Justice Ranjan Gogoi delivers the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture — The Vision of Justice

PUBLISHED IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

Full text of Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s speech at RNG Memorial Lecture:

I express my most heartfelt gratitude to The Express Group for extending this opportunity to me to deliver the lecture which has been organised in the memory of a man who was an institution in his own right: Ramnath Goenka ji.

While unlike some of you present here, I had not had the occasion to ever meet him, but, fortunately I have not been untouched by his proud legacy. Which gleams through that what he had founded as an answer to Gandhi ji’s call to start a swadeshi newspaper. Living in the realm of the Raj, it needed an iron-will and iron man and we found it in a young Ramnath ji. His legacy also gleams through the rich jurisprudence on the Freedom of the Press that he was instrumental in moulding, and which, by virtue of my Office, I work every day. It needed a committed and a cause-driven litigant – a rarity which it is nowadays – and we found it, yet again, in Ramnath ji. During the dark days of the Emergency, he stood as an unwavering gatekeeper of those fundamental liberties that we hold so dear today and that is his legacy too.

PART 1:

Today, after all these years, some remember him as the ‘Warrior of the Fourth Estate’ 1 , some remember him as a “dogged, unyielding adversary” 2 , some remember him as an “iconoclast”, some as a “magnificent rebel”. He was, at times unapologetic, at times uninhibited, at times even contradictory, but forever fierce, forever feisty, and forever fearless. His entire life trajectory from Darbhanga to Madras to Bombay; from the Constituent Assembly to the Newsroom to the Courtrooms, is a test case of its own kind that we, perhaps, need to use more often in our lives, in our institutions. Not too long back, I had read an interesting news article talking about the surprising surge – which is not so surprising, all things considered – in the sale of George Orwell’s 1984 in the United States. That piqued my interest in revisiting the classic. And, for some reason, I want to recollect a thought from it today. “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress party along with former finance minister P Chidambaram at the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

If I had to put it very simply, for me, this is what Ramnath ji stood for. The freedom to say that two plus two make four. And, that is how I remember him as. Someone who could call Spade a Spade. Someone who could speak truth to power. Even if it came at a cost. To be ready to break, but not bend could be called obstinacy by some, and determination by others. Is it a matter of perspective? I do not know. And, I cannot say for others but as far as I am concerned, I only feel that we need to ask ourselves some questions: Where is the Goenka in us; his ideals; his values? Is that extraordinary phenomena losing his relevance today, after all these years? Why I have chosen the topic for this discourse merits a context too. And, this is the context. These are some sore questions, but too significant to get lost in the everydayness. And, when it is so, what other better tribute can there be to a visionary who embodied in so many ways the spirit of our Constitution, than to spend a thought. To spend a thought over how far we have come to achieve the vision that he had seen as someone who helped free the country in one era, and helped it become a meaningful Democracy in another.

PART 2:

I will use a few minutes to put across my proposition as to what I intend to say when I talk about the “Vision of Justice”. I will borrow from the Chief Editor Shri. Raj Kamal Jha himself, because it offers a very fine perspective. Very powerfully and thoughtfully and rightly, he said of Ramnath ji in one his letters to me, that, “fierce independence” and “enduring sense of inquiry without fear or favour” were the two values that Ramnath ji believed formed the “bedrock of Justice”. It is absolutely incontestable that they do and, for convenience, let me call them the Bedrock Principles. But, if I were to look at it anatomically, while these do indeed form the bedrock of Justice, what is the Form/Body of the ideal called Justice which rests on this bedrock? The Bedrock Principles have been the talk of the town lately considering how the entire thinktank is so keenly focused on it. And I am not suggesting that it ought not to be. It ought to be done and it is being done. I cannot recall the last time, the Judicial wing of the State made so much news. On a lighter note, let us recall, Hamilton (the American Founding Father) who had suggested that the Judiciary was the least dangerous branch of the State’s three branches – and I will refer to him again during the course of my address – but, were he to be here today, I wonder if he would have felt the same way. More so, in the light of the IE Top 100 Most Powerful Indians which included several names from the judiciary. But, the fact of the matter is that if we have to take stock of how we have fared – and about seven decades later since we ventured into becoming a Constitutional Order, this appears to be an opportune time to do so – we might as well do it comprehensively. And, by comprehensively what I mean is that we must evaluate both the Bedrock Principles and the Form Principles because the Vision of Justice, the way I understand it, is a compound of both. Clearly, they are not unconnected. And over the course of next about half an hour, I will attempt to touch upon both. I will begin with the Form Principles, and bear with me, in order to drive home my point, I may have to get somewhat academic.

