A more aggressive DNA approach at crime scene, in the lab and in the court, will increase conviction rates and make India safer for women
New Delhi, Delhi, India
Crime in India is seen to be on an upsurge, especially rape and sexual assault cases where the conviction rate has fallen from 49% to as low as 29% in the last 3 years (between 2012 and 2015) in Delhi alone, and over 1,37,458 rape cases still stand pending for trial across India. The lack of scientific methods in investigations is hampering justice delivery and the need for DNA casework expansion in India is now increasingly critical and urgent to build conviction in such cases.
“India is simply not collecting enough DNA at violent and sexual crime scenes,” said Tim Schellberg, President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTH-GA), a legal and policy expert of forensic DNA. “DNA is the world’s greatest crime fighting tool. Consequently, DNA should be aggressively collected, tested and compared to the accused. DNA testing is happening in India, but not nearly enough,” added Schellberg.
GTH-GA estimates that the United Kingdom completes DNA testing on over 60,000 crime scenes annually. India is over 13 times larger in population that the United Kingdom, yet GTH-GA estimates that India’s crime labs collectively complete DNA testing on less than 7,500 cases annually. This is a very low number.
Furthermore, when DNA is collected, it often goes into large backlogs due to India’s lack of DNA testing infrastructure. The pendency of the backlogs for sample testing in the FSL at Rohini is 5661 and for the one at Chanakyapuri are 458[2. GTH estimates that most of the backlog cases mentioned is likely DNA.
As per the statistics available on the website of Directorate of Forensic Science, Himachal Pradesh, the pendency of DNA cases has gone up. In January 2017, the pendency of cases was 605 and in June 2017 was 674, whereas, the average collection of DNA cases is around 30 per month and average disposal of 15 cases a month. This shows almost 50 per cent increase in pendency at FSL per month.
As per the NCRB data, more than 34,651 rapes were registered in 2015. On the contrary, the annual report of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) available for the latest year 2015-16 shows that they have received 99 DNA cases specifically for rape from different states.
Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, Vivek Sood agrees that not enough DNA is being utilized in rape cases. “In Delhi, the numbers of rape cases have tripled over the last five years, registering an increase of 277% from 572 in 2011 to 2,155 in 2016. In these cases, I rarely see DNA evidence presented by the prosecutors during trial. This is because DNA is not properly collected at crime scenes on a routine basis, and when it is collected, it is stuck in long backlogs in our underfunded crime laboratories. As a result, there is an over reliance on verbal statements provided by witness/witnesses in the court that can result in wrongly convicting the innocent. We must have more DNA testing to ensure a swift and just result for both the victims and the accused.”
Collection, transportation and storage of DNA forensic evidence are the key factors in rape investigations, which unless well-preserved and transported to FSL result in weak prosecutions and low conviction rate. India currently has approximately 30 FSLs with varied capacity to examine DNA Samples. To strengthen the criminal justice system, it is therefore critical to invest in the much required infrastructure and upgrading the FSLs for DNA – Collect, Test and Compare.
The availability of DNA when at trial to link the accused to the crime is seen throughout the world as the best way to increase charging and conviction of criminal offenders. One study from Denver, Colorado (United States) shows that when DNA is available the prosecutions, ‘charging rate’ was 8 times higher than cases that did not have DNA casework that matched a known suspect. While this data shows prosecution ‘charging’ and not conviction, the point is made showing how the system likes it when DNA is present. A charge rate that is 8 times higher when DNA is present is a big number and obviously will lead to a higher conviction!
India can be a far safer place for women if DNA was collected and tested at all violent and sex crime scenes where the criminal offender leaves DNA. This is a must for all law enforcement authorities, and courts and prosecutors to ensure that the DNA be tested quickly and be used in courts to expedite the judicial process.
