In a democracy, the remedy for a malfunctioning legislature and executive must come from the people, not the judiciary
It is evident that the Pakistan Supreme Court has embarked on a perilous path of confrontation with the political authorities, which can only have disastrous consequences for the country. Recently its Chief Justice said that the Constitution, not Parliament, is supreme. This is undoubtedly settled law since the historical decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Marbury vs. Madison (1803).
The grave problem, however, that courts are often faced with is this: on the one hand, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and, on the other hand, in the garb of interpreting the Constitution, the court must not seek an unnecessary confrontation with the legislature, particularly since the legislature consists of representatives democratically elected by the people.
The solution was provided in the classical essay “The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law” published in 1893 in the Harvard Law Review by James Bradley Thayer, Professor of Law at Harvard University. It elaborately discusses the doctrine of judicial restraint. Justices Holmes, Brandeis, and Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court were followers of Prof. Thayer’s philosophy of judicial restraint. Justice Frankfurter referred to Thayer as “the great master of Constitutional Law,” and in a lecture at the Harvard Law School said: “If I were to name one piece of writing on American Constitutional Law, I would pick Thayer’s once famous essay, because it is a great guide for judges, and therefore the great guide for understanding by non-judges of what the place of the judiciary is in relation to constitutional questions.”
The court certainly has power to decide constitutional issues. However, as pointed out by Justice Frankfurter in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette 319 U.S. 624 (1943), since this great power can prevent the full play of the democratic process, it is vital that it should be exercised with rigorous self restraint.
Separation of powers
The philosophy behind the doctrine of judicial restraint is that there is broad separation of powers under the Constitution, and the three organs of the State, the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, must respect each other, and must not ordinarily encroach into each other’s domain, otherwise the system cannot function properly. Also, the judiciary must realise that the legislature is a democratically elected body, which expresses the will of the people (however imperfectly) and in a democracy this will is not to be lightly frustrated or thwarted.
Apart from the above, as pointed out by Prof. Thayer, judicial over-activism deprives the people of “the political experience and the moral education and stimulus that comes from fighting the problems in the ordinary way, and correcting their own errors”.
In Asif Hameed vs. The State of J&K, AIR 1989 S.C. 1899 (paragraphs 17 to 19), the Indian Supreme Court observed: “Although the doctrine of separation of powers has not been recognised under the Constitution in its absolute rigidity, the Constitution makers have meticulously defined the functions of various organs of the State. The legislature, executive, and judiciary have to function within their own spheres demarcated in the Constitution. No organ can usurp the function of another. — While exercise of powers by the legislature and executive is subject to judicial restraint, the only check on our own exercise of power is the self imposed discipline of judicial restraint.”
Judicial restraint is particularly important for the Supreme Court for two reasons:
(1) Of the three organs of the state, only one, the judiciary, is empowered to declare the limits of jurisdiction of all three organs. This great power must therefore be exercised by the judiciary with the utmost humility and self restraint.
(2) The errors of the lower courts can be corrected by the higher courts, but there is none above the Supreme Court to correct its errors.
Some people justify judicial activism by saying that the legislature and executive are not properly performing their functions. The reply to this argument is that the same charge is often levelled against the judiciary. Should the legislature or the executive then take over judicial functions? If the legislature and the executive do not perform their functions properly, it is for the people to correct them by exercising their franchise properly, or by peaceful and lawful public meetings and demonstrations, and/or by public criticism through the media and by other lawful means. The remedy is not in the judiciary taking over these functions, because the judiciary has neither the expertise nor the resources to perform these functions.
In this connection I may quote from an article by Wallace Mendelson published in 31 Vanderbilt Law Review 71 (1978): “If, then, the Thayer tradition of judicial modesty is outmoded, if judicial aggression is to be the rule, as in the 1930s, some basic issues remain:
“First, how legitimate is government by Judges? Is anything beyond their reach? Will anything be left for ultimate resolution by the democratic process, for, what Thayer called ‘that wide margin of considerations which address themselves only to the practical judgment of a legislative body representing (as Courts do not) a wide range of mundane needs and aspirations?’
“Second, if the Supreme Court is to be the ultimate policy making body without accountability, how is it to avoid the corrupting effects of raw power? Also, can the Court satisfy the expectations it has aroused?
“Third, can nine men [the Supreme Court Judges] master the complexities of every phase of American life? Are any nine men wise enough and good enough to wield such power over the lives of millions? Are Courts institutionally equipped for such burdens? Unlike legislatures, they are not representative bodies reflecting a wide range of social interest. Lacking a professional staff of trained investigators, they must rely for data almost exclusively upon the partisan advocates who appear before them. Inadequate or misleading information invites unsound decisions.
“Finally, what kind of citizens will such a system of judicial activism produce, a system that trains us to look not to ourselves for the solution of our problems, but to the most elite among elites: nine Judges governing our lives without political or judicial accountability? Surely this is neither democracy nor the rule of law.”
In Marbury vs. Madison (1803), Chief Justice Marshal, while avoiding confrontation with the government of President Jefferson, upheld the supremacy of the Constitution. Another example is the very recent judgment of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts in the Affordable Healthcare Act case, in which he basically followed the doctrine of judicial restraint.
In Divisional Manager, Aravali Golf Course vs. Chander Haas (2006) the Indian Supreme Court observed: “Judges must know their limits and not try to run the government. They must have modesty and humility and not behave like Emperors. There is broad separation of powers under the Constitution, and each of the organs of the state must have respect for the others and must not encroach into each other’s domain.” A similar view was taken in Government of Andhra Pradesh vs. P. Laxmi Devi.
New Deal legislation
A reference may usefully be made to the well known episode in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court when it dealt with the New Deal legislation initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt soon after he assumed office in 1933. When the overactive court kept striking down this legislation, President Roosevelt proposed to pack the court with six of his nominees. The threat was enough, and it was not necessary to carry it out. In 1937, the court changed its confrontationist attitude and started upholding the legislation (see West Coast Hotel Vs. Parrish). “Economic due process” met with a sudden demise.
The moral of this story is that if the judiciary does not maintain restraint and crosses its limits there will be a reaction which may do great damage to the judiciary, its independence, and its respect in society.
It is not my opinion that a judge should never be activist, but such activism should be done only in exceptional and rare cases, and ordinarily judges should exercise self restraint.
In Dennis vs. U.S. (1950), Justice Frankfurter observed: “Courts are not representative bodies. They are not designed to be a good reflex of a democratic society. Their essential quality is detachment, founded on independence. History teaches that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardised when Courts become embroiled in the passions of the day, and assume primary responsibility in choosing between competing political, economic, and social pressures”.
The Pakistan Supreme Court would be well advised to heed these words of wisdom, even at such a late stage.
(Justice Markandey Katju is chairman of the Press Council of India.)
Justice Dalveer Bhandari, a judge of the Supreme Court of India, was elected a fortnight ago by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, to serve as a Member of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He defeated the Filipino nominee, Justice Florentino Feliciano, by a handsome margin and now has a six-year first term at the World Court. Justice Bhandari is undoubtedly a fine judge with considerable expertise in international law. His legal acumen, keen intellect and a sense of justice, especially for the poor and homeless that shines through in his domestic judgments, are qualities that make him an ideal representative of India, itself a beacon of democracy and human rights in the developing world. That India has made a good choice is not in doubt; whether it could have made a better choice, as some have suggested, is contestable though ultimately a moot point. The key issue that arises in this context relates to the fact that Justice Bhandari’s nomination by the Government of India and eventual election to the ICJ took place while he continued to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of India. This raises grave and disturbing issues regarding the independence of the judiciary in India and points to the lowered standards of propriety in the highest echelons of governance.
