V. R. Krishna Iyer

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Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer
V.R.Krishna Iyer.jpg
Personal details
Born (1914-11-15)15 November 1914
Palakkad, Malabar district, Madras Presidency, India
Died 4 December 2014(2014-12-04) (aged 100)
Kochi, Kerala, India
Nationality Indian
Residence Ernakulam
Religion Hindu
Autobiography Wandering in Many Worlds

Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer (15 November 1914 – 4 December 2014) was an Indian judge and minister who reformed the Indian criminal justice system, stood up for the poor and the underprivileged, especially,[1][2] and remained a human-rights champion,[3] a crusader for social justice and the environment,[4] and a doyen of civil liberties, throughout life. Also a sports enthusiast and a prolific author,[5] he was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan in 1999.

Birth and life in politics[edit]

Justice Vaidyanathapuram Rama Ayyar Krishna Iyer was born at Palakkad, in the Malabar region of the then Madras State. He studied law from Madras, practising at Thalassery, Malabar.[2] In 1948, when he protested against torture by the police as an interrogation method, he was imprisoned for a month on a fabricated charge of giving legal assistance to communists.[5]

He was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1952, from Thalassery as a non-party, independent candidate.[2] He became minister of law, justice, home, irrigation, power, prisons, social welfare and inland navigation in the first communist government in Kerala headed by E. M. S. Namboodiripad that came to power in 1957. He initiated legal aid to the poor, jail reforms incorporating the rights of prisoners, and set up more courts and rescue homes for women and children.[2][5] He got several worker and peasant orientated laws passed. He resumed legal practice in August 1959. He lost the 1965 assembly election, which he again contested as an independent candidate.

In office[edit]

He was appointed a judge of the Kerala High Court on 2 July 1968. He was a member of the Law Commission from 1971 to 1973 where he drafted a comprehensive report, which would lead to the legal-aid movement in the country.[2] He was elevated as judge of the Supreme Court on 17 July 1973.

In June 1975, the Allahabad High Court had unseated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from the Lok Sabha and barred her from it for another six years. Hearing a challenge to this order in the Supreme Court, he was both blamed for granting a conditional stay and praised for refusing an unconditional stay.[6] Interpreting this as losing the popular mandate to rule, the Opposition called for her resignation. The next day she declared a state of Emergency in the country.[7]

A thinker ahead of his time, he would go on to write landmark judgments:

  • Shamsher Singh case which interpreted the powers of the Cabinet with that of the President.
  • Maneka Gandhi case which paved the way to read the plain words "right to life" and "personal liberty", to mean many human rights now, thus expanding Article 21 of the Constitution.[8] That the government of the day cannot put fetters on the rights of citizens,[9] nor, should courts get unduly alarmed,[10] when both of them are reacting to a fear of facing all manner of hostile comment, was what he tersely reminded them:

"Dogs may bark, but the caravan (of justice) passes by"

paraphrasing an immemorial Arab proverb.

  • Ratlam Municipality case, where he started a trend for judges to leave the courtroom and go out there to see with their eyes,[11] the situation on the ground.[12] Moreover, this case would be a forerunner of cases which would be decided later on, on the concepts of "precautionary principle", "polluter pays" and "sustainable development"[13]
  • Muthamma's case, where he broke through the 'glass ceiling' with gender parity in traditional practices in public employment.
  • His lonely crusade against the death penalty would lead to a later bench of the court letting it be imposed only in the "rarest of rare" cases.[14]

He made bail conditions humane and directed the government to provide free legal-aid to detainess in prisons facing charges,[2] once ruling that:[15][16]

"Bail is the rule, and jail, the exception"

He believed in correction and not retribution or vindiction in dealing with prisoners. He recommended that meditation methods of Yoga which he practised, and which he observed in the prisons in the Americas and Oceania, could be introduced in the Indian justice system to help transform not just criminal tendencies in prisoners, but also help judges keep their mental poise invoking their higher values to have a better judgement of a case at hand.[17]

Along with Justice P. N. Bhagwati, he laid the foundations for the induction of PILs (Public Interest Litigations) in the country with a series of cases,[18] when in one such case, he treated a prisoner’s letter posted from jail as a writ petition,[19] commenting:[3]

"Freedom behind bars is part of our constitutional tryst...If wars are too important to be left to the generals, surely prisoners’ rights are too precious to be left to the jailors"

This revolutionary tool, initially used by public-spirited citizens to file PILs on behalf of sections of society unable to on their own, continues to bring in unheard changes in the day-to-day lives of the people even now, decades later.[20] Observing this, he states:[21]

"To transform the Supreme Court of India into the Supreme Court for Indians was the challenge...When the history of the judiciary in India comes to be written, PIL will be glorified as the noblest ally of the little Indian"

Sitting on the bench and away from it, he would reiterate time and again a guiding principle, that:

"The law of all laws is that the 'rule of law' must keep pace with the 'rule of life'"

by climbing down from its high pedestal, shedding its static and sterile inertia,[22] to ascertain ground realities for meeting the needs[23] and aspirations of the people in an ever changing society.[24]

Public life after office[edit]

He retired as a judge, on 14 November 1980. He stood for the nation's President in 1987, as the Opposition's candidate against R. Venkataraman, the ruling Congress's nominee who eventually, would assume office.

