Gigantic challenge

V VENKATESAN IN THE FRONTLINE

Ranjit Kumar, the amicus curiae in the interlinking of rivers case, is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court and has been practising for nearly 32 years. He has been the amicus curiae in about 14 matters before the Supreme Court, including the ones on the cleaning of the Yamuna and the sealing of illegal commercial establishments in Delhi. In this interview to Frontline, he tries to clarify many of the concerns voiced by experts about the Supreme Court’s judgment in the interlinking of rivers case.

Critics of the judgment have pointed out that none of the 30 projects being planned has been approved or sanctioned and that none of them is ready for implementation. The delay has been attributed to the divergence of perspectives on the project between the National Democratic Alliance government and the United Progressive Alliance government which succeeded it.

I don’t want to get into the political realm of the matter. What had already been achieved was that the peninsular and the Himalayan links had been identified. There are 14 Himalayan links and 16 peninsular links. That apart, most of the rivers are inter-State rivers. After the drawing up of the pre-feasibility reports, which itself took time, there was a bar chart presented by the government as to how much time it would take. The government had given milestone timetables under which the implementation of the project would be completed by December 31, 2016.

The steps required were first, the feasibility study, then funding proposals, then the concurrence of the Chief Ministers of the States and then the completion of the detailed project reports (DPRs). And even in 2002, while the matter was going on in the court, the government informed that feasibility studies in respect of six river links had already been completed. So, I would not like to say that none of the projects is lying in limbo. The Standing Committee of Parliament for Water Resources, which has been noticed in paragraph 24 of the judgment, had asked why the project was at a nascent stage. The committee had strongly recommended going ahead with the project. That was why I sought the court’s intervention. Undoubtedly, the ILR [interlinking of rivers] programme is a gigantic challenge, and a momentous one before the Union government.

The report of the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) appears to be the only basis for the judgment. Does this report adequately assess the gains from ILR for drought prevention and flood control?

The Union of India in all its affidavits filed in the Supreme Court always supported the programme and the NWDA [the National Water Development Agency] continued to function under the aegis of the Secretary, Water Resources. Feasibility reports and DPRs were made, or have been made in the cases of some. Therefore, to say that the NCAER 2008 report is the only basis for the judgment is not correct. The court has definitely lifted from the report’s conclusions dealing with the economic aspect and social impact and the benefits arising from the project.

The two basic premises that determined the admission of PIL in this case were that the ILR would lead to drought proofing and flood control and that there was consensus among the States. These two premises have subsequently become vulnerable.

I do not agree that they are vulnerable. Because nobody can deny that there is flooding every year and droughts every year. How much money does the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund have to expend to mitigate the devastation caused by floods and droughts? For the last 60 years, can we say that the premises of flooding and drought are vulnerable?

Critics point out that courts cannot lay down the manner in which the right to water should be ensured.

It is not the right to water which is being ensured. What is being ensured is the beneficial aspects of having 40 million hectares irrigated. And when you can have waterways systems, the yearly misery of droughts and floods can be got rid of. Chapter 2 of the NCAER report amply bears this out. It explains the benefits of river valley projects, namely, the Indira Gandhi Canal project, the Tennessee Valley project, the Colorado River Canal system and the Three Gorges dam.

The relationship between the right to water and the ILR project has been described as tenuous.

The judgment itself doesn’t say that there is a link between the right to water and the project. The court is only saying that the project is in the national interest. In paragraphs 50, 52, and 63, the court says that these are matters of national interest and national problems should be viewed with greater objectivity, rationality and spirit of service to the nation.

Does the ILR project adequately address the concerns on biodiversity and impact on the environment?

That is why environmentalists are in the task force. They have a big say in the matter. I have attended a few meetings of the task force. Most of the objections pertain to rehabilitation programmes for those being displaced. Therefore, the aspect which relates to rehabilitation will be a part of the project itself as we have seen in other places such as Tehri, and Narmada dam. I don’t agree that the project ignores the concerns on the environment and biodiversity. Even if environmentalists say so, they have to give reasons, and the court will look into the reasons. If it is successful all over the world, and specifically in China, Brazil and Pakistan, then surely it cannot be said that it will not be successful here.

Some of the projects may involve international agreements, especially between India and Bangladesh. Has the judgment taken this into account?