Judiciary & government
The independence of the judiciary is a significant legal principle in India, ever since it was held to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Since then it has been used on several occasions by the Supreme Court most notably to judicially lay down norms regarding the appointment of judges, transfer of judges between High Courts and administratively with regard to claiming exemption for the office of the Chief Justice of India from the purview of the Right to Information Act and formulating an internal code of conduct for appropriate judicial behaviour. The extensive (and sometimes unwarranted) usage of judicial independence as a legal principle has however blighted its primary status as a normative principle of good governance which promotes impartiality, a key facet of fair adjudication. The judiciary must not only be independent of the co-ordinate wings of government as well as the parties before the case, but must also be seen to be so. The slightest doubt in the public mind of excessive proximity between the judiciary and the government, which is the largest litigant before it, may lead to significant apprehensions of a lack of impartiality thereby questioning the legitimacy of the entire adjudicatory setup. As the Supreme Court of India itself likes repeating in its judgments, “Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion.”
It is this test of judicial independence as a normative principle that Justice Bhandari’s actions fail to satisfy. From available records, Justice Bhandari’s candidacy was accepted by the Ministry of External Affairs after a recommendation to this effect in January 2012 by the Indian Chapter of the Permanent Council of Arbitration, whose advice in this matter, the government has traditionally honoured. From that time, up to the election at the United Nations in April, Justice Bhandari continued as a serving Supreme Court judge, hearing cases (from the Supreme Court causelist record, he heard cases till the 9th of April) and being party to delivered judgments (the last recorded judgment thus far being delivered on the 27th of April, authored by Justice Dipak Misra, his brother Judge on the Bench).
Though his resignation is not a matter of public record yet (the website of the Supreme Court continues to show him as a serving judge at the time of writing of this piece), it is believed that it became effective only on his election to the ICJ. During the same time, as the Ministry of External Affairs’ response to a RTI petition on 8th February 2012 shows, the government was actively lobbying for his candidature in the United Nations, speaking on his behalf to various member states. Even if it is assumed that Justice Bhandari had little or no contact with the government in this process, the very fact that the government, a regular litigant in Justice Bhandari’s courtroom was actively espousing his cause outside it, is gravely problematic in terms of judicial independence conceptualised as a principle of good governance leading to impartiality.
Unheeded lessons from the past
It is not however the case that Justice Bhandari’s failure to resign as a judge of the Supreme Court prior to the government making him its official nominee for election to the ICJ is an isolated incident of judicial independence being imperilled at the altar of individual ambition. Justice Subba Rao’s acceptance of his candidature for President of India by the opposition parties when he was Chief Justice of India is the most egregious example of the independence of the judiciary being threatened by a single individual. Equally pertinently in the present context, the election of the last Indian to serve on the ICJ, the then Chief Justice of India, R.S. Pathak (who incidentally relinquished office as Chief Justice only subsequent to his election to the ICJ), was marred by strong claims that Justice Pathak’s appointment was part of a quid pro quo involving Union Carbide Corporation, the Government of India and the Supreme Court with the Pathak Court endorsing a deeply flawed settlement in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy. It is disappointing that Justice Bhandari as an upright individual and a learned judge failed to pay adequate heed to these lessons of history and relinquish his judicial office before accepting a nomination by the Government of India.
What is equally disappointing is the lack of public outcry regarding this issue. When Justice Subba Rao accepted the candidature for President made to him by the opposition parties while still in office, a man no less than Motilal Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General, issued a statement to the press strongly condemning the Chief Justice’s decision, saying that “he has set at naught traditions which have governed the judiciary in our country for over a century.” Justice Pathak’s nomination to the ICJ was the subject of several scathing indictments, including by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Krishna Iyer who wrote of “the beholdenness of the candidate [Pathak] to the litigant government for getting the great office for him.” As far as Justice Bhandari’s nomination is concerned, except a public interest petition challenging it as a violation of judicial independence, there has been a seemingly all-pervading public silence. Even the petition itself, though well-intentioned, was misguided, seeking redress from the Supreme Court in a matter which was characterised by impropriety rather than illegality of a type a judicial order could rectify. Justifiably, the Court refused to entertain it.
Importance of propriety
In an age of multi-billion rupee scandals, endemic corruption and food shortages caused by governmental apathy and inaction, the impropriety of a judge failing to resign at an appropriate time may intuitively seem trivial. But as with most questions of impropriety, though its effects may not be immediately apparent, they are the portents of an insidious decline in the standards and values that define institutions.
For the Supreme Court of India, judicial independence has been the cornerstone of its functioning from the time of its inception. Despite a few challenging periods, the Court, the Bar and the conscientious members of the political classes have always striven to fiercely guard the independence of the judiciary from any potential threats. The Bhandari episode is however a bellwether of a possibly developing relationship of cosiness between government and the judiciary, accompanied by a general public indifference, bordering on acquiescence, of such a relationship.
The government’s decision to nominate a sitting judge before whom it continued to appear as a litigant, Justice Bhandari’s decision to not resign when the government was lobbying for him, and most crucially public acceptance of such an unholy nexus are warning signs that ought to be heeded. While the return of an Indian to the World Court after an absence of two decades rightfully gives cause for celebration, it provides an equally significant opportunity for introspection, that the cherished principle of judicial independence, responsible in the first place for the high esteem in which the Indian judiciary and its judges are held on the world stage, does not itself fall into desuetude in the process.
(Arghya Sengupta is a Stipendiary Lecturer in Administrative Law at the University of Oxford and the founder of the think-tank, The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service.)
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Our judiciary creaking under the seemingly impossible load of cases awaiting disposal needs urgent attention if we have to avoid collapse of the system, which could put in jeopardy the whole state of orderly society.
Law courts no longer inspire public confidence, as litigants only get increasingly distant dates for their next hearings each time they approach them. The proverb “justice delayed is justice denied” too seems inadequate to describe the prevailing circumstances. Judgments come after endless wait, which ensures there is rarely any sense of satisfaction or justice. As pending cases pile up, the judicial system is not in a position to meet the challenge of arrears that have swamped courts from top to bottom.
According to the latest statistics available from the Supreme Court’s report on vacancies and pending cases, the apex court has now run up a backlog of 56,383 cases — the highest figure in a decade. The situation is similar in the country’s 21 high courts, where 42,17,903 cases are awaiting disposal. In lower judiciary, which constitutes the base of the entire judicial pyramid, the total number of such cases stood at 2,79,53,070 at the end of March 2011. And these figures do not include the cases pending in various tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies. If those were also added to the grand total, the arrears in lower courts would well cross the figure of 3 crore, which is alarming, to say the least.
The right to fair and speedy trial holds little promise for the aggrieved who knock at the door of courts as a last resort for justice or relief. Invoking the law seems to mean only wasted years, heavy financial burden, besides emotional and physical trauma. Prolonged delays also mean high rate of acquittal in criminal cases — it is as high as 93.02 per cent in India. Unable to get justice from courts, victims often take the law into their own hands to settle scores with culprits. This only multiplies the problem of law and order, and in turn the load on courts. It has also encouraged kangaroo courts in the form of khap panchayats or lynch mobs in many parts of the country, which mete out rough-and-ready justice on the spot. The painfully slow justice delivery system also leads to corruption and lack of investment in vital economic spheres owing to uncertain contract enforcement, higher transaction costs and general inflationary bias, which the finance minister has also acknowledged.