In 2002, he inquired into the Gujarat riots as part of a citizens' panel, with retired Justice P. B. Sawant among others. He also headed the Kerala Law Reform Commission in 2009.

Out of public office he continued to advocate the cause of justice on every forum and in his writings, and his house would always remain open, bustling with all who sought his advice.[25]

100th birthday and death[edit]

His 100th birthday was celebrated in Kochi in November, 2014 and a number of programmes were organised by members of the legal fraternity, citizenry and his friends and well-wishers to felicitate him. He had been actively involved in social and political life after retirement, almost till a few weeks when ill-health and advancing age took their toll on him.

He died on 4 December 2014.[26][27][28] The state was in attendance at his cremation with his two sons,[29] with a gun salute. [30] Iyer's wife, who would listen to him talk about his work, when on occasion he would change his mind after she gave her opinion on it,[31] had predeceased him.


He has to his credit 70–100 books, mostly on law, and four travelogues. He has also authored a book in Tamil, Neethimandramum Samanvya Manithanum. Wandering in Many Worlds is his autobiography.[31] There are around five published books by other authors about him.

Name of the book Year Publisher
Law and the People 1972 Peoples Publishing House, Rani Jhansi Road, New Delhi.
Law, Freedom and Change 1975 Affiliated East West Press Pvt. Ltd., 5, General Patters Road, Madras
Law India, Some Contemporary Challenges 1976 University College of Law, Nagpur.
Jurisprudence and Juris-Conscience à la Gandhi 1976 Gandhi Peace Foundation, 221/3-Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, New Delhi-2
Social Mission of Law 1976 Orient Longmans Ltd., 160, Anna Salai, Madras-2
Law & Social Change and Indian Overview 1978 Publication Bureau, Panjab University, Chandigarh
"Leaves From My Personal Life" 2001 Gyan Publishing House
Social Justice and the Handicapped Humans 1978 The Academy of Legal Publications, Punnan Road, Trivandrum-695001
The Integral Yoga of Public Law and Development in the Context of India 1979 The Institute of Constitutional & Parliamentary Studies, Vithal Bhai Patel House, Rafi Marg, New Delhi
Of Law & Life 1979 Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., 20/4 Industrial Area, Ghaziabad, U.P.
A Constitutional Miscellany 1986 Eastern Book Company
Life After Death[32] 2005 DC Books, Kottayam
Wandering in Many Worlds 2009 Pearson Education
The Indian Law (Dynamic Dimensions of the Abstract) 2009 Universal Law Publishing

Awards and distinctions[edit]

  • Soviet Land Nehru Award, 1968.
  • Sri. Jehangir Gandhi Medal and Award for Industrial Peace, 1982.
  • Distinguished Fellow, Indian Law Institute, New Delhi.
  • The Kumarappa – Reckless Award, 1988. (The Indian Society of Criminology) [33]
  • Baba Saheb B.R. Ambedkar National Award by the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi.
  • Ramasramam Award 1992.
  • Title of 'Living Legend of Law' awarded by the International Bar Association in 1995 in recognition of outstanding service to the legal profession internationally and for commitment to the Rule of Law.
  • M. A. Thomas National Human Rights Award for 1998.[34]
  • Padma Vibhushan Award by the President of India in 1999 (the Highest Award next to Bharath Ratna).
  • Recipient of Vyloppilli Award 1999 for the meritorious service in the fields Human Rights, law, administration etc. The Award was given in February 2000 by the Sahrudaya Vedi, Thrissur.
  • 'The Order of Friendship', by President Putin in October 2000, Russia's high state honour for personal contribution in strengthening the ties of traditional and time-tested friendship, co-operation and everlasting affection between the two nations.[35]


