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V. R. Krishna Iyer

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V. R. Krishna Iyer
Personal details
Born(1914-11-15)15 November 1914
Palghat, Malabar District, Madras Presidency, British India
(present day Palakkad, Kerala, India)
Died4 December 2014(2014-12-04) (aged 100)
Kochi, Ernakulam, Kerala, India
(m. 1941; died 1974)
AwardsPadma Vibhushan
AutobiographyWandering in Many Worlds

Justice Vaidyanathapuram Rama Iyer Krishna Iyer (15 November 1914 – 4 December 2014) was an Indian judge[1] who became a pioneer of judicial activism. He pioneered the legal-aid movement in the country. Before that, he was a state minister and politician.

As an activist lawyer, he served jail terms for the cause of his poor and underprivileged clients.[2][3] He was seen as an ardent human-rights activist.[4] In addition, he campaigned for social justice and the environment.[5] A sports enthusiast and a prolific author,[6] he was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan in 1999. His judgements continue to be cited in the higher judiciary.

Early life and education


Krishna Iyer was born in a Tamil Brahmin family[7] on 15 November 1914 in Vaidyanathapuram village in Palakkad, which was the part of the then Malabar region of the then Madras State, to a lawyer father, named Rama Iyer, and a mother named Narayani Ammal. He was the eldest among the seven children born to his parents, among whom, the youngest, V. R. Lakshminarayanan, served as the Director General of Police in Tamil Nadu Police. He inherited from his father the qualities of taking an avid interest in the community around and using the law for the benefit of those more in need.[8]

Iyer was educated at Basel Evangelical Mission Parsi High School, Thalassery, Government Victoria College, Palakkad, Annamalai University, and at Dr. Ambedkar Government Law College, Chennai.[9] He started practice in his father's chamber in 1938 at Thalassery, Malabar.[3] In 1948, when he protested the evil of torture by police for interrogation, he was imprisoned for a month on a fabricated charge of giving legal assistance to communists.[6]



Iyer joined the Bar in 1938, beginning his practice in the chambers of his father, V.V. Rama Aiyar, who was a lawyer in Thalassery in the State of Kerala.[10]

Political career


Iyer was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1952, from Kuthuparamba as a non-party, independent candidate, and served until 1956.[3] In 1957, Iyer stood for elections again from the Thalassery constituency as an independent candidate. He was supported by the Communist Party of India.[11] He was a Minister between 1957 and 1959 in the government led by E. M. S. Namboodiripad, holding the portfolios for Home, Law, Prison, Electricity, Irrigation, Social Welfare and Inland Water.[11] 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.[3][6] He got several labour and land reform laws passed. He resolved an inter-state water dispute between the newly formed neighbouring states, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. When this government was dismissed by the central government, he resumed legal practice in August 1959. He lost the 1965 assembly election, which he again contested as an independent candidate.

Judicial career


He was appointed a judge of the Kerala High Court on 12 July 1968.[10] He was elevated as judge of the Supreme Court of India on 17 July 1973. Following this, a group of lawyers had written a letter published in The Times of India, objecting to his appointment as a judge.[10]

Law Commission of India


Iyer was a member of the Law Commission of India from 1971 to 1973 where he drafted a comprehensive report, which would lead to the legal-aid movement in the country.[3]



Iyer made notable contributions in the field of constitutional law, focusing on social, political, and civil rights. He was noted for his use of literary references in his judgments.[10]

Public Interest Litigation


Iyer made notable contributions to public interest litigation at the Supreme Court of India, and relaxed the rules regarding standing in a number of cases in order to allow the Court to hear and decide on socially significant matters. On a number of occasions, Iyer utilised the Supreme Court's suo motu jurisdiction to hear cases based on letters or postcards written to the Court, raising awareness about social concerns.[10] Along with Justice P. N. Bhagwati, he introduced the concept of PILs (Public Interest Litigations) or "people's involvement" in the country's courts with a series of cases.[12] 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.[13] Observing this, he states: ? [14]

Jurisprudence during the Emergency


In June 1975, the Allahabad High Court had ruled that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's election to Parliament was unlawful, and barred her from it for another six years. Iyer was on the bench that heard an appeal against this order in the Supreme Court. In Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain, he ruled that although Mrs. Gandhi could no longer be a Member of Parliament, she was entitled to retain her position as Prime Minister.[10]

Rebuffing favour-seekers, he heard 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.[15] 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.[16]

Social Rights


Iyer wrote judgments in several notable cases concerning social rights. These included Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, in which he held that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which protects the right to life and liberty, must be interpreted widely to include several social rights.[17] In the Ratlam Municipality case, he started a trend for judges to leave the courtroom and go out and see,[18] the situation on the ground.[19] 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".[20] In Muthamma's case, Iyer called for breaking the 'glass ceiling' with gender parity in traditional practices in public employment.

