Navyug. P. Sethi Advocate
JAMMU: On December 8, 2020, an era came to end in Judicial History of Jammu & Kashmir with retirement of Geeta Mittal, the first female Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir, the first Chief Justice of Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh. She came from High Court of Delhi with vast judicial experience besides having experience as a leading Advocate in Delhi before elevation.
On her arrival, she faced challenge of huge expectations from public and advocates of Jammu & Kashmir who were new to face female Judge and that too as Chief Justice. Her conduct further raised the bar quite high as in relatively small time she spread friendly smile across the Court room as also with people she interacted. She heard some of the most contentious issues with relative ease, never seen before and her sense of justice always received appreciations and submissions.
On Administrative side, she managed and maneuvered many issues with ease because of personal conduct and her being firmly grounded. Many a time teams and representatives of Bar Association went to her to discuss pressing issues with prepared aggressive approach and confrontism but Chief Justice always welcomed them with tea which at times she served personally besides making everyone comfortable before starting any talks and that always took all feelings of aggression and anger away from delegations. Most of time she had her own say because of treating delegations as family members. She truly became a motherly figure.
But as in life, not every time the things went comfortable. One exception which saw the relationship between bench and bar getting nose dived was issuance of contempt notice to four advocates for allegedly locking Court premises. More than issuance of notice, problem was that persons who were issued notice were not decision makers and the persons responsible for strike or decision of Bar were not issued any notice. A feeling went across lawyers that persons chosen were only to set examples from lesser mortals. Majority of Bar Association Jammu felt bad about decision to selectively put advocates on contempt trial. Hitherto comfortable relation between Bench and Bar never happened again, to the extent of even avoiding her farewell, which must be painful for both sides.
Her final adieu was the twin judgements in Roshni Act and Forest Land Encroachment which settled the making of new Jammu Kashmir which is absolutely intolerable to corruption, non-performance and non- sense. Decision to make public names of rich and influential, who looted public wealth majorly led to restoration of faith of common man in the system. To the extent it became the most talked after point in media in recent times. How many times judgements of High Court shake the conscious of whole nation. She was presiding over benches which wrote and created history.
Attempt by Administration to dilute impact of judgement by filing review petition and making attempts to get it listed on last days of her retirement and asking for saving officials involved in illegalities by continuing investigation with Jammu Kashmir Anti Corruption Bureau instead of Premier investigating Agency CBI and also trying to create doubts on Judgement by artificially creating categories of beneficiaries to put judgement under clout, was well read when she, while heading bench, refused to take bait and adjourned case for date after her retirement. She saved and protected all good things the judgement has brought up.
Creating arbitration centre of excellence, streamlining registry, systemising the listing of cases, major reforms during COVID-19, tough orders on mining, encroachments and many more instances need to be discussed but ‘her achievements are big and space is small’.
Wishing Geeta a very satisfying and healthy life after retirement though we know she will not retire and will be very active, as Geeta Mittal can’t retire, she can just change working.