  1. ^ "A voice for the poor and deprived fades away". The Hindu(Kochi Bureau). 4 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Philip, Shaju (5 December 2014). "Former Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer dead". The Indian Express (Thiruvananthapuram). Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Dam, Shubhankar. "Criminal Rights and Constitutional Wrongs: A View from India (page 718)" (PDF). Singapore Academy of Law Journal. (2013) 25 SAcLJ. pp. 714–735. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Preston, Hon. Justice Brian J. "A précis of Justice Krishna Iyer 's contribution to the environmental jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India (5 August 2013)" (PDF). The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia. Retrieved 7 December 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c "The Many Lives of Justice Krishna Iyer". The Indian Express. (News Bureau). 5 December 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Andhyarujina, T. R. (6 December 2014). "Justice for the helpless". The Indian Express. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Ananth V. Krishna (1 September 2011). India Since Independence: Making Sense Of Indian Politics. Pearson Education India. p. 149. ISBN 978-81-317-3465-0. 
  8. ^ Sudhanshu Ranjan (21 March 2014). Justice, Judocracy and Democracy in India: Boundaries and Breaches. Taylor & Francis. pp. 63–. ISBN 978-1-317-80977-7. 
  9. ^ "Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India". (page 115 of 154 - Supreme Court of India). [1978 AIR 597] [1978 SCR (2) 621] [1978 SCC (1) 248]. 25 January 1978. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  10. ^ "Re: S. Mulgaokar". (page 12 of 28 - Supreme Court of India). [1978 AIR 727] [1978 SCR (3) 162] [1978 SCC (3) 339]. 21 February 1978. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Sudhanshu Ranjan (21 March 2014). Justice, Judocracy and Democracy in India: Boundaries and Breaches. Taylor & Francis. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-317-80977-7. 
  12. ^ Preston, Hon. Justice Brian J. "A précis of Justice Krishna Iyer's contribution to the environmental jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India (5 August 2013) page 8" (PDF). The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia. pp. 1–8. Retrieved 7 December 2014. 
  13. ^ Thomas Greiber (2006). Judges and the Rule of Law: Creating the Links : Environment, Human Rights and Poverty : Papers and Speeches from an IUCN Environmental Law Programme (ELP) Side Event at the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) Held in Bangkok, Thailand, 17-25 November 2004. IUCN. p. 28. ISBN 978-2-8317-0915-4. 
  14. ^ "Lethal Lottery The Death Penalty in India: A study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (pages 63-72)" (PDF). Amnesty International India and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu & Puducherry) May 2008. pp. 1–244. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  15. ^ Raghavan, R. K. (former Director, CBI) (26 November 2011). "Reversal of a dangerous trend". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  16. ^ "State of Rajasthan v. Balchand". [1977 AIR 2447] [1978 SCR (1) 535] [1977 SCC (4) 308]. 20 September 1977. p. 1. Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  17. ^ V. R. Krishna Iyer (2009). Wandering in Many Worlds: An Autobiography. Pearson Education India. pp. 267–68. ISBN 978-81-317-1835-3. 
  18. ^ Preston, Hon. Justice Brian J. "A précis of Justice Krishna Iyer 's contribution to the environmental jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India (5 August 2013) page 7" (PDF). The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia. pp. 1–8. Retrieved 7 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Forster, Christine M. (University of New South Wales, Sydney); Jivan, Vedna (University of Technology Sydney, Sydney) (2008). "Public Interest Litigation and Human Rights Implementation: The Indian and Australian Experience (page 16)" (PDF). Asian Journal of Comparative Law. The Berkeley Electronic Press. pp. 0–32. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  20. ^ Andhyarujina, T. R. (6 August 2012). "Disturbing trends in judicial activism". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  21. ^ Krishna Iyer, Justice V. R. (1 February 2003). "A democratic demand". Frontline. 20 (03). Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  22. ^ Iyer, V. R. Krishna (21 September 2006). "Law and justice in an independent nation". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  23. ^ 1974 AIR 994, 1974 SCC (4) 305 (page 8 of 46). "State Of Punjab v. Amar Singh". Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  24. ^ 1974 AIR 710, 1974 SCR (2) 282 (page 26 of 38). "Baradakanta Mishra vs The Registrar Of Orissa High Court". Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  25. ^ Baxi, Upendra; Bhushan, Prashant (6 December 2014). "...their respective articles on Justice Krishna Iyer". The Indian Express. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  26. ^ "Former Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer passes away at 100". NetIndian. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  27. ^ "Leaving a light, Justice Krishna Iyer passes away". Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  28. ^ "Justice VR Krishna Iyer, eminent jurist, dies in Kochi". Retrieved 2014-12-04. 
  29. ^ H.E. Mr. Alexander M. Kadakin, Ambassador of Russia to India (5 December 2014). "The condolence message by Ambassador". Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of India. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  30. ^ "Kerala bids tearful adieu to eminent jurist V R Krishna Iyer". Deccan Herald. (DHNS & agencies). 5 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  31. ^ a b V. R. Krishna Iyer (2009). Wandering in Many Worlds: An Autobiography. Pearson Education India. p. 189. ISBN 978-81-317-1835-3. 
  32. ^ "The Hindu : Book Review / Language Books : Life after death". hindu.com. 
  33. ^ "Awards". Indian Society of Criminology. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  34. ^ "M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award". (Vigil India Movement). Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
  35. ^ "President Vladimir Putin awarded the Order of Friendship to prominent Indian public and political figures". Russian Presidential Executive Office. 4 October 2000. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  • "Muslim Law- An analysis of the judgments rendered by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer" By. Sebastian Champappilly, Southern Law Publishers, Cochin-22
  • "Muslim Women ( Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act" By Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow.

External links[edit]