Civil and Political Rights


Iyer ruled in several cases that aimed to secure against custodial violence, ruling on bail conditions as well as regarding legal aid for detainees.[3] Iyer also ruled against the practice of establishing special courts for cases involving politically connected persons.[1] Iyer advocating criminal justice based on corrective measures, and opposed retributive justice, calling for therapies such as meditation within prison environments to help decrease recidivism.[21] He also ruled against the practice of solitary confinement.[22]

Iyer was an opponent of the death penalty, laying down the standard that it could only be imposed in the "rarest of rare" cases.[23][10] In Ediga Anamma v State of Andhra Pradesh, he established the jurisprudence governing the commuting of death sentences to imprisonment for life, identifying mitigating factors that could be applied in such cases.[10]

Public life post-retirement and death


He retired as a judge on 14 November 1980 but, continued to advocate the cause of justice, on every forum and through his writings, participating in street protests,[24] and his house would always remain open, bustling with all who sought his help[25] or advice.[26] He stood for the nation's president in 1987, as the Opposition's candidate against R. Venkataraman, the ruling Congress's nominee who won. 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. He had been active, almost until a few weeks before his death, when ill-health and advancing age took their toll on him. As a public intellectual Iyer held several positions in the people's organizations, arts societies, sports councils, and cultural groupings.[27]

He died on 4 December 2014 at the age of 99,[28][21] and was cremated with state honours. His wife Sarada, who would listen to him talk about his work, when on occasion he would change his mind after she gave her opinion on it,[22] had predeceased him. Upon his demise, his private library was donated to the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, where the Justice Krishna Iyer Collection still resides.[29] He is survived by his two sons, Ramesh and Paramesh.



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. Leaves from My Personal Life is his autobiography.[22] 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[30] 2005 DC Books, Kottayam
Wandering in Many Worlds 2009 Pearson Education
Random Reflections 2004 Universal Law Publication
The Indian Law (Dynamic Dimensions of the Abstract) 2009 Universal Law Publishing

Awards and distinctions


Iyer received several awards and distinctions during his life, including:[11]

  • 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)[31]
  • Baba Saheb B.R. Ambedkar National Award by the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi.
  • Ramasramam Award 1992.
  • Justice Krishna iyer was awarded the*Title of 'Living Legend of Law"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.[32]
  • 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.[33]
  • Honorary doctorate from University of Calicut in 2003.[34]

See also



  1. ^ a b "V.R. Krishna Iyer – The Super Judge (1st VRK Memorial Lecture by Fali Nariman)". Live Law. 28 October 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  2. ^ "A voice for the poor and deprived fades away". The Hindu(Kochi Bureau). 4 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Dam, Shubhankar. "Criminal Rights and Constitutional Wrongs: A View from India (page 718)" (PDF). Singapore Academy of Law Journal. (2013) 25 SAcLJ: 714–735. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  5. ^ Preston, Hon. Justice Brian J (5 August 2013). "A précis of Justice Krishna Iyer 's contribution to the environmental jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India" (PDF). The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "The Many Lives of Justice Krishna Iyer". The Indian Express. (News Bureau). 5 December 2014. Archived from the original on 23 December 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  7. ^ "Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer passes away". Deccan Herald. 4 December 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  8. ^ Kylasam Iyer, Deepa; Kuriakose, Francis (July 2016). "Balancing Power: Analysing Socially Transformative Jurisprudence of VR Krishna Iyer through New Genre Leadership Theory (Working Paper)". ResearchGate. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  9. ^ Gopakumar, K. c (4 December 2014). "Leaving a light, Justice Krishna Iyer passes away". The Hindu.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Venkatesan, V. (24 December 2014). "Justice at heart". Frontline. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Suresh, Sreelakshmi. "V.R.KRISHNA IYER". Kerala Niyam Sabha. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  12. ^ Preston, Hon. Justice Brian J (5 August 2013). "A précis of Justice Krishna Iyer 's contribution to the environmental jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India" (PDF). The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia. p. 7. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  13. ^ Andhyarujina, T. R. (6 August 2012). "Disturbing trends in judicial activism". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  14. ^ Krishna Iyer, Justice V. R. (1 February 2003). "A democratic demand". Frontline. 20 (3). Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  15. ^ Andhyarujina, T. R. (6 December 2014). "Justice for the helpless". The Indian Express. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ Sudhanshu Ranjan (21 March 2014). Justice, Judocracy and Democracy in India: Boundaries and Breaches. Taylor & Francis. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-317-80977-7.
  19. ^ Preston, Hon. Justice Brian J (5 August 2013). "A précis of Justice Krishna Iyer's contribution to the environmental jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India" (PDF). The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia. p. 8. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ a b Gopakumar, K. c. (4 December 2014). "Leaving a light, Justice Krishna Iyer passes away". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  22. ^ a b c V. R. Krishna Iyer (2009). Wandering in Many Worlds: An Autobiography. Pearson Education India. p. 189. ISBN 978-81-317-1835-3.
  23. ^ "Lethal Lottery The Death Penalty in India: A study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (pages 63-72)". Amnesty International India and People's Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu & Puducherry) May 2008. pp. 1–244. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  24. ^ "Vaiko shocked over Krishna Iyer's participation in Human Chain stir". webindia123.com. 11 December 2011. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  25. ^ "Keralites with Bengal connection cautioned". Indian Vanguard. 28 January 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  26. ^ Baxi, Upendra; Bhushan, Prashant (6 December 2014). "...their respective articles on Justice Krishna Iyer". The Indian Express. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  27. ^ "A Trailblazer in Indian Jurisprudence: | Global South Colloquy".
  28. ^ "Former Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer passes away at 100". NetIndian. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  29. ^ "NUALS Library". National University of Advanced Legal Studies.
  30. ^ "The Hindu : Book Review / Language Books : Life after death". The Hindu.
  31. ^ "Awards". Indian Society of Criminology. Archived from the original on 11 December 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  32. ^ "M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award". (Vigil India Movement). Archived from the original on 13 December 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ "Former Honorary Degree Recipients" (PDF). University of Calicut. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  • "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.