KOCHI: V R Krishna Iyer, who passed away on Thursday, days after he turned a centenarian, was a jurist full of moral clarity who strived to uphold human dignity. He remained an active public figure till his death.
A restless moral rebel
Born November 1, 1915, at Vaidyanathapuram near Palakkad, Iyer was called to the Bar in Malabar in 1938. Known for his opposition to police “third degree” methodology, in 1948 he suffered preventative detention for about a month on trumped up charges. Socially sensitised from early years Iyer showed traits of being a restless, moral rebel against human injustice. In 1952, he was elected to the Kerala Legislative Assembly.
Legislator Par Excellence
In 1957 he became a minister in the 1st communist Government in Kerala, serving until 1959. Having been the minister of law, power, prison, irrigation, and social welfare in the Government of Kerala, he was instrumental in bringing about many significant changes in these sectors. Several people-oriented legislations were passed and a scheme for legal aid to the poor was put into action.
For the prisoners and SC/ST communities his presence was a boon. Several new courts were opened and some practical changes to promote the convenience of litigants were made. He is also credited with rescue homes for women and juvenile homes for children.
In 1957-59, Iyer as minister set up a number of trial courts on the principle that courts are where litigation proliferates.
The Humble Giant
Back to the Bar in August 1959, Krishna Iyer gained reputation as among the top lawyers of Kerala. When he lost an election (1965), defeated by the Marxist Party, he changed course and chose a progressive public life and rose to be a doyen in the legal profession.
In 1973, he was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court of India. While in the Law Commission, he was Chairman of an expert committee to Report on Free Aid to the poor. From the Law Commission, Iyer was elevated to the Supreme Court in July 1973.
During this time, the Supreme Court interpreted Article 21 of the Constitution of India in the sense that the national government was obliged to provide free legal services to accused persons in custody. His dynamic career, till he retired in November 1980, is perhaps, the finest span of his purposeful contribution. Iyer has rendered several important judgements involving the interpretation of the Constitution of India and the statutory as well as personal law of Muslims.
A good tennis player, he believed in the promotion of sports and was the president of the North Malabar Football Association for some years and organised annual tournaments. He has served as the vice president and later president of Kerala Hockey Association. He was closely connected organisationally with cricket in Kerala and was an active member of the State Sports Council.
There are over 105 published books by V R Krishna Iyer, which includes four travelogues. ”Wandering in Many Worlds” is the autobiography of V R Krishna Iyer.