TOO FEW JUDGES
Among other issues, inadequate judge strength at all levels is the main factor behind the delay and the resultant backlog. In proportion to its population, India has the lowest number of judges among the major democracies of the world. There are 13.05 judges per 1 million people, as against Australia’s 58 per million, Canada’s 75, the UK 100, and the USA 130 per million. In 2002, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to raise the judge-population ratio to 50 per million in a phased manner, as recommended by the Law Commission in its 120th report. The suggestion has had little effect.
Even the existing judge strength is reduced further when judicial vacancies are not filled promptly. For instance, the Supreme Court had only 26 judges in October last year, including the Chief Justice of India, against the sanctioned strength of 31. The vacancy level in the 21 high courts of the country, if put together, is 32 per cent, with 291 posts of judge — against the sanctioned strength of 895 — lying vacant for a long time.
In subordinate courts, where we have the maximum backlog of cases, there are 3,170 posts vacant. The sanctioned strength of district judges has gone up to 17,151, according to the Supreme Court’s report on vacancies and pending cases. Filling these vacancies will have a direct impact on India’s governance indicators, improving investor sentiment and advancing economic growth.
If we look into the World Bank Institute‘s Governance Matters set of indicators specifically for rule of law, India had a percentile rank of 54.5 in 2010 (coming down from 60.3 in 2000), which compares ill to 97.2 for the Netherlands, 91.5 for the US, and 81 for South Korea. Other World Bank documents, quoting market analysts, say that it is not unusual for the first hearing in Indian courts to take six years, and the final decision up to 20 years.
SPEED UP SELECTION
The power of appointment to top judicial posts is vested in a collegium of senior judges, with the executive virtually playing second fiddle. Apart from being opaque, the system has simply failed to deliver. It is not uncommon for higher courts to remain without their full strength for months, or even more. The selection process, therefore, ought to be speeded up. Whenever a vacancy is expected to arise, steps should be initiated well in advance and the process of appointment completed beforehand. In the case of resignation or death, the selection process should come into play without delay to ensure that the Benches work with full strength. And, if the wholesome principle of merit, enunciated by the Law Commission, is accepted in principle, there is no reason why there should be any delay in determining appointments or filling vacancies.
Also, unless the judiciary is given full financial autonomy, the problem of pendency of cases or non-appointment of judges will persist. Funds are required for creating new posts of judge, increasing the number of courts and providing infrastructure. The judiciary has to petition the Law Ministry each time it needs finances, which are forever hard to come by. Less than 0.3 per cent of the Gross National Product (GNP) — or 0.78 per cent of the total revenue — is spent on the judiciary in India. This, when more than half of the amount is being generated by the judiciary itself through court fees and fines. In the UK, USA and Japan, the expenses on judiciary are between 12 and 15 per cent of the total expenditure.
Together with adequate manpower, it is imperative to simplify and reform the current procedural laws which provide ample scope to obstruct and stultify the legal process. Though of colonial antiquity and Kafkaesque obscurity and cumbersomeness, these laws have somehow survived despite their comicality in today’s eco-friendly and “paperwork unfriendly” times, a sure way to delay disposal of cases. In addition, there are myriad laws and other specious requirements, which have no relevance today, yet are frequently invoked. These must be repealed to expedite the judicial process. “Court procedure is not to be a tyrant but a servant, not an obstruction but an aid to justice, a lubricant and not a resistant in the administration of justice,” the Supreme Court has observed. After all, procedures are meant to help the law, not defeat it.
Impelled by the motivation of pecuniary gains, lawyers often indulge in unethical practices of stalling court proceedings deliberately. At every stage, a number of interlocutory applications are filed and adjournments on flimsy grounds sought to defeat the purpose of speedy dispensation of justice. Such is the situation that even expansion of the judicial machinery will not achieve much until rules about stay orders and adjournments are also changed to prevent lawyers from prolonging litigation. In addition, punitive fines should be imposed on unscrupulous litigants found to be abusing the process of law to discourage unnecessary or frivolous litigation and to make the judiciary self-supporting.
Instead of arguing their cases endlessly, it would be better for lawyers to present their submissions in writing to the judge so that cases could be decided on merit on the basis of documents and written submissions filed by both the parties before the judge, without the fanfare of formal court sessions and personal attendance of petitioners, respondents and lawyers. Direct written representation by the parties, rather than oral arguments spoken in the din and bustle of crowded courtrooms, would also lower the risk of miscarriage of justice. This practice, followed in the US Supreme Court (where oral arguments serve as additions to the obligatory written brief), can be easily adopted in Indian courts. Constitutional and corporate matters have little scope for courtroom histrionics.
Judges also ought to exercise restraint against the temptation of writing lengthy judgments running into several hundred pages, incorporating their social, political, economic and philosophical beliefs. The judge’s time is most precious and is paid for from the taxpayers’ money, and should not be wasted in expounding one’s personal ideologies. Justice, equity and fair play demand that judges are more crisp and precise while writing their judgments rather than rely on lengthy quotes and superfluous observations. They should deliver judgments as early as possible, instead of keeping them reserved for long durations.
AIM FOR CONCILIATION
The legal strategy for modern India should aim at conciliation and not confrontation, in keeping with our tradition of tolerance and mutual accommodation. The focus should be on “conciliatory legal realism”. A judge should not merely sit like an umpire, but participate in the efforts to iron out differences and encourage the parties to arrive at a settlement. This would help reduce the backlog of cases, avoid the multi-tier process and also lead to reconciliation of legal disputes without causing much enmity and bitterness.
However, any attempt at judicial reform, including raising the number and strength of courts, improving the selection process of judges or setting up evening and fast-track courts throughout the country to dispose of cases quickly will fail unless high courts succeed in establishing that they are reliable and just, and instil such confidence in litigants that they forgo the last resort of the apex court, except in rare cases. At the same time, if the trial courts at the grassroots level are also properly strengthened and made effective instruments of justice in the real sense, the cycle of appeal and counter-appeal could be broken and delay reduced. The litigation backlog would then melt like an iceberg in a tropical sea.
The writer is a legal consultant, and advocate at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court
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RAMASWAMY S IYER IN THE HINDU
It is not for the Supreme Court to decide how the government should ensure the right to water; in any case, the connection between this right and the river linking project is tenuous.
In recent times the Supreme Court of India, with a series of remarkable decisions, has earned our admiration, respect and gratitude. Alas, it has now come out with an extraordinary order on the Inter-Linking of Rivers (ILR) Project, which has caused consternation and dismay to many of us.
In 2002, in a post-retirement explanation, a defensive Justice Kirpal had said that his order on the river-linking project was not a direction but merely a recommendation. That defensiveness has now been abandoned. In the present order, the Supreme Court explicitly directs the Executive Government to implement the project and to set up a Special Committee to carry out that implementation; it lays down that the committee’s decisions shall take precedence over all administrative bodies created under the orders of this court or otherwise; it (graciously) authorises the Cabinet to take all final and appropriate decisions, and lays down a time-limit of 30 days for such decision-making (though it has the saving grace to say “preferably”); and it grants “liberty to the learned Amicus Curiae to file contempt petition in this court, in the event of default or non-compliance of the directions contained in this order”.
The normal course
In the normal course, a project goes through certain stages and procedures: formulation; examination from various angles by the appropriate agencies, Committees, and Ministries; statutory clearances under the Environment Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act; compliance with the procedures prescribed in the National Rehabilitation Policy; acceptance of the project by the Planning Commission from the national planning point of view; and finally a decision by the Cabinet. The Supreme Court rides roughshod over all this and orders not quick consideration and decision-making by the government, but implementation.
Are the proposed Special Committee and the Cabinet free to examine the project and come to the conclusion that it is unacceptable and must be rejected? No, they are under the Supreme Court’s order to implement the project and may face contempt proceedings if they fail to do so. The project decision has been taken away from the hands of the government; it has been exercised by the Supreme Court; the government and the Planning Commission have been reduced to the position of subordinate offices or implementing agencies of the Supreme Court.
It could be argued that the above is a misrepresentation of what the Supreme Court has done, and that the learned judges are only concerned at the delay in the implementation of an approved project and asking for early implementation. In fact, there is no approved, sanctioned project called “the inter-linking of rivers project”. In 2003, when there was a raging controversy about this idea, an important defence by its supporters was that it was not a project but a grand concept; that it will consist of 30 links, each of which will be a project that will go through all the usual examinations and procedures; and that the critics are needlessly raising the bogey of gigantism. If it is a concept, how can it be ‘implemented’? It has first to be translated into projects, and each of those projects has to be properly approved or rejected, as the case may be. Thereafter we can talk about implementation.
How many of those 30 projects have been actually approved? None. Three — Ken-Betwa, Damanganga-Pinjal, Par-Tapi-Narmada — have reached the stage of preparation of Detailed Project Reports, and one (Polavaram), though included in the ILR Project, was separately taken up by the Andhra Pradesh government on somewhat different lines, but is mired in controversy. There is not a single case of a project actually sanctioned and ready for implementation.
The learned judges may say that this is precisely what worries them; that by now the projects should have been well under way; that a good project or concept or whatever it was, announced in 2002, is languishing; and that the judiciary has to step into the vacant space created by non-action by the Executive and issue the necessary direction. This is the gap-filling theory. However, there is a fallacy here. The “delay” is not the result of executive failure or inefficiency, but a deliberate (though unstated) slowing down of action on the project. The NDA had announced the project in 2002 with fanfare and trumpets. The UPA government which followed in 2004 was not very enthusiastic about the project but at the same time did not want to abandon it; its Common Minimum Programme stated that the project would be comprehensively re-assessed in a fully consultative manner. This was a clear indication of reservations about the project. Thereafter the project has been in the doldrums. Unfortunately, the government’s attitude towards the project was never made unambiguously clear to either the general public or the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court was clearly entitled to ask the government to state categorically where it stood in this matter: whether it considered the project to be a good (or the only) answer to the country’s needs; if so, whether it intended to proceed with it; or alternatively, whether it had decided to drop the whole idea, and if so, on what grounds. What the Supreme Court was not entitled to do was to issue a direction to the government to implement the project.
Why has it done so? It would be wrong to attribute this to a desire for aggrandisement. The Supreme Court is convinced that the project is good and urgently needed; and that a very important national initiative is getting bogged down because of various reasons and needs to be galvanised. It has come to that conclusion because of a report by the National Council for Applied Economic Research.
There are two problems here. First, assuming that there is a serious water scarcity problem, it is not the business of the Supreme Court to deal with it; there is an Executive Government to deal with such matters. True, the citizen’s right to water is a fundamental right, and therefore the Supreme Court is concerned with it; but while it may direct the government to ensure that the right is not denied, it is not for it to lay down the manner in which or the source from which that right should be ensured. Moreover, the connection between the right to water and the ILR Project is very tenuous; it is the large demand for irrigation water that generally drives major projects and long-distance water transfers. It is true, again, that there are intractable inter-State river-water disputes, and these are of concern to the Supreme Court; but the Supreme Court can at best direct the Executive Government to find early answers to river water disputes, and not recommend a particular answer such as the ILR project, which may in fact generate new conflicts.
Secondly, and finally, we come to the heart of the matter, namely the view that the country faces a looming water crisis; that the answer lies in augmenting supplies; that given the magnitude and distribution of India’s future water requirements, the ILR project is the best possible answer; and that it is in the national interest to implement it quickly. It is that conviction that provides, in the Supreme Court’s view, the justification for its intervention. If that view of India’s water crisis and its solution is challenged, the whole basis for the Supreme Court’s order collapses.
This article will not enter into a discussion of this vital question, but will merely point out that there is a diversity of views on it, which the Supreme Court has failed to consider. The NCAER may have taken one view of the matter, but there are other views. The cogent case against the project has been succinctly stated in the editorial in this paper on 1 March 2012. That knocks the bottom out of the Supreme Court’s order.
In 2002, when the NDA government announced the ILR Project, a fierce controversy broke out. There were many who hailed the initiative, but there were many others who deplored it as not only uncalled for but as positively disastrous. Many State governments expressed strong reservations on the project. Articles appeared in newspapers and journals. Books were published on the subject. How much of this vast literature have the learned judges read? How could they rely on the NCAER’s report without reading other scholarly work? Even if the learned judges did not have time to read all the available material, should they not at least have heard a dozen scholars representing different disciplines and a few social activists before they decided to issue directions to the government?
This article will conclude with an earnest and respectful request to the Supreme Court to withdraw or at least put on hold its order, conduct further hearings, listen to a wider range of opinions, and reflect on the matter before it comes to firm conclusions.
(Ramaswamy R. Iyer is a former Secretary, Water Resources, Government of India.)
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ARGHYA SENGUPTA IN THE HINDU
Judgments should speak for themselves; when judges justify them in public, they run the risk of sounding like politicians.
Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of America’s most eloquent Supreme Court judges, speaking at an American Law Institute function in 1948, aptly described the infirmity of being unable to speak about one’s judgments publicly, an attendant facet of being a Supreme Court judge, as “judicial lockjaw.” For watchers of the Indian higher judiciary, which has adhered to this principle since its inception, the last fortnight has brought forth a surprising development in this regard. Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, an erudite judge of the Supreme Court of India, who retired recently, has, since leaving office, actively engaged with the media, first in print and then electronically. While a retired judge writing and speaking extra-judicially per se on matters of public importance is a fairly common and welcome phenomenon, his participation in a feisty debate in a leading newspaper on the merits of one of his own judgments, and then agreeing to take part in a television interview whose questions focused solely on two of his controversial judgments, is uncommon. As well as raising questions of individual propriety, it contains possible portents of the slowly changing nature of the Indian higher judiciary.
Justice Ganguly’s rejoinder
Three days after his retirement, Justice Ganguly issued a startling written rejoinder to the criticism by former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee of the 2G judgment, which he had handed down a few days previously. Not only did he defend his judgment, first by assuring Mr. Chatterjee that “the judgment was not delivered either out of temptation or out of any desire to appropriate executive powers” but also positively asserted that “[t]he judgment was rendered in clear discharge of duty by the Court” (The Telegraph, 6 February, 2012). His statements, especially to the extent they clarify and defend his judgment, raise deep questions regarding the proper role of judges in post-retirement public life. This is especially so in Justice Ganguly’s case, as it was followed up with an interview to a private television channel where, despite steadfastly refusing to comment on the merits of the 2G judgment or the judgment relating to sanctions for prosecution per se, his statements on the subject had the effect of giving the interviewer and the viewing public sufficient sound bytes on how the judgments ought to be interpreted. To cite a single instance — in response to a question as to whether the timeline set by the Court for the government to consider sanction requests against public servants should apply to the Chief Justice of India when permission is sought for a FIR to be filed against a judge, though he refused to give a direct answer, he suggested that the recommendations made in the judgment “should apply across the board.” To any reasonable viewer, this statement would certainly come across as a clarification on what the recommendations made in the judgment ought to mean.