GTH-GA works globally on DNA
Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs is globally recognised public affairs consultancy firm that has expertise with forensic DNA database policy, legislative, and law. For nearly twenty years, consultants at GTH-GA have consulted in over 50 countries and states on legislation and policies to establish or expand criminal offender DNA databases. GTH-GA collaborates closely with governmental officials, crime labs, police and the DNA industry. GTH-GA operates the DNAResource.com website that has been used as the world’s primary source for DNA database policy and legislative information since 2000.
In view of the order dated 26 July 2012 in Criminal Appeal 135/2010 – Budhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal & Ors the present debate and controversy stirred up by the NCW Chairperson Lalita Kumarmanglam on Legalization of sex trade is a contempt of Supreme Court Orders. The National Commission of Women has been a party to the case and are aware of the Bench clarification dated 26 July 2012.
Speaking to the Times Of India she said that “I will only speak about the issue after the national consultation on November 8,” . “It is my personal and professional view that sex work should be legalized but the commission must make an informed decision and I am open to listening to all views. I will be using a lot of time next week to hold informal consultations on the issue, talking to all advocacy groups and others to understand what their apprehensions are.”
On October 28, Kumaramangalam told a daily that legalization will bring down trafficking of women and lower the incidence of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. She also said she intends to put forth the proposal at the November 8 meet of the SC appointed Panel.
Bharti Dey of Durbar Mahila which supports the Legalisation Debate has stated “Police very often get paid to let off traffickers. Regulation will decriminalize the trade,” says Dey, whose organization currently runs self-regulation units and has sent at least eight traffickers to jail. She also points out that many of those entering the profession are extremely poor, have few options and know what they are getting into. “But they make it to our communities through traffickers and middlemen. Legalizing will remove these middlemen,” she says.
Supreme Court Lawyer and President of Shakti Vahini Ravi Kant while opposing the statement of the NCW Chairperson statement stated “Prostitution is Organised Crime and Violation of Fundamental Rights. Trafficking and sexual slavery is worst form of Human Rights Violation. No women joins this inhuman trade out of choice. More then 95% of the women have been trafficked and forced into the sex trade”.
He further elaborated that ” Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 criminalises the organised crime of Prostitution. Organised Prostitution creates a demand for young girls for the brothels which is met by trafficking of minor girls from across the Country.Giving Prostituion a legal status will be giving boost to demand of young minor girls who will be trafficked. In countries where such legalization has happened it has led to exploitation of women and girls and also commodification of women bodies.
He added that there here is no doubt that women who have been caught in the sex trade need access to all Government facilities and schemes and efforts must be made to see that they join the mainstream and are properly rehabilitated. Also those who indulge in this organised crime of human trafficking which leads to kidnapping of young girls from across the country need to be properly punished.
On the role of the Governmental agencies he lamented “The sad part is that inspite of various recommendations from the Supreme Court in various cases no geniune efforts have been made by any Government to see that this social malice which results from Organised Crime be eradicated”.
Kant further stated “The statement of the National Commission for Women Chairperson for legalising prostitution is deplorable. It is time that the Government of India ammends the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and brings in harsher punishments to the people who are involved in this organised crime”.
The Supreme Court in its order dated 26 July 2012 has clarified that its endeavor to provide right to life and access to governmental schemes should not be construed as an encouragement to prostitution. The clarification had come from a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Mishra after additional solicitor general P P Malhotra had drawn the court’s attention to its July 19 order in which it had sought suggestions from the SC-constituted panel on creating “conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity”.
Malhotra had said there was a danger of the order being construed as an incentive to indulge in an activity that had been termed as an offence under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956.
The Judges on the bench passed had passed separate orders, but both meant to clarify that the panel would recommend steps to create “conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity as per provisions of the Constitution Article 21”.
Justice Kabir added a precautionary clarification — “The above modification should not be construed to mean any attempt made to encourage prostitution.”
Hearing the Petition Justice Mishra had clarified, “I prefer to add…sex workers have a right to live with dignity but the collective endeavour must be on part of the sex workers to give up the trade in case they are given alternate platform.”