From (L-R): Hrishikesh Roy, Chief Justice, Kerala High Court, Deepak Gupta, Judge, Supreme Court, N V Ramanna, Judge, Supreme Court, Madan B Lokur, Judge, Supreme Court at the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha) 

You will agree, that in the backdrop of a bleeding mega partition, deeply entrenched inequities, perpetuating injustices, our Constitution ushered us into believing in a grand promise of transformation on a scale that was beyond reformatory. It was, in all its full glory, a revolution in all aspects of life – social, economic, political. In a way, it said, let bygones be and the new society that we would be, would be egalitarian. While preserving our pluralistic character, we would be democratic and united too. The State would be religion-neutral, the citizens equal and together. Coming to think of it, it was just as pretentious as it was unpretentious an idea. But be that as it may, public institutions (one of them being the Judiciary) were inherited, they were tweaked where need was felt, to give life to this prodigious architecture of Justice. And, here, I would like to clarify that by justice, I am not implying only the juridical connotation of the word which is the administration of justice by the courts of law – although it is just as imperative – but justice is something that is an overarching principle, an underlying fundamental, the spirit, an order so to say. Which is why I say “prodigious”.

PART 3:

Because, it was a confluence of very many philosophies – [1] the Aristotelian, for instance, which suggests that the very essence of the State is justice which according to the philosopher was a social virtue; good of others; equality and fairness. When we peruse the Preamble to the Constitution- our vision document – is it not that this ideology is enshrined in the words “Equality of status and opportunity”? [2] Or, the Utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill whose view was that justice was the greatest good to the greatest numbers. In the Preamble, is this not enshrined in the principles of “Socialism”, and “Equality” yet again? [3] Or, the relatively more modern one: the Rawlsian perspective which is that justice as fairness is the most egalitarian and also the most plausible concept of liberalism. In the Preamble, is this not reflected in the words “Liberty of thought, expression, belief”. So, the Preamble, if you deconstruct it precept-wise, is the very embodiment of these ideas. Justice is not something that is a standalone precept but an amalgam of other ideals like “socialism”; “democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few. They are not isolated silos because their undying endeavour is to establish one discipline – of overall justice, of an inclusive society. And, this is exactly what I meant by the Form Principles of Justice as an ideal. As a composite unit called Justice, these had been intended to be achieved by the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

Justice is not something that is a standalone precept but an amalgam of other ideals like “socialism”; “democracy”; “liberty”; “equality”; “fraternity”, to name a few — Justice Gogoi in his address. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Now, it will make for an incredibly interesting and if I may add overwhelmingly contentious tale to tell as to how the Executive and the Legislature have performed on this front. But the scope of my discourse will be limited to the judiciary’s endeavour in this regard. A few months back, I had the occasion to deliver the Justice P.D. Desai Memorial Lecture, at Ahmedabad. And, there I had proposed that attaining Constitutional Idealism was not like chasing a rainbow and the Supreme Court, through its pronouncements, had been reflecting it. It would not be a display of the pessimism of the intellect today, if I were to say that while, indeed, attaining Constitutional Idealism (= Vision of Justice) is not like chasing a rainbow, but, it is so only in the courtrooms. Perhaps, because fields are where the rainbows are (“fields” being the operative word). The point being that the way nation is built and the way this grand Vision of Justice is attained in the confines of the courts through judicial pronouncements and the way they are built on the ground are two very disparate realities. Agreed, the aspirational aspect of the Constitution and the operational aspect of the Constitution will always be two different notions. The aspirational aspect is high idealism of a kind that is almost moralistic and preachy. The operational aspect has to do with the very strange realities of the ground, almost defeating. But then even if we may be slow to move to bridge the gap between the two, which itself is not an acceptable compromise either, but we must, at the least, not become retrograde.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi: The judgments beyond their bare letter, say that, societal morality is fickle and not that, but constitutional morality that ought to dictate terms. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Take for example the 2015’s ruling in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India 3 (2015). It is a celebrated judgment, where the Supreme Court held that the public’s right to know was directly affected by Section 66A. Interestingly, while doing so, the Court was certainly inspired by, amongst other rulings, Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras 4 (1950); Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi 5 (1950); Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India 6 (1973). If you would recall, these were perhaps some of the earliest pronouncements protecting an Independent Indian’s Speech and Expression and were delivered in the light of the rights of the Press, which verdicts themselves had endorsed that a democracy was a marketplace of ideas where the people had a right to know; that prior restraints were anathematic to a democracy and that the freedom of speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy. Shreya Singhal took this legacy ahead as it improved upon the jurisprudence on the independence of the Press to attain and promote the Constitutional precept of plurality of thought, diversity of opinion and the ethos of democracy in the tech-age and in the context of online speech. The Vision of Justice was indeed attained in the courtroom. Not once, but multiple times. But has it translated into reality? Has the success of these sterling verdicts reached the ground? I will let the facts speak for themselves. On the ground, it is a descent into chaos. And it is worrisome on all counts when you sue the messenger or when you shoot the messenger, or when the messenger itself declines to deliver the message because of the fear psychosis. On the 19 th June, The Indian Express had published a very insightful article (selected from The Economist) titled as ‘How Democracy Dies”.