It is not the legality of Justice Ganguly’s engagement with the media that is in issue here. Like any other citizen, he has a right to speak, and is free to exercise that right in whichever manner he desires, provided it is within the bounds of constitutional permissibility. But when a retired judge speaks, not in his capacity as an ordinary citizen but wearing the hat of a judge who was party to a particular judgment, as Justice Ganguly obviously did, the primary question is one of propriety. That the judge, after rendering judgment, becomes functus officio and the judgment of the Court speaks through itself, is a long established principle in the Indian judicial system. The rationale for the principle is salutary: that the decision of the Court when it is cited as a precedent in subsequent cases as a binding principle of law, ought to be interpreted on its own terms and not on the basis of any extra-judicial clarifications that may be issued subsequently. Of course, any academic discussion and criticism following the judgment may be relevant, but never involving the judge concerned himself, as that may have an unwarranted overriding influence on future interpretations of the decision. At the same time, the principle does not prohibit judges from writing their memoirs, which are often filled with delightful accounts of the unseen dynamics of a judicial decision, or commenting on the consequences of a case after a period of time or on a matter of significant national importance. However, coming so close on the heels of the judgments being delivered, Justice Ganguly’s statements in the media can neither count as an academic commentary nor be justified by a passage of time having elapsed. Propriety thus demanded that he thought better than articulating his views publicly in this manner.
Judge’s role in public
Equally importantly, Justice Ganguly’s actions point to a larger question as to what the role of a judge should be in public life. Unlike politicians or film stars who are public figures by virtue of their closeness to the people, judges are public figures precisely because they manage to keep their distance from the people. It is this detachment which allows judges to be immune from the passions of popular sentiment and political machinations, thereby facilitating the independence of the judiciary as an institution. Any engagement with the media by a judge in a judicial capacity, whether while holding office or post-retirement, fundamentally erodes the extent of this institutional detachment. Especially if the engagement primarily focuses on decisions given by judges, it runs the risk of turning judges into quasi-politicians, clarifying and justifying their judgments by direct appeals to the public, rather than simply allowing the reasons contained in the judgment to perform this justificatory function.
Indeed a comparative analysis across countries shows the links which can be drawn between extra-judicial utterances and the political savvy of judges. In England, where courts are largely apolitical, extra-judicial utterances are rare. Judges, except the Law Lords, were for a long period, conventionally governed by the Kilmuir Principles, key amongst which is the view that “[s]o long as a Judge keeps silent his reputation for wisdom and impartiality remains unassailable.” Though the Principles themselves are no longer strictly applicable, the tradition of extra-judicial silence continues. On the contrary, across the Atlantic, in the United States of America, whose Supreme Court is an overtly political institution, notwithstanding Justice Frankfurter‘s wise advocacy of restraint, judges have a long history of writing and speaking extra-judicially on their own judgments and on the Court itself — Justice Stewart wrote a letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal defending his majority opinion in a racial discrimination case; Justice Goldberg publicly defended the Court and its stance on judicial review and states’ rights in the New York Times; in fact even Chief Justice Marshall, back in the 19th Century, defended his landmark judgment, authoritatively laying down the nature of American federalism in McCulloch v. Maryland, albeit writing under a cleverly disguised pseudonym in the Philadelphia Union.
Sign of transformation
As this comparative experience demonstrates, the judicial propensity to engage directly with the public is clearly a symptom of a Court whose judges are keenly conscious of the immense political significance their decisions have. In this backdrop, Justice Ganguly’s comments, unwarranted as they may have been, perhaps provide an early sign of the subtle transformation of the Supreme Court of India into an overtly political institution, owning up and reacting to the immense political ramifications of its actions. Equally, they raise deep questions regarding the interaction between judges and the media, arguably two of the most powerful pillars in Indian democracy today. This is a complex, multi-dimensional issue that cannot be dealt with here. However it would suffice to say that the obtuse language used by judicial decisions, their unclear consequences and the difficulties faced by sections of the media in understanding the subtleties of legalese, all suggest that like several courts worldwide such as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights, the Indian Supreme Court too should issue official media summaries of important decisions. Not only will this facilitate wide comprehensibility of key judgments, but it will also ensure that judicial decisions are not wantonly misinterpreted. Most importantly, it will mean that judges, whether in office or speaking in their judicial capacity immediately post-retirement, will have an additional reason to remain lockjawed, allowing their judgment together with its officially authorised summary to do the talking.
(Arghya Sengupta is a Stipendiary Lecturer in Administrative Law at the University of Oxford and founder of the think tank The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service.)
- A case for judicial lockjaw (thehindu.com)
- Justice Ganguly, noted for frank and forthright views, retires (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Review petitions not favourable to courts, though they accept human fallibility (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- We were undeterred by personalities: Ganguly (thehindu.com)
- Where’s the ‘indictment’? (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Don’t sit on sanction for prosecution in corruption cases, says Supreme Court (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- ‘Amending power is unique’ (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- The seven deadly sins of judges (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Govt faces Supreme Court ire over pendency (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
ARUN JAITELY IN THE PIONEER
The Supreme Court has pronounced a landmark judgement on the incident that took place on the midnight of June 4-5, 2011 at Ramlila Maidan, Delhi where Baba Ramdev and his supporters were carrying on a protest against corruption and prevalence of black money in India.
They were agitating against the reluctance of the Government to take key steps to eliminate the menace of corruption and black money.
Admittedly, the protest was peaceful. The essence of democracy is the right to have an alternative opinion and to agitate for its acceptance. The term Satyagraha, originated in a news-sheet Indian Opinion in South Africa in 1906. It was an adaptation by Gandhiji from one of competition entries in South Africa. Satyagraha went beyond the concept of ‘passive resistance’. The essence of Satyagraha was non-violence but aggression. Its force lay in truth and the ability to struggle for it. The satyagrahi invited to himself the adverse consequences of his action. He was willing to suffer the punishment as consequence of his struggle.
The Supreme Court in its judgement has upheld the right to peaceful protest as a Constitutional right. The Court has rightly observed – “Freedom of speech, right to assemble and demonstrate by holding dharnas and peaceful agitation are the basic features of a democratic system. The people of a democratic country like ours have a right to raise their voice against the decisions and actions of the Government or even to express their resentment over the actions of the Government on any subject of social or national importance.
The Government has to respect, and in fact, encourage exercise of such rights. It is the abundant duty of the State to aid the exercise of right to freedom of speech as understood in its comprehensive sense and not to throttle or frustrate exercise such rights by exercising its executive or legislative powers and passing orders or taking action in that direction in the name of reasonable restrictions”.
The right to peacefully protest subject to just restrictions is now an essential part of free speech and the right to assemble. Additionally, it is an affirmative obligation of the State to make that exercise of this right effective.
Recent experiences have shown that the political establishment encourages the use of police powers to render weak and otiose the exercise of such rights. Team Anna repeatedly had difficulties in being allotted a centrally-located place to organise its protest. Police powers were used to dictate that the size of protest must be miniscule and not large. When large open areas, such as the Ramlila Maidan and other centrally-located sites are available, recent experiences have shown that police discretion has been used to discourage people from using such sites for organising protests. The Supreme Court has taken note of some such practices.
A reading of the judgement of the Supreme Court confirms the fact that the protest by Baba Ramdev and his supporters was absolutely peaceful. The Supreme Court has observed that – “There was no disturbance or altercation whatsoever and the followers of Baba Ramdev were peacefully waiting in queues that stretched for over two kilometres. If the police wanted to limit the number to 5,000, it could have easily stopped the people at the gate itself.
However, no such attempt was made. The conduct of the police goes to indicate that the police action resulted from instructions from the Government and their current stand regarding the number of persons present is nothing but an after thought.”
The court, further referring to the conduct of the protesters, noticed that – “None of the stated conditions, admittedly, had been violated, and as such there was no cause for the police to withdraw the said permission…Even for the sake of arguments, it is assumed that there was a requirement for seeking permission from the police and the police had the authority to refuse such a permission and such authority was exercised in accordance with the law, then also this respondent and the public at large were entitled to a clear and sufficient notice before the police could use force to disperse the persons present at the site. Imposition of an order under Section 144 Cr PC was neither called for nor could have been passed in the facts and circumstances of the present case…
In fact the order was passed in a pre-planned manner and with the only object of not letting Baba Ramdev to continue his fast at the relevant date and time… The documents on record show that some of the police personnel certainly abused their authority and were unduly harsh and violent towards the people present at the Ramlila Maidan, whereas some others were, in fact, talking to the members of the gathering as well as had adopted a helpful attitude.”
What happened on the midnight of 4-5th June, 2011 at Ramlila Maidan becomes increasingly clear from the final directions of the Court. A peaceful protest was being organised by Baba Ramdev and his supporters as a part of their Constitutional guarantees when Section 144 was unlawfully imposed. The protesters were peaceful. They had followed every condition imposed on them. The entry into the pandal was regulated by the police. Suddenly a decision was taken to evict the gathering.
The Supreme Court in this regard has observed – “The decision to forcibly evict people sleeping at Ramlila Maidan at the midnight of 4-5th June, 2011 whether taken by the police independently or on consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, is amiss and suffers from the element of arbitrariness and abuse of power to some extent. The restriction imposed on the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression was unsupported by cogent reasons and material facts. It was an invasion of legal protections available to them even under the provisions of the CrPC.
Thus, the restriction was unreasonable and unwarrantedly executed. The action demonstrated the might of the State and was an assault on the very basic democratic values enshrined in our Constitution… From the facts and circumstances that emerge from the record before this Court, it is evident that it was not a case of emergency.”
The Court has further held that even if the Government decided to evict the people present, they were entitled to a reasonable notice. On the contrary, disproportionate force was used, water canons, lathi charge and tear gas shell injuring many people and leaving one dead.
These conclusions by the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional guarantees that citizens are entitled to. They go a long way in strengthening the Indian democracy and allowing space for peaceful dissent within our political system. The observations of the court and the law so declared will go a long way in safeguarding the right to protest, which makes dissent co-existent with democracy. The Court deserves full credit for this.
However, after this, the judgement takes a curious turn. It imposes an obligation on the protesters to obey every lawful order. Admittedly, neither the imposition of Section 144 in this case nor the withdrawal of permission or the manner of forcible eviction were lawful. Why should the protesters have accepted such an order? How then can the principle of ‘contributory negligence’ be imposed on a protester who was exercising his fundamental right to protest?
The concept of ‘contributory negligence’ is born out of a law of tort. It cannot be used to dilute the width and exercise of a Fundamental Right. ‘Contributory negligence’ is a defence where a person who is wronged could have acted in his own interest and taken due care and caution so that not to contribute to injury. It is a legal plea available as a defence in a Tort action. Its application to restrict the exercise of Fundamental Right is wholly unwarranted and legally untenable.
India attained its Independence through peaceful struggle. Passive resistance, civil disobedience and Satyagraha are well-known instruments of protest. They essentially involve peaceful and non-violent methodologies of protest. Satyagraha is an instrument where truth is used for assertion. A satyagrahi himself bears the punishment for violating the law and for disagreeing with an oppressive regime. To equate the right of a satyagrahi with contributory negligence undoes the advantage of an otherwise landmark law that this judgement has laid down. If a protester is within his Constitutional rights to organise a peaceful protest, he is equally within his rights not to accept an illegal order denying his right to protest. He runs the risk of being punished if the order is held to be lawful. But when a protester violates Section 144, he is always willing to suffer a punishment.
The law declared is understood to mean that every time his fundamental right to protest is intercepted by the State; he must immediately comply with the order or run the risk of being liable for contributory negligence. A citizen cannot be compelled to abdicate his Fundamental Rights merely because the State decides to restrict his right to protest.
The judgement of the Supreme Court lays down a landmark law inasmuch as it upholds the right to protest as a Fundamental Right of Speech and assemble.
However, it shakes the foundation of the Fundamental Right by laying down a highly doubtful proposition that once the right to protest is denied, the protester must meekly accept the denial or run the risk of a contributory negligence to the police oppression. This part of the judgement requires extensively debate and possible reconsideration.
Writer is Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha
- ‘Sensitivity must to defend human rights’ (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
The Constitution of India provides for special treatment of women, guarantees equality and prohibits discrimination. The government of India has been strengthening various laws focused on women and children. This has been more visible since the Beijing CEDAW Conference. The recent years have been witness to some landmark interpretations and directives related to Violence against Women. Despite the constitutional mandate of equal legal status for men and women, the same is yet to be realized. The dejure laws have not been translated into defacto situation for various reasons such as illiteracy, social practices, prejudices, cultural norms based on patriarchal values, poor representation of women in policy-making, poverty, regional disparity in development, lack of access and opportunity to information and resources, etc. The ground situation more or less remains the same.
Most of the laws come with various institutional machinery, partnership between various stakeholders and active role of NGOs. These institutions need to be in existence in order for the law to be effective. Also the policies and programmes made at the top takes a long time to percolate to the bottom and there is an urgent need of sharing information and resoursces.
The awareness on laws and access to justice remains dismal. At the district and the state level sensitivity on women rights among judicial officers, administration and the police is very low. This leads to a situation where the implementation of the law becomes difficult. Recently India has increased its budgetary support for the implementation of various laws on violence against women and it becomes increasingly more important for the organization like Shakti Vahini to work on governance specially related to women and children issuesThe National Legal Research Desk (NLRD) has been instituted to strengthen the implementation of the laws related to Women and Children in India. NLRD focuses on documenting the recent changes in the law, collect and compile the Recent Landmark Judgments of the Supreme Courts of India & the High Courts and ensure wide scale dissemination of the same through the government and the non government machinery. The NLRD will work with Law Enforcement Agencies, Police Academies, Judicial Agencies, Government Agencies, Statutory Agencies, NGOs, Civil Society and Mass Media on promoting Access to Justice for Women and Children. The NLRD website is a knowledge Hub for compilation of all Laws, Judgements and Resource materials on Violence against Women and Children in India. In the first phase (2012) it will focus on the laws related to Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, Rape Laws, PCPNDT Act , Honour Crimes and Victim Compensation.
SHALINI SINGH IN THE HINDU
The 2G judgment goes beyond telecom, spoiling the party for corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and big business.
It is only after navigating through the anger of unrepentant telecom firms and the grief of stricken investors and employees facing an uncertain future that one encounters the real impact of the Supreme Court judgment cancelling 122 illegal telecom licences last week.
Its immediate, most obvious impact is a strong judicial attack on the opaque spectrum allocation process used by the government since 2001, first on a subscriber-linked criterion and later, on a first come, first served basis, which was exploited in 2008 in the worst possible manner by jailed ex-Telecom Minister A. Raja.
The uncertainties that follow will be confined to the medium term, culminating in the delivery of tangible justice — the reassignment of licences and spectrum at a market-determined price.
Reverberation in other sectors
The reverberations of the judgment actually extend far beyond telecom, crushing the subjective power of the government to issue licences and contracts in any sector like power, coal, minerals, mines, land, and even special economic zones (SEZ), that allocates scarce national resources. This effectively attacks the fountainhead of all large corruption linked to government contracts.
The first irrefutable principle of the judgment is on the issue of ownership and control of natural resources provided under Article 39(b) of the Constitution: “The ownership and control of natural resources of a community should be distributed so as to best sub-serve the common good but no comprehensive legislation has been enacted to generally define natural resources and a framework for their protection.” With the government dithering on such specific legislation, the judgment has become the de facto law in the matter.