The Detailed Order of the Bench Dated 26 /07/2012 is as follows :
1. CRLMP.NO.12415 of 2012, has been filed on behalf of the Union of India, for modification of the order passed by this Court on 19th July, 2011, referring certain issues to the Committee which had been constituted by the said order itself.
2. The first modification sought by the Union of India is for deletion of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Samiti, from the panel. The second modification sought is with regard to the third term of reference, which reads as follows:-
(3) Conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
3. Appearing in support of the application, the learned ASG, Mr. P.P. Malhotra, submitted that the Samiti in question had been actively advocating the revocation of the Immoral Traffic(Prevention) Act, 1956, and had also been advocating the recognition of sex trade being continued by sex workers. The learned ASG submitted that the continuance of such Samiti in the panel is giving a wrong impression to the public that the Union of India was also inclined to think on similar lines. The learned ASG submitted that this wrong impression should be removed by excluding the Samiti from the panel.
4. As far as the second issue is concerned, the learned ASG submitted that wording of such reference could be suitably modified so as not to give an impression that the Union of India was in favour of encouraging the sex workers, in contravention of the provisions of the aforesaid Act.
5. We have heard Mr. Pradip Ghosh, learned senior advocate and Chairman of the Committee, as also learned senior advocate, Mr. Jayant Bhushan, who is also a member of the Committee and its co- Chairman and Mr. Grover, learned senior advocate, on the issue.
6. It has been submitted by Mr. Ghosh that at the meetings of the Committee, the members of the Samiti had contributed a great deal towards the understanding of the problems of the sex workers and it was not as if the said Samiti was encouraging sex trade, but were providing valuable inputs into the problems being faced by people engaged in the trade. Mr. Ghosh, Mr. Grover, and Mr. Bhushan, in one voice urged that the presence of the Samiti in the Committee was necessary even to function as a sounding board in respect of the problems that are faced by this marginalised and unfortunate section of society.
7. We agree with the submissions made by Mr. Ghosh, Mr. Grover and Mr. Bhushan, learned senior counsel, and are not, therefore, inclined to delete the Samiti from the Committee, as prayed for by the Union of India, and such prayer is rejected.
8. As to the second issue, it will not in any way make any difference to the terms of reference, if the wording of the third term of reference, is modified to the following effect:-
“Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
9. The above modification, should not, however, be construed to mean that by this order, any attempt is being made to encourage prostitution in any way.
10. CRLMP.NO.12415 of 2012, is, therefore, disposed of in term of the aforesaid order.
11. Let this matter now be listed for consideration of the Sixth and Seventh Interim Reports, filed by the Committee, on 22nd August, 2012, at 3.00 p.m.
12. Let this Bench be reconstituted on the said date and time for the aforesaid purpose.
.………………J. (ALTAMAS KABIR) NEW DELHI; JULY 26, 2012.
1. While concurring with the views of my learned brother Justice Altamas Kabir, I prefer to add in regard to the second issue that this Court should not be misunderstood to encourage the practice of flesh trade or advocate the recognition of sex trade merely because it has raised the issue to emphasize the rehabilitation aspect of the sex workers, for which this Court had taken the initiative right at the threshold. I consider this essential in order to allay any apprehension which prompted the Union of India to move this application for modification, by highlighting that the sex workers although have a right to live with dignity as the society is aware that they are forced to continue with this trade under compulsions since they have no alternative source of livelihood, collective endeavour should be there on the part of the Court and all concerned who have joined this cause as also the sex workers themselves to give up this heinous profession of flesh trade by providing the destitute and physically abused women an alternative forum for employment and resettlement in order to be able to rehabilitate themselves. I, therefore, wish to reiterate by way of abundant caution that this Court should not be perceived to advocate the recognition of sex trade or promote the cause of prostitution in any form and manner even when it had stated earlier in its terms of reference regarding conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
2. Thus, when we modify the earlier term of reference and state regarding conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, the same may not be interpreted or construed so as to create an impression or draw inference that this Court in any way is encouraging the sex workers to continue with their profession of flesh trade by providing facilities to them when it is merely making an effort to advocate the cause of offering an alternative source of employment to those sex workers who are keen for rehabilitation. When we say conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity, we unambiguously wish to convey that while the sex workers may be provided alternative source of employment for their rehabilitation to live life with dignity, it will have to be understood in the right perspective as we cannot direct the Union of India or the State Authorities to provide facilities to those sex workers who wish to promote their profession of sex trade for earning their livelihood, except of course the basic amenities for a dignified life, as this was certainly not the intention of this Court even when the term of reference was framed earlier.