There are issues with Nepal and Bangladesh, which will be sorted out. This will be part of the implementation process. Whatever will be required will be done.

Has the court considered the need for clearances under the Environment Protection and Forest Conservation Acts and the National Rehabilitation Policy, and from the Planning Commission and the Cabinet?

These are all in the implementation process. Reports have to be filed. The court will consider the grounds cited by these agencies if they conclude that the project is not feasible and will dwell on it. I can file a contempt, if nothing is happening, for default or for non-compliance of the directions by the Supreme Court as mentioned in Paragraph 64 (XVI) of the judgment.

Did the UPA government make its stand clear to the court on the ILR project despite its reservations?

The government has at no stage expressed any reservation about the project. A few States may have. The Centre has never taken the stand that it is not feasible. It went along, filed status reports about what has been happening and how the matter has progressed. It did not say that it is not feasible or that we should not do it. If the government were to come to such a conclusion that it is not feasible, then it will make a somersault of its earlier position. Nobody can deny the benefits accruing from these projects.

How do you react to the criticism that the ILR can lead to fresh inter-State river disputes and that it may not solve the existing ones?

I have informed the court that in view of the provisions of the River Boards Act, 1956, enacted by Parliament, there is a declaration under Section 2 that the Central government should take under its control the regulation of inter-State rivers and river valleys. Section 13 provides for optimum utilisation of water resources and for promotion and operation of schemes of flood control. Section 15 empowers preparation of schemes to develop inter-State river or river valleys. And this has been noted in Paragraph 58 of the judgment. Therefore, if there is an existence of regulatory framework by the declaration of Parliament, there need not be any inter-State river dispute. The tribunal is not necessary. The Central government can exercise that power. The Central government never applied its mind to this Act when disputes arose and tribunals were set up. When I brought this to the notice of the court, the judges found a way to deal with the matter.

It is pointed out that the Supreme Court has failed to consider the diversity of views on the reasons for India’s water crisis and that the ILR may not be the best possible answer.

This judgment does not deal with water crisis. This judgment deals with the benefits arising from interlinking and the malice or misery that is prevailing on account of droughts and floods. This judgment does not deal with the water crisis to the extent of drinking water. But it deals with an aspect that if interlinking takes place, how many million hectares of land will be irrigated.

V VENKATESAN IN THE FRONTLINE

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Supreme Court seeks balance between fair trial and press freedom

Supreme Court of India

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Human beings across civilizations have always strove to strike a balance between working and resting, reporting and judging, befriending and avoiding, warmth and coldness, speech and expression, joy and frustration … and many intermingled aspects of daily and social life.

What is the right balance? It cannot be constant as it depends as much on the time and age as on a person’s temperament, attitude and disposition. No one has found it and nobody can claim that he or she did everything right in life without displeasing anyone.

In the era of 24×7 television and internet sweeping information across the world in a matter of milliseconds, the Supreme Court of India is attempting to strike a balance between the rights of the accused to a fair trial, protection of witnesses, public’s right to know and media’s right to freedom of speech and expression by exploring the possibility of laying down guidelines for reporting trials of criminal cases.

A five-judge constitution bench has already put the debate cauldron on the hearth. It intends to fill the legal vacuum with a studied and debated guideline to prevent media’s foray into the right to life domain of an accused, prejudicing him during the trial.

Will it be law-making or just finding the law to fill the vacuum? The Supreme Court in the epic ‘Keshavananda Bharati’ judgment [1973 (4) SCC 225] had said, “It is somewhat strange that judicial process which involves law-making should be called ‘finding of law’.”

In India, the Supreme Court alone can interpret the law. English clergyman Bishop Benjamin Hoadley’s 1717 sermon said, “Whoever has absolute power to interpret the law, it is he who is the law giver, not the one who originally wrote it.”

American jurist Benjamin N Cardozo had in his book ‘The Nature of Judicial Process’ said, “The law which is the resulting product is not made, but found. The process being legislative, (it) demands legislator’s wisdom.”

It reminds M R Cohen’s golden lines in the book ‘Law and the Social Order’ – “Some simple hearted people believe that the names we give to things do not matter. But though rose by any other name might smell as sweet, the history of civilization bears ample testimony to the momentous influence of names. At any rate, whether the process of judicial legislation should be called finding or making law is undoubtedly of great practical moment.”