Recognising that while the state is deemed to have a proprietary interest in natural resources, it must act as a guardian and trustee, the judgment affirms that the people are the designated owners of natural resources in any country.
Acknowledging the high economic value of natural resources, the judgment recognises that these national assets are scarce, finite, and susceptible to degradation in case of inefficient utilisation.
Highlighting the issue of “public trust,” the judgment quotes from several international judgments, including the famous American one, of Illinois Central R. Co. vs Illinois, and the ones in India such as M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath to make the point that: “Public interest doctrine enjoins upon the government to protect the resources for the enjoyment of the general public rather than permit its use for private ownership or commercial purposes.” At the heart of the public trust doctrine is the limits and obligations upon government agencies as administrators on behalf of all people, especially future generations.
Hits government stand
This shatters the government’s stand that the allocation of natural resources is its sole preserve, and such ‘policy’ decisions should not be open to public or legal scrutiny. Traditionally, courts have been reluctant to review ‘government policies’ as they are considered an exclusive prerogative of the executive and formed after considering expert opinion.
Invoking the doctrine of equality deals the hardest blow to the opaque allocation procedures for natural resources that are in use for award of Central and State government contracts. The judgment states that the doctrine of equality which emerges from the concept of justice and fairness must guide the state in determining the actual mechanism of distribution of natural resources. This has two aspects: first, it regulates the rights and obligations of the state vis-a-vis its people and demands that the people be granted equitable access to natural resources and/or its products, and that they be adequately compensated for the transfer of resources to the public domain. This considerably debilitates the government’s line in applying subjective criteria such as first come, first served or beauty parades when allocating natural resources in the future. Additionally, it requires the national exchequer to place a value on a natural resource before granting any party the privilege of using it.
The second part of the equality doctrine is explained as the need to regulate the rights and obligations of the state vis-a-vis private parties seeking to acquire/use resources and demands that the procedure adopted for distribution is just, non-arbitrary and transparent and that it does not discriminate between similarly-placed parties. This specifically addresses legacy issues of changing the goalpost after the game has begun such as tampering with cut-off dates or altering the qualifying criteria after applications have been submitted or bids placed.
Overall, it ensures that every party has an equal chance of transparently acquiring the asset, based on the rational value that it believes can be derived from the acquisition. The judgment specifically tears apart the first come, first served system, firmly re-establishing auctions as a preferred option.
Auctions can do much more than just raising revenue. They are quicker, more efficient and more economical than administrative allocation; ensure equitable access to natural resources; protect public trust; and protect equality as upheld in Article 14 of the Constitution. The telecom experience shows us that those who pay a market price base it on their expectation of revenue generation. Therefore, they are the first to rollout networks, best serving the objectives of tele-density, affordability and competition.
The judgment is unbending in its view that licences or natural resources given through devious and unconstitutional means cannot plead equities, investment or consumer interest even if they have not been a party to an unconstitutional and arbitrary allocation. Bidders with the slightest hint of ongoing mischief must now walk away, rather than participate. The fact that licences awarded illegally can be cancelled four years after they were allocated should send the fear of god in the minds of those who believe that investment and consumer interest will sway the courts once time has lapsed.
Simply put, the judgment gives judicial muscle to the message that from now on, offenders will be punished irrespective of political status, financial power and the time or money that may have been invested in an act that was illegal to begin with.
Striking a blow against corruption by empowering all those — non-governmental organisations, enlightened citizens and activists — fighting big corruption, this landmark judgment carries the potential of fast-tracking the pace of administrative reforms and governance in India in a manner not witnessed in the past.
- Government has no right to alienate, transfer or distribute natural resources/national assets otherwise than by following a fair and transparent method consistent with the fundamentals of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution (lawreports.wordpress.com)
- Government has no right to alienate, transfer or distribute natural resources/national assets otherwise than by following a fair and transparent method consistent with the fundamentals of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- ‘Wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest’ (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- ‘Wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest’ (thehindu.com)
J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU
He rendered landmark judgments in Supreme Court
Justice A.K. Ganguly retired on Thursday from the Supreme Court on attaining the age of superannuation. He was given a warm farewell by the members of the Bar and the Bench at a function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association amid standing ovation from lawyers. Justice Ganguly was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court in December 2008. During his tenure spanning a little over three years, he rendered landmark judgments on various branches of law, in particular criminal jurisprudence, constitutional and human rights issues.
A bold and courageous judge, he was known for his frank and forthright views and comments, which became evident during the hearing of the 2G spectrum case since October 2010. He was part of the Bench with Justice G.S. Singhvi in the 2G case in which 122 licences were cancelled on Thursday.With a smiling face, he endeared himself to the members of the Bar and the Bench. He was the Chief Justice of Orissa and Madras High Courts, before being elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court.Justice Ganguly was convinced enough to observe in a judgment that the Supreme Court had violated the fundamental rights of citizens during Emergency in 1975. And in an unprecedented move, he commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence, earlier upheld by it, of a man who murdered four members of a family.
A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ganguly took the view that the majority decision of a five-member Constitution Bench upholding the suspension of fundamental rights during Emergency in the ADM Jabalpur vs Shivakant Shukla case (1976) was erroneous.Justice Ganguly, who wrote the judgment, said:
“There is no doubt that the majority judgment of this court in the ADM Jabalpur case violated the fundamental rights of a large number of people in this country. The instances of this court’s judgment violating the human rights of the citizens may be extremely rare, but it cannot be said that such a situation can never happen. We can remind ourselves of the majority decision of the Constitution Bench of this court in Additional District Magistrate Jabalpur.
“The majority opinion was that in view of the Presidential order dated June 27, 1975 under Article 359 (1) of the Constitution, no person has the locus standi to move any writ petition under Article 226 before a High Court for Habeas Corpus or any other writ to enforce any right to personal liberty of a person detained under the then law of preventive detention (MISA) on the ground that the order is illegal or malafide or not in compliance with the Act.”
Justice Ganguly, while quashing the allotment of land made to the former Indian cricket team captain, Sourav Ganguly, in Kolkata by the West Bengal government, said “We are sorry to hold that in making the impugned allotment in favour of the allottee, the State has failed to discharge its constitutional role. The said allotment was made by the government admittedly without verifying whether the allottee had surrendered the previous plot allotted to him. Such action of the government definitely smacks of arbitrariness and falls foul of Article 14.”
On Hindu law, he held that under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), illegitimate children would be entitled to all the rights in the property of their parents, both self-acquired and ancestral.Interpreting Section 16 (3) of the HMA, he said: “Such children are only entitled to the property of their parents and not of any other relation. The relationship between the parents may not be sanctioned by law but the birth of a child in such relationship has to be viewed independently of the relationship of the parents. A child born in such relationship is innocent and is entitled to all the rights which are given to other children born in valid marriage. This is the crux of Section 16 (3).”
Justice Ganguly made it clear that the President or the Governor exercising the power of pardon in granting remission of sentence to a convict could not encroach into the judicial domain and give a finding on the guilt of the convict. If such a power was exercised arbitrarily, mala fide or in absolute disregard of the finer canons of the constitutionalism, the by-product order could not get the approval of law and in such cases, the judicial hand must be stretched to it.
Taking a serious view of the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, at present Union Minister for Science and Technology, interfering in a criminal investigation against a family of a Congress MLA, he imposed an exemplary cost of Rs. 10 lakh on the State government.
Coming to the rescue of hawkers, he held that they had a fundamental right to carry on with their business. He asked the Delhi government to enact law to regulate their trade keeping in mind the right of commuters to move freely and use the roads without any impediment.