From (L-R): Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice Gita Mittal, Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, CPI leader D Raja and jurist Soli Sorabjee at the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

It said, at one place, that, “…independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence…Reports of the death of democracy are greatly exaggerated. But, the least bad system of government ever devised is in trouble. It needs defenders.” I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context – not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges. While Shreya Singhal was significant in its own right, NALSA v. Union of India 7 breathed new life into the Equality principle. The Court understood that our Founding Fathers’ vision about fundamental right against sex discrimination was to prevent differential treatment as a result of one’s not conforming to generalizations. The judgment made a momentous foray into the fountain-head of dynamism. And, I will get back to it but before I do that, I must touch upon a very fascinating judgment of 1986 vintage called Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala 8 . This was a case where three Jehovah’s Witnesses had refused to sing the National Anthem (as their tenets dictated so) when it was being sung in their school. They did stand up though. Nevertheless, they were expelled from the school. When the case found its way to the Supreme Court, while holding that the expulsion would be in violation of their Fundamental Right to ‘freedom of conscience’, the Court observed that “the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution.”

Former Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

The court also felt the need to add a thought. And, I feel compelled to quote it. It is the penultimate line of the verdict and it says – “our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.” Recently. in Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam v. Government of Tamil Nadu 9 , the Court held that even in the matters of religious beliefs, constitutional legitimacy cannot be foregone and following Justice B.K. Mukherjea in Shirur Mutt case (of 1954), went on to hold that it is not the State or the religious Indian but the Constitutional Court which decides on what constitutes essential practices of any particular religion.

Some of you could be wondering about how these judgments are even related. They are not. But, they are, at the same time. Dissimilarity is that the first one originates in a very intimate, private sphere of life and the other two originate in what everybody seems to want to have a say in – the matters of faith. But, it is the similarity that should be the take away. The judgments beyond their bare letter, say that, societal morality is fickle and not that, but constitutional morality that ought to dictate terms. As an Israeli judge Aharon Barak points out, it is not the transient spirits of time but the fundamental values that should be the guiding voice 10.

In a way, it said, let bygones be and the new society that we would be, would be egalitarian. While preserving our pluralistic character, we would be democratic and united too. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

In his last address to the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar had said that we must not only be a political democracy but a social democracy as the former cannot last unless lies at the base of it the former. And, social democracy, he defined, as a way of life which recognises liberty, equality, fraternity as one principle. I wouldn’t want to wade into knowing if we are a successful political democracy, but, I do, earnestly believe, that we are a social democracy, in all aspects. But again, largely jurisprudentially. And the disparity is there because the two Indias – both just as perceptible – are at conflict. There is an India that believes that it is the New Order and there is an India that lives below a ridiculously drawn Poverty Line on daily wages in night shelters with no access to education or healthcare, let alone access to the Courts of Law. The ambivalence is intriguing. And, this is exactly what I call as getting lost in translation. One India in the aforementioned perspective is the Vision and to know how far we have succeeded in attaining this Vision of Justice is really a matter of perception. But nevertheless, there is a graphic disparity right there and removing this disparity will be the mission for the Indian Judiciary in the times to come. And if I may add, for that to happen, it is going to require a “constitutional moment” of its own kind in the life of this institution, which I believe has been long overdue.

“I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated,” says Justice Gogoi. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

The Constitutional history with reference to this institution as a whole (and, especially the Supreme Court) would show that its own role has constantly evolved in the light of the socio-political context. If 1970-1980 was the decade where it expounded the Basic Structure Doctrine, in 1980s, it constantly expanded the scope of Article 21 and by 1990s, it became somewhat of a “Good Governance Court” by innovatively interpreting Constitutional provisions to address the inadequacies consequent upon executive and legislative inactivity. In the first fifty years since our independence, the court has created a very sound jurisprudence which we continue to reap from. It is the inertia really that has kept us going till now. But the way things stand today, court processes are a trial even before the trial has begun. While I cannot say if it is a collective failure on our part but for a nation governed by the rule of law, is it not a matter of concern that to this extent at least, we are defying the idea of inclusiveness? Not a reform but a revolution is what it needs, to be able to meet the challenges on the ground and to keep this institution serviceable for a common man and relevant for the nation. For the effectiveness of the judgments to show, the justice dispensation system has to be made more result oriented i.e. to say, more focused on enforcement. I understand what Mr. Arun Shourie 11 suggests when he wonders if the judiciary is not being an “accessory to the resulting deterioration”, when it in its hopefulness and optimism, doesn’t go after its mandate till its implementation. I find it difficult to agree wholeheartedly. But I will certainly say that the judiciary must certainly be more pro-active, more on the front foot. This is what I would call as redefining its role as an institution in the matters of enforcement and efficacy of the spirit of its diktats, of course, subject to constitutional morality (= separation of powers) again. I will even go ahead to say that the institution, at all levels, needs to become more dynamic in the matters of interpretation of laws. And, this is what I mean to say by a constitutional moment of its own kind. However, it is going to be a tall order both at the micro level and the macro level because both come with their unique sets of challenges.

