A revolutionary person

Fali S Nariman’s famous words that “When Krishna Iyer speaks, the entire nation listens” sum up the stature the departed legal luminary enjoyed.

Iyer’s expertise as a jurist was celebrated but his post-retirement years in Kochi were also marked by an ever-increasing affiliation to social causes.

His reputation as a humanist judge reflected in his interventions in issues of public interest; Sadgamaya, his home on M G Road in Kochi doubled as a platform of solace for the common man. He was always the accessible ‘Swami’, ready with support and counsel activists involved in various public interest initiatives.

While conforming to the trappings of post-retirement life – complete with daily walks with friends and controls on food habits – Iyer never retired from public life. In January this year, he sat in dharna demanding a cancer care facility in Kochi.

It was a bench comprising Iyer that put an end to handcuffing of all accused. In 1974, a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Iyer had – in the Shamsher Singh vs State of Punjab case – interpreted the President’s authority as constitutional head of the Union. In 1975, Iyer granted a “conditional stay” of an earlier verdict by the Allahabad High Court that declared the election of former prime minister Indira Gandhi to the Lok Sabha as void; with the stay in place, Indira Gandhi was barred from participating in debates or voting in Parliament.

He was among the first judges to admit Public Interest Litigations (PILs) in court.  
After completing education at the Victoria College in Palakkad, Annamalai University and Madras University, he practised as an advocate in courts in Malabar.

In 1957, in the first election held in Kerala, he contested and won from Thalassery as a Left-backed candidate. Iyer – who handled Home, Law and other portfolios in the first state government – returned to the court after the state government was dismissed in 1959. He served as a judge in the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1980.

He was also a member of the Law Commission in the early 1970s. A prolific writer, he also contributed articles to leading dailies including Deccan Herald.

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