Clad in a blue T-shirt and jeans, away from the stuffy environs of the higher judiciary, former Bombay high court justice Bilal Nazki is hard to recognise. The man, seen as stern by some and sensitive by others, decided over 60,000 cases in 15 years on the bench.
Looking back on 36 years of service to the legal profession, Nazki, who is from Srinagar and was a judge of the Bombay high court from January 2008 till November 12 this year, said there are two kinds of judgments. “One may be great for legal and academic purposes,” he said. “There is another which may not lay down any theory but will wipe the tears of an aggrieved person.”
Nazki said he “purposely” concentrated on the latter. “When a litigant comes to court, he is not interested in how scholarly a judge is,” he said. “He just wants relief. Two industrialist brothers fighting with each other can wait. But parents whose child has been killed or lost cannot.” Drawing a quaint parallel, he said, “The honesty of a judge is like the virginity of a traditional Indian unmarried girl. If it is questioned, the doubt can never be laid to rest.” When a litigant loses a case, he said, he should feel that the judge decided against him because he did not understand his side, not because he was dishonest. Nazki pointed out that no law requires judges to declare their assets, “but they are doing it voluntarily”.
Remembrance is reward
The fear of criticism never crossed the mind of the man who braved bullets and fought terrorists in his home state, yet had a dramatic escape. Tied to a chair, he kicked one of his assailants, broke free, jumped from the first floor and hid in a paddy field after being shot five times and drenched in blood. “Kashmir in those days  was like that,” Nazki, who ran 5km to reach a hospital, said. “Even if people saw you running with blood all over you, nobody helped because they would meet with the same fate.”
“I don’t know who those people were and why they were after my life,” he said. “My father told me that you can do two things: go after them and seek revenge or forget about it, live your life, and seek reward from god.” Nazki promised his father he would never chase his assailants. “I did get my reward. Kashmir, for the rest of the country, is a small place, a village. To come from Kashmir and be recognised and remembered in a city like Mumbai is a reward.”
The government is a party in almost 80% of litigation in India. If governments become more responsive to people’s needs, the pendency of 3.5 lakh cases in the Bombay high court will be reduced to just 60,000, Nazki said, adding that Indian judges face a number of difficulties and “no judiciary in the world can do what the Indian judiciary is doing”.
Film & cricket buff
“Sometimes it was very difficult to miss a cricket match and sit in court,” Nazki said mischievously. “My wife and son kept me updated on the score, which I checked in the lunch break.” A Hindi film buff, Nazki is an ardent fan of the late comedian Mehmood. “Today’s films also have comedy, but it is nothing like that of Mehmood,” he said. “There cannot be another like him.” An avid reader of philosophy, current affairs and Urdu poetry, Nazki has a pile of books in his study that he says he will now read as he has the time. A blog and a book are also in the pipeline.
Chief justice for three days
Bilal Nazki’s tenure as chief justice of the Orissa high court for three days may well have been the shortest in Indian judicial history, but “it is an honour to be CJ even for a minute”, he said. “If it were being conferred upon me because of my eligibility, why would I not accept?”
Nazki was recommended for promotion to the chief justice’s post by the Supreme Court collegium on August 28, but the appointment was made only two months later, thus cutting his tenure down to three days.
Some reports claimed that Nazki’s appointment was aimed at enabling him to head the Jammu & Kashmir Human Rights Commission. But Nazki said he would not take the job even if it were offered to him. Besides, he pointed out, even a retired high court judge can chair the commission.
“The rules in J&K are not the same as in Maharashtra,” he said. When the commission was set up, Jammu & Kashmir did not have enough retired chief justices and those from other states were unwilling to come there. So the eligibility criterion was lowered to enable a retired high court judge to chair the commission.