Executive Director of The Express Group Anant Goenka (left) presents a sketch to Justice Ranjan Gogoi at the third RNG Lecture in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express Photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

By micro level, what I mean is administration of justice on day-to-day basis. Here, the so-called “inefficiency” and “slow processes” have been historical challenges. I will put it very simply. The judiciary today is not a poor workman who blames his tools, but it is a workman with no tools. I am not going to saddle you with the figures that we keep consuming every day on pendency, arrears and judges’ strength but in the light of what a French author had once said, “Everything has been said already, but as no one listens, we must begin again.” 12 , I will only ask and request those at the helm to finally listen so that we must not have to begin again. In addition to that, I also feel that there is a pressing need to explore the endless limits of legal services mechanism. Legal awareness and legal empowerment of the marginalised in this vastly unequal society of ours, have to be a made an observable reality. Let me give you one instance which is glaring insofar as personal liberty is concerned. 67% of the prison population are undertrials, mostly belonging to the underprivileged classes and 47% of them are between the age of 18-30 years. Compare this with the U.K. where it is about 7% and the U.S. which is acknowledged to have a high rate of incarceration where the percentage is 22.7%. The period of about one year that a majority of the undertrials have been in custody would hardly redeem the situation. Will it be wrong to suggest that a fair share of our demographic dividend is being unjustifiably lodged in the jails and mostly for petty or less serious offences?

The judiciary, with whatever little it has had at its hand, has been a proud guardian of the great Constitutional vision. (Express Photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

At the macro level, the judiciary as an institution is being seen as a course corrector, a leveller, a democratiser of sorts. And, since it is too well known that this country is on the cusp of an evolution, naturally it will have implications for this institution just as much. I would like you to recall that I had mentioned about Hamilton in the beginning of the discourse. While contemplating the U.S. Constitution 13 , he had said that the judiciary is the weakest of three branches because it neither has force of the Executive nor the will of the Legislature, but only judgment. This, and which I agree with absolutely, he said, was the “simple view of the matter”. The complex view is this. And which he was wise enough to warn about over two centuries ago. He had said that while the civil liberties will have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, they will have everything to fear from the union of the judiciary with either of the other two branches.

Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Justice Surya Kant (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

I would like to believe, this is why, Ramnath ji had also said that “fierce independence” is indeed the bedrock of justice. But I would like to add that “independence” must always be responsible with due regard to established Constitutional values. This institution is the last bastion of hope and the one that the citizenry believes firmly, will give justice to them, come what may. And it has. The judiciary, with whatever little it has had at its hand, has been a proud guardian of the great Constitutional vision. It fills me with immense pride to see that as an institution, the judiciary has been endowed with great societal trust. This very fact gives it its credibility and this very credibility gives it its legitimacy. It is a very enviable spot for an institution. I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent. And, fierce. And, at all times. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So is an institution. And if introspection is where we have to begin, we might as well begin there. Perhaps, we can hope and endeavour that in the future, it is not our finality, but really our infallibility that should define us. It is my imagination of an ideal world and I am aware of what Carl Jung had said of it. He had had said that, “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.” I don’t know how true his view holds on other counts, but as far as idealism is concerned, I would say, it should be pursued like an axiom. Thank you very much.

Jai Hind!

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India is Lacking in the Amount of Sexual and Violent Crime Cases that Utilize DNA to Link the Accused to the Crime Scene

CA 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[1]. 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[3], 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)[4] available for the latest year 2015-16 shows that they have received 99 DNA cases specifically for rape from different states.
B
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!

EIndia 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.

Get tough with ‘killers on wheels’: Supreme Court

Supreme Court of India

Expresses concern at rising number of deaths in road accidents

Expressing serious concern over the rising number of deaths in road accidents, the Supreme Court on Thursday called for revisiting the sentencing policy to ensure harsh punishment for the ‘killers on wheels’.

Upholding the three-year jail sentence awarded by the Bombay High Court to Alister Anthony Pareira for causing the death of seven persons when his car ran into the pavement in Mumbai, a Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and K.S. Khehar said the punishment must be in proportion to the crime.

Writing the judgment, Justice Lodha said, “The punishment to be awarded for a crime must not be irrelevant but it should conform to and be consistent with the atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been perpetrated, the enormity of the crime warranting public abhorrence and it should “respond to the society’s cry for justice against the criminal.”

Drunken driving

The Bench said: “The World Health Organisation, in the Global Status Report on Road Safety, has pointed out that speeding and drunk driving are the major contributing factors in road accidents. According to National Crime Records Bureau [NCRB], the total number of deaths due to road accidents in India every year is now over 1,35,000. The NCRB report also states drunken driving as a major factor for road accidents.”

It said the country had the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of deaths in road accidents. “It is high time lawmakers revisit the sentencing policy reflected in Section 304 A IPC [death due to negligence]. It is true that the appellant has paid compensation of Rs. 8,50,000 but no amount of compensation could relieve the family of victims from the constant agony. As a matter of fact, the High Court had been quite considerate and lenient in awarding to the appellant a sentence of three years for an offence under Section 304 Part II IPC [death caused by driving] where seven persons were killed.”

According to the Bench, “the facts and circumstances of the case which have been proved by the prosecution in bringing home the guilt of the accused under Section 304 Part II IPC undoubtedly show despicable aggravated offence warranting punishment proportionate to the crime. Seven precious human lives were lost by the act of the accused. For an offence like this which has been proved against the appellant, the sentence of three years awarded by the High Court is too meagre and not adequate but since no appeal has been preferred by the State, we refrain from considering the matter for enhancement.”

“Travesty of justice”

On the plea for letting the appellant off with the sentence already undergone i.e. two months in a case like this, the Bench said “in our view, it would be travesty of justice and highly unjust, unfair, improper and disproportionate to the gravity of crime.”

It said: “We are satisfied that the facts and circumstances of the case do not justify benefit of probation to the appellant for good conduct or for any reduction of sentence. The appeals are, accordingly, dismissed. The appellant’s bail bonds are cancelled. He shall forthwith surrender for undergoing the remaining sentence as awarded by the High Court in the judgment dated September 6, 2007.”

“When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”

Supreme Court of India

Chief Justice of India Shri S H Kapadia- Speech on the ocassion of Law Day 2011

We have assembled today to celebrate the anniversary of a momentous event, the anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution, the day on which our founding fathers subscribed to this document by signing the same and thereby unfolding the philosophy – social, economic and political, for the governance of free India. We have every reason to be proud of and to celebrate that unique occasion. We take this opportunity to thank the founding fathers, for this document, who spent a good deal of their time and energy in giving shape to this suprema lex which was to guide the future destination of the country. We are ever grateful to them. The foremost reason why we are proud of our Constitution is that it promises governance through the Rule of Law. While in many countries which initially opted for a democratic form of Government the euphoria lasted for brief spells, we are of the view that in our country, notwithstanding its complexity, democracy has stabilized and democratic institutions have flourished. The survival of democracy in India has left many bewildered.

The socio-economic transformation – a welfare State and an egalitarian society as its objective – must also be through the process of law. It is true that such desired socio-economic transformation through process of law has been slow, however, the march has been steady. Today, rule-specific laws are being substituted by rights-specific laws (RTE, RTI, Food Security Bill). These socio-economic legislation requires a paradigm shift in the matter of interpretation of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Courts have come from formal equality to egalitarian equality to the concept of Deprivation.

 Judicial independence is one of the essential elements of Rule of Law. Every civilized society has seen the need for an impartial and independent judiciary. The principle of Judicial Independence has acquired renewed significance, since the Constitution of India has conferred on the Judiciary the power of judicial review. However, keeping in mind the doctrine of Separation of Powers, Judiciary has to exercise considerable restraint to ensure that the surcharged democracy does not lead to a breakdown of the working of the Parliament and the Government. The Judiciary needs to work in the area demarcated by the Constitution. Awareness about rights has grown while correspondingly redressal from the Executive has been reduced. The Executive has its own compulsions – huge population, lack of resources, high inflation, global economic region etc. As a consequence litigation has multiplied. Despite commendable achievements in terms of disposal which I will presently demonstrate, the challenge is and should be for Zero Pendency in which direction a lot needs to be done.

Today, the crisis of confidence in human institutions has come to the forefront. The deficiency of every institution in tackling the growing and complicated social problems has become a common feature. It is a challenge for every institution. Every democratic institution needs to meet this challenge. The viability of judicial institutions depends upon their acceptability by the people. When the viability of the system gets into disrepute and ultimately the system becomes less and less useful to the community, the challenge lies in rejuvenating the system by restoring its credibility and people’s faith in it. Thus, the foremost challenge to the

Judiciary today is viability of the system. Citizens approach the Court only when there is confidence in the system and faith in the wisdom of the Judges. This is where the Public Trust doctrine comes in. The Institution stands on public trust.