On personal liberty, he said that in preventive detention cases, the representations received from the detenus must be disposed of expeditiously and every day’s delay must be properly explained and accounted for. “The representations should be very expeditiously considered and disposed of with a sense of urgency and without any avoidable delay.”
- Don’t sit on sanction for prosecution in corruption cases, says Supreme Court (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Prolonged preventive detention unconstitutional:SC (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Government has no right to alienate, transfer or distribute natural resources/national assets otherwise than by following a fair and transparent method consistent with the fundamentals of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Govt faces Supreme Court ire over pendency (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
JUSTICE A P SHAH (Retd.) IN THE HINDU
The object of placing the power of judicial appointments in an independent body is to remove patronage from the system and ensure that judges are appointed only on the basis of their qualifications.
The present system of judicial appointments in the constitutional courts exemplifies the misalignment between the core values of judicial independence and accountability. The process by which a judge is appointed to the High Court or the Supreme Court has been described by Justice Ruma Pal, a former judge of the Supreme Court, as “one of the best kept secrets in this country.”
The text of the Constitution that provides for the appointment of the judges of the Supreme Court (Article 124) and the High Court (Article 217) is deceptively simple. They provide for the President to appoint them in “consultation” with other judges. Originally, the power to appoint judges vested ultimately in the executive. It is now with the Chief Justice and the senior judges of the court, i.e. the Collegium. It is unnecessary to trace the evolving jurisprudence of the Supreme Court regarding the issue of judicial appointments beyond this. Suffice it to say, that in the last of the famous trinity of the Judges Cases, the Supreme Court changed the character of “consultation” to “concurrence”. As Anil Divan pithily points out, the Judges Cases have not really broken the mystique behind the “Sacred Ritual” of appointments — they have only changed the circle of “High Priests.” Now, instead of the executive, primacy is given to the CJI and the Collegium of Judges. The way in which judges are appointed embodies a set of values about democracy. Choosing judges based on undisclosed criterion in largely unknown circumstances reflects an increasing democratic deficit.
The recent case of the impeachment motion of Soumitra Sen, former judge of the Calcutta High Court, once again highlighted the need to have a relook at the process of appointment. The unanimous voice of Parliament, while considering the impeachment motion of Sen, was that there was now a greater need for a National Judicial Commission than ever before. The legislators were, in fact, only echoing the view that has time and again been stressed upon by various legal luminaries and jurists.
The rationale for the establishment of a commission must be that it will guarantee the independence of the system from inappropriate politicisation, strengthen the quality of appointments, enhance the fairness of the selection process, promote diversity in the composition of the judiciary and therefore rebuild public confidence in the system. By placing the power of judicial appointments in an independent body, the object is to remove patronage from the system and ensure that the judges are appointed on the basis of their qualifications for the job rather than anything else.
It is here that we can learn from systems elsewhere which have managed to provide for a transparent process of appointment, while maintaining judicial independence. International consensus seems to favour appointments to the higher judiciary through an independent commission.
Form of the commission
A key question is whether the new body should be appointing (The Israel Judicial Commission is the only appointing Commission) or recommending commission. The former in which the commission takes over the full responsibility for making appointments, removes the danger of inappropriate influence by politicians but also weakens democratic accountability and lacks a potential check on abuse, corruption or incompetence on the part of the commission. These advantages and disadvantages are reversed under a recommending commission. Therefore, there is need to adopt a hybrid model where the Commission makes a recommendation, which should be ordinarily binding. The recommendation may be rejected only in cases where the candidate is disqualified or in cases where the procedure adopted by the Commission is legally flawed. The reasons for such rejection must also be recorded in each case.
The example of the U.K. may be taken where the Constitutional Reforms Act, 2005 has established a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) with one Chairperson and 14 other Commissioners, including five judicial members, one barrister, one solicitor, five lay members, one tribunal chairman and one lay judge. The Chairperson and 12 Commissioners are appointed through open competition, while the other three are selected by the Judge’s Council.
In South Africa, the establishment of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has attracted much attention for the way it has made the appointments process more independent. Its 23 members are drawn from the judiciary, the two branches of the legal profession, the national and regional legislatures, the executive, civil society and academia. The entire process of appointment is geared towards securing maximum transparency.
The nine-member Commission that selects judges for all levels of courts in Israel consists of the President of the Supreme Court, two other Supreme Court judges, the Minister of Justice (Attorney General), another Cabinet Minister, two members of the Legislature (one of whom has traditionally been selected from the opposite ranks) and two representatives of the Israeli Bar.
In India, it would be more prudent to follow the U.K. model where politicians are kept out of the Judicial Appointment Commission. The Judicial Commission should not be a very large body, containing not more than 7 or 9 members. The Commission should consist of representation from the Judiciary, the Bar, eminent members of civil society (who should be appointed by a high powered body, for example presided over by the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Law Minister and the Leader of the Opposition).
An equally important feature of public accountability is institutional and procedural openness. The requirement of openness is particularly important in the judicial appointment process, because a recurring criticism of the old system was the high level of secrecy within which the selection process functioned. The extent to which the Commission operates transparent procedures is therefore a critical test of its legitimacy.
Transparency & openness
To give an example, the Commission in South Africa has made efforts to ensure that the process by which candidates are selected for interview is as open as possible. The statutory provisions provide that when a vacancy arises, the Commission must advertise the post and seek nomination from a wide variety of sources. The names of candidates short-listed for interview by a screening sub-committee are made public and the views of relevant institutions (among them, the Law Society of South Africa, the General Council of the Bar and the Department of Justice) on their suitability are canvassed by the Commission.
On the other hand, the system of public interviews was opposed by pointing towards the example of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing as demonstrating the danger which public interviews posed since the same could degenerate into personalised attacks on the candidates, and such demonstrations, far from increasing legitimacy, would undermine public confidence. The system was further opposed by stating that leading members of the Bar would be discouraged from coming forward if the meetings were made public.
However, public interviews may not be a plausible model for a country like India and therefore should not be introduced here. We should follow the U.K. model and should publish the Annual Judicial report and the names of the selected candidates should be posted on the website.
Merit and diversity
There is no gainsaying that there is a need to preserve and of course, if possible, to improve the professional and personal quality of our judiciary and therefore, merit should be given great primacy. Yet, it is equally important to consider the importance of social diversification in public institutions and the need to include hitherto under-represented groups for a more holistic advancement of all sections of society. A wider range of social backgrounds should mean not just representation from the backward classes and the minorities but also women. This underlying policy aim is perfectly respectable, namely that the public may well have more confidence in its judges if they are more reflective of the make-up of the community at large.
Tackling this lack of diversity in the judiciary will require fresh approaches and a major re-engineering of the process of appointment. Diversity is likely to be achieved only if equal opportunities are placed at the heart of the judicial appointments process and are promoted through sustained and proactive initiatives. One such example comes from Ontario, where one of the first actions of the newly established Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee in 1990 was to ask the Attorney-General to write a personal letter to 1,200 senior women lawyers in the province asking them to apply for judicial office. This conscious and innovative attempt to expand the number of workmen in the recruitment pool produced such a marked increase in the number of applications from well qualified women that between 1990 and 1992, 41 per cent of the judges appointed by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee were women.
The outcome of the reforms would depend on the way in which the commission is set up and the model adopted. The detail of the commission must be thought through with great care. Issues such as the division of responsibility between the commission and the appointing Minister, composition of the membership and the process for selecting the commissioners themselves are key factors in determining the success of the new system.
(Ajit Prakash Shah is the former Chief Justice of the High Courts of Delhi and Madras. )