3. We, therefore, wish to be understood that we confine ourselves to the efforts for rehabilitation of sex workers which should not be construed as facilitating, providing them assistance or creating conducive conditions to carry on flesh trade for expanding their business in any manner as it cannot be denied that the profession of sex trade is a slur on the dignity of women. Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution be therefore understood in its correct perspective as indicated above.
J (GYAN SUDHA MISRA) New Delhi, July 26, 2012 ———————–
The Supreme Court today modified one of its order on welfare and rehabilitation of sex workers on the Centre’s submissions that the last year’s order gave an impression that it seeks to legalise prostitution. Allaying the Centre’s fears that it was giving its seal of approval to prostitution, a special bench of justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Misra modified its earlier order, saying “the modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution.”
Modifying its earlier order, the bench clarified that it would only examine the “conditions conducive for sex workers to work with dignity in accordance with provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
It added it was keen that sex workers should be given opportunity to avail rehabilitation measures of the government and other agencies for them. While adjudicating a petition for rehabilitation of former sex workers, the apex court had on July 19, 2011 framed three terms of reference. Appointing a broad-based panel to look into the matter, the apex court by its July 2011 order had formulated three questions related to prevention of trafficking, rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to leave the sex work and “conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.”
On the Centre’s submission that the third term gave an impression that prostitution has been sought to be legalised, the apex court modified it to read as “conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.
“The above modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution,” the bench added. Justice Sudha also observed, “While we do not wish to encourage sex trade we would emphasise rehabilitation of sex workers for which we had taken the issue. “We wish to add although the sex workers have right to live with dignity. There has to be collective endeavours by courts and sex workers to give up flesh trade in case they are given alternative platform on employment.”
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.
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.
TEHMTAN R. ANDHYARUJINA, a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of India, faced a lot of criticism from his colleagues, especially Soli J. Sorabjee, who was a junior to Nani Palkhivala during the hearing of the Kesavananda case, that his latest book, The Kesavananda Bharati Case: The Untold Story of Struggle for Supremacy by Supreme Court and Parliament, was a wasted effort. The former Solicitor-General took the flak in his stride, saying, “The purpose of my book is only to give a historical account of how the basic structure doctrine came to be established in our constitutional law.” Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:
Your book suggests that the inviolability of the basic structure doctrine was a dubious view of the majority of the Kesavananda Bench. What should have been the ratio of that judgment?
Extracting the ratio from the 11 judgments should have been the task of either the 13-judge Bench or a subsequent Bench. It is difficult to say what would have been the ratio on a proper judicial exercise. Had that exercise been done, there may not have been a majority holding that there is a limitation of the basic structure of the Constitution in amending the Constitution. There was no majority for any implied limitation on the amending power as Justice [H.R.] Khanna had rejected the implied limitations on the Constitution. What would have been extracted as the ratio of the Kesavananda case by a later Bench is a matter of speculation. This difficult exercise was purposely avoided by Chief Justice [S.M.] Sikri when he created the so-called View by the Majority note and passed it around for signatures of the judges on April 24, 1973.
In the concluding chapter, you concede that the basic structure doctrine is so deeply enshrined in our constitutional law that it would not be shaken even by the knowledge of the process by which it came to be formulated. What then is the purpose of the book, if it is not to make readers question that long-held belief?
It is correct that the basic structure theory has become an axiom of our constitutional law and one cannot imagine any Bench of the Supreme Court annulling that theory. It is also true that for whatever reason and method the majority view was arrived at, the axiom of unamendability of the basic structure of the Constitution has had a salutary check and control on the amending power. The purpose of my book is only to give a historical account of how the basic structure doctrine came to be established in our constitutional law. After this case, Parliament and the government gained by different approaches on its social and economic policies, which the court did not interfere with merely because some fundamental right was perceived to be violated. In that sense, the judgment served a useful purpose to society.
Can you explain how the then government sought to appoint judges before the hearing of the case?
After the Golaknath case, the government took a predominant role in the appointment process. By and large the new government nominees, though men of eminence and distinction, decided in favour of the unlimited power of Parliament except Justice A.K. Mukherjea. After Golaknath, the initiative came from the government. Justice Sikri was initially reluctant to appoint Justices [M.H.] Beg and [S.N.] Dwivedi. The government prevailed upon him. He selected Justice Khanna. The government accepted it. The relations between Justice Sikri and Indira Gandhi were also strained.
Justice Sikri had to choose 13 out of the then total strength of 15 judges to hear the Kesavananda case [the earlier relevant case, Golaknath, was decided by 11 judges and the Kesavananda Bench had to be bigger than that]. There were just two remaining judges who did not have a long tenure: Justice [V.] Alagirisamy and Justice Inder Dev Dua. But their tenure could have been extended in the form of ad hoc judges [and could have been chosen to be part of the Kesavananda Bench to replace Justices Sikri and J.M. Shelat]. The general practice is when your view is being reviewed, propriety requires that you recuse yourself from the Bench. But nobody raised objections [against Justices Sikri and Shelat being on the Kesavananda Bench because they were earlier part of the majority judges on the Golaknath Bench].
You mention that there was a move to exclude Justice Beg, a pro-government judge, from the Bench after 66 days of hearing on his hospitalisation. Who was behind this move?
It is unfortunate that a strong attempt was made by the petitioners and the CJI [Chief Justice of India] to exclude him on his third and last illness. His exclusion would not have changed the number of the majority, as the majority would have still prevailed with 7:5 instead of 7:6. In a case with such political overtones, the [likely] exclusion of Justice Beg at the last moment created tensions. It was felt that if the case was adjourned for the return of Justice Beg, the case would have prolonged beyond the retirement of CJI Sikri and the whole effort of the 13-judge Bench would have come to naught. Therefore, the petitioners and the CJI wanted to drop Justice Beg from the Bench and proceed as if there were 12 judges. The illness of Justice Beg at the crucial moment was interpreted as some sort of a game plan of the government to put an end to the case. The petitioners believed that it was a move to favour the government. As a result, Justice Beg was retained on the Bench, with Palkhivala being asked to give written submissions. It was a serious illness, but the question was whether his illness would go beyond the tenure of Justice Sikri.
The Attorney-General had threatened to walk out if Justice Beg was dropped. [Justice H.M.] Seervai supported him. Without one judge on the Bench, the legitimacy of the judgment would have come into question. Palkhivala, therefore, submitted to the government’s wish, and agreed to close his oral arguments on the 66th day.
By signing the View by the Majority note, did the neutral judges not apply their minds? You suggest that some of them reluctantly signed it because of constraints of time as Justice Sikri was due to retire.
The only judge who said that he signed the View by the Majority note to accommodate Sikri was Justice Y.V. Chandrachud. The rest of the judges, except Mukherjea, were by and large committed to the view of Parliament not having the amending power to change the basic structure. It would not have made any difference to the ultimate result, as at least five of the judges were clearly in favour of limiting Parliament’s amending power, and, one judge, Justice Khanna, was in favour of limiting its powers only on the grounds of basic structure. The absence of judicial conference does not invalidate the judgment. The view by the majority cannot be considered invalid because of the absence of a judges’ conference [preceding it], but it had become dubious because it was a hurriedly prepared paper passed on for signatures just before the judgment was delivered.
