this with considerable success over the years. He heads and is actively associated with numerous social associations, organizations, watch dog bodies and activism around the world and his abilities are recognized at the highest levels. His services are chiefly for the least, last and lost and his leaning towards charity is systemic. He is ever ready to battle injustice, corruption and human rights where ever it is brought to his notice and travels widely to achieve the best possible for the needy and those who fail to get justice and fair play without caring for personal discomfort.
Justice Saldanha often emphasizes that the existing volumes of law are sufficient but not at all effectively enforced; most laws could be amended to make them better suited to the changing times. He often rues the fact that leaders in high places are devoid of sense of values and uprightness - this is a fact that is eating into the country in the face of opportunism and self-obsession. He is a committed to truth and transparency and is a part of ’Transparency International’ and stresses the need for transparency in functioning of the Government and it’s departments, courts, NGOs, trusts, institutions and other public utilities. No institution or individual is given the right to evade public audit and transparency he says.
The meetings early this month with the President of India and Vice President as well as other dignitaries, to draw their attention - supported by reports,facts and figures - to the gross injustices in many pockets of India in an exclusive manner highlights and enhances Justice M F Saldanha’s stature and commitment for the general good of the people of India in the future.
Personal Message to the Readers
Every visit to my beloved Mangalore is a nostalgic journey which I often describe as the return of the native. It pains me to see the devastation levels which prescribe that the Coconut Palms and all other greenery be destroyed, the wells and water bodies be eliminated and every available land area be built on or paved. The forests have gone, the granite and mineral wealth has reached other parts of the world, the fields, vegetable farms and fruit gardens have all been bulldozed into industrial areas called SEZs and Chemical Complexes which are supposed to bring prosperity to the District. On my last visit to Mangalore, I was told in the markets that the organic vegetables which the District used to produce have disappeared and for the first time in the century, food products are being imported into Dakshina Kannada. The over fishing has reached a point whereby even the famous “KANE” fish has almost been eliminated. This pathetic and suicidal policy is labeled as the price of development and is fully supported by the leaders of the community. To me, it is a devastation level that needs to be controlled and it is my appeal that the voice of sanity must prevail before it is too late. Other parts of the world have realized the folly and have applied the brakes. It is really a matter of survival and there are no options.
After 40 years, the Mango tree in my home has not yielded because there are no other mango trees for kilometers around and there is no pollination! True, I could buy Mangoes that have come in from all parts of the country, except that if I want to savour the native “Mundappa”, it has gone with the wind.
What amazes me is the fact that attitudes have changed so much that the mercenary culture have swept away the value system which is threatening to eliminate a cultural heritage that is very dear to me and to a good section of right thinking human beings.
My appeal is that this should happen.
(Justice Michael F. Saldanha)