 I am an optimist. I do not share the impression that judicial system has collapsed or is fast collapsing. I strongly believe and maintain that with all the drawbacks and limitations with shortage of resources and capacity, we still have a time-tested system. This is no justification to discard the system by giving it bad name. Judiciary has performed a commendable job, which is indicated by the Status Report. Before reading the statistical data, let me say that there is a need to highlight that all the stakeholders are accountable for maintaining and achieving standards of Court Excellence. The general tendency is to put the entire blame on the Judges.

The executive including the police and the Bar have an important role to play in expeditious disposal of cases. There is a backlog of cases, however, it is not as big as is sought to be projected. Please note that 74% of the cases are less than five years old. The focus: expeditious disposal of 26% of cases which are more than five years old i.e. “Five plus free” should be the initiative.

CONCLUSION :

B. R. Ambedkar delivering a speech to a rally ...

Image via Wikipedia

India is an aspirational democracy. It is the shared idea of India to emerge from Society which has individuals of diverse ideologies, cultures and religious denominations. We must, therefore, identify common strands that will bind us, as one nation and one people. Unless this is done we cannot build a modern and strong India. In the hierarchy of values, judicial integrity is above judicial independence. Judicial accountability needs to be balanced with judicial independence. I would request the Bar as well as eminent jurists to deliberate upon constitutional concepts such as Judicial Independence and Judicial Accountability. We, the Judges, do not mind a studied fair criticism. However, as an advice to the Bar please do not dismantle an Institution without showing how to build a better one. Please remember “When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”

Will politicians understand hunger by experimenting with fast?

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

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.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Will-politicians-understand-hunger-by-experimenting-with-fast/articleshow/10034539.cms

Rights & wrongs of vigilantism

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court’s judgment this month, which struck down the state’s authority to raise armed vigilante groups to counter Maoists, has prompted criticism. But did the apex court have any option?

Uttam Sengupta IN THE TRIBUNE

THE Supreme Court earlier this month declared as ‘unconstitutional’ the temporary recruitment and arming of tribal youth. The ruling was clearly unexpected and the Union Home Minister , while refraining from commenting on the decision, announced that he would have to discuss the issue with the Chief Ministers since it concerned not just Chhattisgarh but nine other states as well. According to reports in the media, both the Union Government and the Chhattisgarh government are preparing to file a petition for reviewing the decision.

The ruling has indeed put the government in a fix. After the apex court’s ruling, the entire force and structure of the SPOs has become illegal. The government would not only have to disband and disarm the SPOs in the shortest possible time, it would also have to stop paying them the token honorarium, ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 a month. Many of these SPOs, who have acted as the “eyes and ears” of the police in Maoist affected districts, may , in desperation, even cross over to the ‘enemy’ and share information and intelligence that they may have gathered as SPOs. Others may refuse to return the firearms given to them, supposedly to defend themselves.

A Superintendent of Police at Raipur was quoted as exclaiming in dismay, “ How do you tell them they cannot carry a weapon ? After all, they have been fighting the Maoists for long. They have been targets and could get killed anytime.” Both the Union Home Minister and the Chhattisgarh government acknowledged that the ruling had come as a major setback to anti-Maoist operations.

How special?

The dictionary defines ‘special’ as ‘uncommon’. And an ‘officer’ is of course a person who commands authority and holds an office. But in independent India, the SPOs, numbering over 70,000 this year and spread across nine states, are neither special or equal to policemen and nor are they officers, for reasons that will become clear later in this write-up.

The antiquated Indian Police Act ( IPA) of 1861 first provided for the appointment of SPOs. If there was an apprehension of rioting or any breach of peace and the regular police force was found to be inadequate to cope with the situation, any police inspector could apply to the court for permission to appoint a specified number of people as SPOs for a temporary period of time.

This allowed the colonial government to maintain a loyal band of ‘bonded’ people , it could fall back on in times of emergency. The provision was also used to reward police informers from the secret fund. The institution was apparently found to be convenient and has been in the statute books since then. Intervention by the Supreme Court of India actually prompted the Chhattisgarh government to enact its own Act, Chhattisgarh Police Act ( CPA) under which it went ahead to appoint 6,500 SPOs.

Those who have visited police camps in Maoist-affected states would have come across these SPOs. Young men or boys in their late teens, wearing ill-fitting uniforms, they generally appear even more scared than the visitors to their camps. They should have been far away from the war-zone, singing love songs and wooing soul-mates, raising families and pursuing their dreams. But here they are huddled like cattle in barracks with no space to stand or walk. The available space is generally occupied by folding cots and the ‘officers’ are forced to roll over cots to reach their own.

They are required to man the watch-towers and crouch in bunkers. They usually lead the security forces during Long Range Patrols, carefully watching out for landmines or sniper-fire. They do the night shifts and of course, as members of a disciplined, uniformed force, they are required to clean the barracks, toilets, fetch water, work in the kitchen as part of daily chores, acutely conscious that their lives can be cut short at any time. Officers indeed.

Criticism

Still the judgment has come in for considerable criticism. While Congress leaders have been understandably silent on the issue, BJP leaders have made no secret of their disappointment, describing the judgment as dangerous. The Supreme Court, it was insinuated, has gone a little overboard in striking down a seemingly reasonable and valid administrative arrangement. The ruling smacked of a political and ideological bias and would be an impediment to good governance, commented an editorial. It was a setback for anti-Maoist operations and would make it tougher for governments and police to enforce law and order in Maoist strongholds, it was eloquently argued.

Others frowned on the judgment that waxed eloquent on an “amoral political economy”, prevailing inequalities in society and the ‘corrupt social and state order’. The Supreme Court’s “lecture” reminding the state of its responsibility to ensure security to all citizens and prevent emergence of great disaffection also did not go down too well. The more charitable of the critics pointed out that the comments made by the Supreme Court were unnecessary and not really relevant. Others bitterly questioned whether it was the court’s business to quote from literature, philosophy and economic treatise and serve a sermon on morality.

The debate is not really central to the issue. The more relevant question is whether the apex court really had an option but to strike down the recruitment of SPOs ? The court has been deliberating on the case for nearly four years and quoted equally extensively from the affidavits filed by both the Union government and the state government in its judgment. For good reason, the critics have refrained from citing these passages from the judgment.

The Union government and the Chhatisgarh government, one also suspects, were far too confident and, therefore, casual about the case. The petition, after all, was filed way back in 2007 by “ Maoist sympathisers” and outsiders like Nandini Sundar and Ramchandra Guha. The apex court had passed a series of interim orders, had asked Chhattisgarh to vacate the schools occupied by security forces and directed the National Human Rights Commission to report on the ground situation. It had also ordered that the SPOs should be recruited strictly in accordance with the law and had refused to impose an interim ban on the recruitment. That possibly convinced both New Delhi and Raipur that the apex court was not inclined to strike at the edifice so painstakingly built by them.

The defence

The affidavit of the Chhattisgarh government claimed that there was an acute shortage of security personnel in the state. While the state required a minimum of 70 battalions to take on the Maoists, it had only 40 battalions at its disposal. Worse, 30 of them were central forces comprising “outsiders” who are neither familiar with the local terrain nor with the local dialects. That is why, it was claimed, it was necessary to recruit local, tribal youth as “guides” and “interpreters”.

The affidavit then argued that the tribal youth had actually volunteered to fight the Maoists. They had been victims of Maoist violence and hence they wanted to avenge the loss of lives and property their families had suffered.

The same affidavit then stated that the tribal youths were armed because they were soft targets and were vulnerable to attacks by Maoists. Arms were given to them in “self-defence”.

At some point, however, they seemed to discard the ‘self-defence’ explanation. It had become necessary to arm the tribal youth, stated one of the affidavits, because the Maoists had also raised local militias with intimate knowledge of the local terrain and the people. It was important, therefore, to raise a “force multiplier” with equally intimate knowledge of local dialects, terrain and customs.

It went on to argue that there was nothing illegal about the recruitment of SPOs since it was being done under a legislation passed by the state legislature and also provided in the Indian Police Act.

The affidavit by the Union government endorsed the claim and asserted that the SPOs played a crucial role in maintaining law and order, which, it pointedly stated, was a state subject. The Union of India claimed to have a limited role to play in the recruitment of SPOs. It merely fixed the upper ceiling of SPOs in each state, primarily because it bore 80 per cent of the expenses incurred on the SPOs. Thereafter, it had only an advisory role. The recruitment, training and deployment were responsibilities of the respective state governments.

The questions

The Supreme Court wanted to know the qualifications required for recruitment as SPOs, the kind of training imparted to them, how and when were they discharged and what kind of protection has been offered to them by the state. It also asked what kind of control the state exercised over the SPOs and what could it do if the SPOs refused to be disarmed whenever ordered ?

The affidavit admitted that the SPOs were barely literate. Pointing out that the law was silent on minimum qualification for SPOs, it added that preference was given to those who have passed standard five in school. In other words, they would not be eligible even for appointment as police constables, which requires them to pass standard eight.

It admitted that no training is given to the SPOs till they completed at least one year in “service”. Then also it was at the discretion of the Superintendent of Police. Later, a fresh affidavit claimed that a training module had been drawn up for the SPOs and they were being schooled in “ Human Rights, the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and Forensic Science etc.” among other classes.