Given the complexities of the judicial law-making process intended to fill the legal vacuum, the Supreme Court would surely lay emphasis on the crucial balancing aspect.

Mahabharat’s Yudhisthir, who set supreme standards in balancing his speech and action, had passed his surrogate father Dharmaraj’s two tough tests. On a hot day while in exile, the Pandavas were very thirsty. Sahadev, Nakul, Arjun and Bhim went in search of water one after the other. They found a lake but failed to answer lake-guard Yaksha‘s philosophical puzzles.

Defiantly, they drank water and fell dead. Yudhisthir answered the questions. The Yaksha promised life only to one of his brothers. Yudhisthir chose Nakula and justified that since one of Kunti’s son was alive, a son of Madri must live.

Yudhisthir faced the other test during the Pandavas bodily journey to heaven. After his brothers fell on the wayside, a dog joined Yudhisthir and kept pace with him till the gates of heaven. Indra came with a chariot to take Yudhisthir but told him to leave the dog behind. Yudhisthir said he would rather spurn heaven to stay with his companion.

In between these two incidents, Yudhisthir donned the role of a journalist when Kaurava general Drona was on a rampage on the 15th day of the Great War. The Pandavas killed an elephant named Ashwathama, which was also Drona’s son’s name. A rumour was floated that the enemy army chief’s son was dead. Drona confronted Yudhisthir, who reported aloud that Ashwathama was killed while muttering under his breath that he was not sure whether it was a man or an elephant.

It is difficult to explain why Yudhisthir, who perfected the art of balancing his speech and action, failed when it came to reporting correctly!

Coming to the Supreme Court’s guidelines exercise, a question arises – is it born out of over-sensitiveness? We hope it is not. For the court had in Rajesh Kumar Singh case [2007 (7) SCR 869] warned, “Of late, a perception that is slowly gaining ground among public is that sometimes, some judges are showing over-sensitiveness with a tendency to treat even technical violations or unintended acts as contempt.

“It is possible that it is done to uphold the majesty of the courts, and to command respect. But judges, like everyone else, will have to earn respect. They cannot demand respect by demonstration of ‘power’. Nearly two centuries ago, Justice John Marshall, the Chief Justice of American Supreme Court, warned that the power of judiciary lies, not in deciding cases, nor in imposing sentences, nor in punishing for contempt, but in trust, confidence and faith of the common man.”

dhananjay.mahapatra@timesgroup.com

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

The 90%

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

The unpleasant truth: 90 per cent of Indians are fools

Someone asked me, “Justice Katju, you say you wish to keep away from controversies, but why is it that controversies keep chasing you?” I replied that while it is true that I wish to be uncontroversial, I have a great defect: I cannot remain silent when I see my country going downhill. Even if others are deaf and dumb, I am not. So I will speak out. As Faiz said: “Bol ki lab azad hain tere/ Bol zubaan ab tak teri hai.”

In our shastras it is written: “Satyam bruyat, priyam bruyat, na bruyat satyam apriyam.” It means, “Speak the truth, speak the pleasant, but do not speak the unpleasant truth.” I wish to rectify this. The country’s situation today requires that we say “Bruyat satyam apriyam”, i.e. “Speak the unpleasant truth”.

When I said that 90 per cent Indians are fools I spoke an unpleasant truth. The truth is that the minds of 90 per cent Indians are full of casteism, communalism, superstition. Consider the following:

First, when our people go to vote in elections, 90 per cent vote on the basis of caste or community, not the merits of the candidate. That is why Phoolan Devi, a known dacoit-cum-murderer, was elected to Parliament — because she belonged to a backward caste that had a large number of voters in that constituency. Vote banks are on the basis of caste and community, which are manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and others.

Second, 90 per cent Indians believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense tells us that the movements of stars and planets have nothing to do with our lives. Yet, TV channels showing astrology have high TRP ratings.

Third, cricket has been turned into a religion by our corporatised media, and most people lap it up like opium. The real problems facing 80 per cent of the people are socio-economic — poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, price rise, lack of healthcare, education, housing etc. But the media sidelines or minimises these real issues, and gives the impression that the real issues are the lives of film stars, fashion, cricket, etc. When Rahul Dravid retired, the media depicted it as a great misfortune for the country, and when Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th century it was depicted as a great achievement for India. Day after day, the media kept harping on this, whereas the issues of a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides and 47 per cent Indian children being malnourished were sidelined.