You have also claimed that the then government was in possession of some of the draft judgments before they were delivered. What was the basis of this claim?
The government decided on the supersession of judges even before the judgment was delivered in open court. Kuldip Nayar, in his book, says that Chief Justice Sikri queried Justice Beg. Justice Dwivedi said [after his appointment] that he was going to the Supreme Court to reverse Golaknath. Justice Beg was the nominee of Indira Gandhi. The government had advance notice of the views of the judges. Justice Mukherjea, Justice P. Jagannatha Reddy, Justice Chandrachud and Justice Khanna did not give the impression of being one way or the other. They appeared to be uncommitted. So, they would tilt the balance. Justice Reddy, on his own, came to more or less the same conclusion as the Sikri-led judges.
Justice Mukherjea wrote a joint judgment with Justice Hegde. Justice Khanna took a midway position. Justice Chandrachud was perceived by the petitioners to be in favour of limiting the amending power by some of his statements in the court, and the fact that he had been invited by Justice Sikri to the only judicial conference of like-minded judges. Therefore, his writing a judgment in favour of Parliament was a great surprise. This gave rise to the rumour that he had been influenced by the then Law Minister H.R. Gokhale and retired Chief Justice Gajendragadkar [a family friend of Chandrachud]. Justice Chandrachud later said that he was entitled to change his views. He denied that he was influenced by Gokhale and Justice Gajendragadkar.
Why did Chief Justice A.N. Ray dissolve the 13-judge Bench to review the Kesavananda judgment within two days of its constitution in 1976? You have speculated on the reasons, like his isolation on the Bench, Palkhivala’s letter to the Prime Minister on the eve of the hearing protesting against the move, and so on. Can you elaborate?
I think the 13-judge Bench was constituted by Justice A.N. Ray to review the Kesavananda case without any judicial order and there was no indication why the case was required to be reviewed. This was the strongest reason advanced by Palkhivala. On this point, neither Chief Justice Ray nor Attorney-General Niran De was able to give a convincing answer. And from the observations of other judges, this question was a worrying one. Therefore, in my view, Ray could not carry the majority with him to review the Kesavananda case, and on the third day, he felt compelled to dissolve the Bench without any reason.
How would you interpret Justice Ray’s legacy?
Chief Justice Ray’s acceptance of the CJI post is often misunderstood. It was not he who manoeuvred it but the government. After knowing the views of the judges who were going to decide against Parliament, the government decided that the next CJI should not be a judge from among those judges. It is now known that the government even asked Justice K.K. Mathew whether he would accept the position of the CJI. But he declined. Chief Justice Ray himself was reluctant to be the CJI in such a controversial way, but he was told that if he did not accept the position, the government was determined to go down the line and appoint any other judge who would consent to be the CJI. Therefore, Justice Ray accepted the position with reluctance.
Your mentor H.M. Seervai changed his view after the Emergency that the doctrine of basic structure was required for Indian democracy as without it many of the abuses of power during the Emergency could not have been reversed legally. Do you similarly support the doctrine now, even while legally questioning its birth?
In the Kesavananda case, it was argued that the amending power could be abused. It was not an unknown fact. But that could never be the reason for cutting down any power. Seervai changed his view for personal reasons. Today, after 38 years, one can say that as a matter of political argument a check on the amending power is always to be welcomed. In other countries, the amending power is not subjected to such judicial constraints, except in Bangladesh. Any power is capable of being abused and the fact of the abuse is never a ground for limiting the governing power.
The difficulty in ascertaining the basic structure is that it is a highly nebulous and subjective standard. It gives a vital power to the judiciary, which was never contemplated by the Constitution makers. It is true that Parliamentary and executive misuse is something that requires judicial correction and which is done in the normal course. But the amending power is a unique power, which cannot be compared with the ordinary legislative or executive power. The amending power is a quasi-political power and its validity may not be within the domain of the executive, which is a view taken in most jurisdictions of the world, including, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa. It is a unique power to create the Constitution. Judges are bound by the Constitution.
All constitutional cases, in a sense, are political. In the Kesavananda case the external political forces operated for over 66 days, and in that sense it was not a normal, constitutional case deciding political issues.
Anna Hazare’s success reminded the political class about the magnetic effect a fast has on the common man, who suffers hunger on a daily basis and is hungry for good governance that could ensure some sort of social and economic equality in his poverty stricken and discrimination filled life.
Two politicians in Gujarat have gone on fast. If Narendra Modi is using the communal harmony-coated fast for a boisterous projection of US-certified development in the state to exorcise the ghost of post-Godhra riots, then Shankersinh Vaghela is fasting to scratch the still fresh wounds to widen the chasm between communities for electoral gains.
But no politician seems inclined to go on fast for the 40 crore Indians who even after 64 years of independence live below the poverty line. Recently, for the benefit of the Supreme Court, the Planning Commission said a person is below the poverty line if he is unable to buy food worth Rs 20 a day at a time when almost every essential commodity is out of his reach.
And if he did not live below the poverty line, that is if he is able to spend Rs 21 a day on himself and his family, then he would have to buy ration from the market as he would be disentitled to get it from PDS shops.
Faced with an absurd definition of poverty, fast has become a common man’s constant companion. Political inaction to streamline supply of subsidised foodgrain to the poor forced Supreme Court to intervene decisively. When Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma said “not a single person should die of starvation”, it would have sounded like a poll-eve political slogan had it not been accompanied by stern directions for distribution of additional grains in 150 poorest districts.
It is the faceless common man — farmer, cobbler, iron-smith, washerman, landless labourer, daily wager, painter, plumber, sewage worker, sweeper — who sustains the wheels of the economy, yet faces the brunt of the economic policies of the government.
Would politicians take turns to live for a few days in the households of the poor and try to understand the hunger, anger and anguish that is stripping the common man of the right to live with dignity? Have they tried to understand the root cause behind the suicide of over 1.40 lakh farmers who left behind tales of debt, poverty and sorrow? Is waiver of loans the answer?
Poverty and hunger have drawn the Supreme Court’s attention periodically. In People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs Union of India [1982 SCC (3) 235], it said utter, grinding poverty had broken the backs and sapped the moral fibre of a majority of the population. “They have no faith in the existing social and economic system. What civil and political rights are these poor and deprived sections of humanity going to enforce,” it had asked.
Three years later, in the case K C Vasantha Kumar vs Karnataka, the SC said, “Chronic poverty is the bane of Indian society. Market economy and money spinning culture has transformed the general behaviour of society towards its members. Bank balance, property holdings and money power determine the social status of the individual and guarantee the opportunities to rise to the top echelon. How the wealth is acquired has lost significance. Purity in means disappeared with Mahatma Gandhi and we have reached a stage where ends determine the means.”
Even when poverty still ruled society, the apex court in the year 2000 in Islamic Academy case said right to development was also part of human rights. “Economic prosperity or elimination of poverty is not the only goal to be achieved but along with it allow individuals to lead a life with dignity with a view to (make them) participate in the governmental process, so as to enable them to preserve their identity and culture,” it said.
Sadly, we are very far from eradicating poverty, which was the poll slogan of the Congress party in the 1970s. Politicians still do not understand that hunger and poverty afflict the soul of a person and drive him to do things which are strange to his social and moral DNA.
Fasting may have brought Hazare support for a campaign against corruption. But fasting surely will not get politicians the votes. What voters need is development in the true sense and this alone can ensure prosperity and help eradicate poverty.