The Chhattisgarh Police Act made it clear that the SPOs are to be recruited on a purely temporary basis and they can be terminated at any time without assigning any reason. But the same Act also makes it clear that the SPOs would ‘always’ be deemed to be on duty and they could not take up any other assignment.

There was no answer to the obvious question, namely what prevented the state government from recruiting local tribal youth as regular policemen and training them.

The two governments also missed the irony. While they had failed to educate the tribal youth, they saw nothing wrong in using them as “cannon fodder” in the fight against Maoists. The state, exclaimed the Supreme Court Bench, should have been distributing books to them, not guns. Also paradoxical is the claim to train “in two months” the barely literate youth in complex laws and forensic science.

The government was also clearly tempted to take shortcuts. While Chhattisgarh paid Rs 3,000 p.m. to the SPOs, several other states apparently paid much less. Raising a regular police force would have called for a much higher salary payment and a lot more investment on their perks, pension and training. The principle of “equal pay for equal work” does not seem to impress the government. But the affidavits insisted that the SPOs were subject to the “ same discipline and the same chain of command” as applicable to the regular police force.

Indeed, the Chhattisgarh Police Act specified that the SPOs would be responsible for preventing crime, preserving internal security, maintaining public order, enforcing the law, providing security, providing public property, detect offences and arresting offenders.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Supreme Court would be horrified at the brazen bid of the state to raise armed, vigilante groups that operate under the veneer of state patronage. The illiterate or the barely literate tribal youth, sandwiched between the Maoists on the one hand and the police on the other, may have had no option but to accept the ‘generous’ offer of the state, howsoever unfair, uncertain, unequal and humiliating.

But can the state really get away by treating citizens in such a cavalier manner ? The shameful and embarrassing conduct of the state has been redeemed somewhat by the ruling of the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen if our elected governments redeem themselves.

Neither special nor officers

  • Number : 70,000
  • Spread over : 9 states
  • Recruitment : Temporary
  • Discharge : Any time without assigning any reason
  • Training : Nil or farcical
  • Protection : Uncertain
  • Discipline : Same as the police
  • Duties : Same as policemen
  • Salary : `1,500 to `3,000 p.m.

The rationale

  • The state cannot push illiterate, untrained youth to fight
    insurgency
  • It is the state’s duty to protect citizens. Civilians cannot be armed to defend themselves.
  • Armed vigilante groups can turn into a Frankenstein
  • Tribal youth have a right to education, liberty and choice
  • Equal work should be compensated with equal pay
  • The cycle of violence has not abated. So, the problem lies elsewhere.

 http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110717/edit.htm#1

Talk of judicial overreach is bogey: Supreme Court

Supreme Court of India

THE HINDU

Rejecting the criticism of judicial activism, the Supreme Court has said the judiciary has stepped in to give directions only because of executive inaction what with laws enacted by Parliament and the State legislatures in the last 63 years for the poor not being implemented properly. A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly pointed out that laws enacted for achieving the goals set out in the Preamble to the Constitution had been extremely inadequate and tardy, and the benefit of welfare measures enshrined in those legislation had not reached millions of poor, downtrodden and disadvantaged sections, nor did efforts to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots yield the desired result.

Writing the judgment in a case related to sewerage workers, Justice Singhvi said: “The most unfortunate part of the scenario is that whenever one of the three constituents of the state i.e. the judiciary issues directions for ensuring that the right to equality, life and liberty no longer remains illusory for those who suffer from the handicaps of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance, and directions are given for implementation of the laws enacted by the legislature for the benefit of the have-nots, a theoretical debate is started by raising the bogey of judicial activism or overreach.”

The Bench pointed out that the orders issued for the benefit of weaker sections were invariably challenged in the higher courts. In a large number of cases, the sole object of this exercise is to tire out those who genuinely espouse the cause of the weak and the poor. Justifying the directions issued by the Delhi High Court for protection of sewerage workers on a public interest litigation petition, the Bench said: “The superior courts will be failing in their constitutional duty if they decline to entertain petitions filed by genuine social groups, NGOs and social workers for espousing the cause of those who are deprived of the basic rights available to every human being, what to say of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

The Bench clarified that it deemed it necessary to erase the impression and misgivings among some people that the superior courts, by entertaining PIL petitions for espousing the cause of the poor who could not seek protection and vindication of their rights, exceeded the unwritten boundaries of their jurisdiction. The judges said it was the duty of the judiciary, like that of the political and executive constituents of the state, to protect the rights of every citizen and ensure that everyone lived with dignity.

Beijing statement

Quoting the judiciary’s objectives as mentioned in the 1995 Beijing statement, the Bench said these would include ensuring that all persons were able to live securely under the rule of law; promoting within the proper limits of the judicial function the observance and attainment of human rights, and administering the law impartially among persons and between persons and the state.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article2228591.ece