Fourth, I had criticised the media hype around Dev Anand’s death at a time when 47 farmers in India were committing suicide on an average every day for the last 15 years. A section of the media attacked me for doing so, but I reiterate that I see no justification for the high publicity given by the media to this event for several days. In my opinion, Dev Anand’s films transported the minds of poor people to a world of make-believe, like a hill station where Dev Anand was romancing some girl. This gave relief for a couple of hours to the viewers from their lives of drudgery. Such films, to my mind, serve no social purpose, but act instead like a drug or alcohol to send the viewer temporarily from his miserable existence to a beautiful world of tinsel.

Finally, during the recent Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi, the media hyped the event as a solution to the problem of corruption. In reality it was, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “…a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing”. (In an earlier piece in this paper, ‘Recreating Frankenstein’s monster’, IE, March 31, I had said, “The Lokpal Bill will create a parallel bureaucracy, which will turn into Frankenstein’s monster.”) At that time, if anyone had raised any logical questions, he would have been denounced as a “gaddar” or “deshdrohi”. The people who collected at Jantar Mantar or the Ramlila grounds displayed a mob mentality that has been accurately described by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar.

After Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony stirred up the Roman mob, which went around seeking revenge on the conspirators. One of the conspirators was named Cinna. The mob caught hold of another man, also named Cinna, who protested that he was Cinna the poet and not Cinna the conspirator. Despite his protests, the mob said, “tear him for his bad verses”, and lynched him.

The Jan Lokpal Bill 2011 defines an act of corruption as punishable under Chapter IX of the Indian Penal Code or under the Prevention of Corruption Act vide Section 2(e). Section 6(a) of the bill says the Lokpal will exercise superintendence over investigation of acts of corruption, and section 6(c) empowers the Lokpal to punish acts of corruption after giving a hearing. Section 6(e) authorises the Lokpal to initiate prosecution, and section 6(f) authorises him to ensure proper prosecution. Section 6(i)(j) authorises him to receive complaints.

Section 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act defines a public servant very widely. It includes not only government servants but also a host of other categories, such as employees of a local body, judges, certain office-bearers of some cooperative societies, officials of Service Commission or Board, and vice chancellors and teachers in universities.

As pointed out in ‘Recreating Frankenstein’s monster’, there are about 55 lakh government employees (13 lakh in the Railways alone). There will be several lakhs more in other categories coming under the definition of public servant according to the Prevention of Corruption Act. Obviously, one person cannot supervise and decide on presumably millions of complaints pouring in against them. Hence, thousands of Lokpals, maybe 50,000 or more, will have to be appointed. They will have to be given salaries, offices, staff, etc. Considering the low level of morality prevailing in India, we can be fairly certain that most of them will become blackmailers. It will create a parallel bureaucracy, which in one stroke will double the corruption in the country. And who will guard these Praetorian Guards? A body of Super Lokpals?

All this was not rationally analysed. Instead, the hysterical mob that gathered in Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds in Delhi thought that corruption would be ended by shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Inquilab Zindabad”.

It is time Indians woke up to all this. When I called 90 per cent of them fools my intention was not to harm them, rather it was just the contrary. I want to see Indians prosper, I want poverty and unemployment abolished, I want the standard of living of the 80 per cent poor Indians to rise so that they get decent lives.

But this is possible when their mindset changes, when their minds are rid of casteism, communalism and superstition, and they become scientific and modern.

By being modern, I do not mean wearing a nice suit or a beautiful sari or skirt. Being modern means having a modern mind, which means a rational mind, a logical mind, a questioning mind, a scientific mind. At one time, India led the world in science and technology (see my article “Sanskrit as a language of Science” on kgfindia.com). That was because our scientific ancestors, like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Sushruta, Charaka etc, questioned everything. However, we subsequently took the unscientific path of superstition and empty ritual, which has led us to disaster. Today we are far behind the West in science and technology.

The worst thing in life is poverty, and 80 per cent of our people are poor. To abolish poverty, we need to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country. It is only then that India will shine. And until that happens, the vast majority of our people will continue to be taken for a ride.

 The writer, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is chairman of the Press Council, express@expressindia.com

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS