I hoped that 2018 will correct all the wrongs of previous year or at least it won’t hit us with any more new surprises. But the recent press conference called by four judges of the Supreme Court shattered all such illusions. I believe this is another twisting episode in the book of our democracy’s failure. I think such a situation can be ranked only second to the emergency in 1975.
The judiciary, which is institutionalised as an independent authority to serve as a grievance redressal mechanism for the people, is itself facing an identity crisis. It is not just a single press conference that brings us to this conclusion. The functioning of this organ has raised many questions from time to time.
The problems were always there, but we were not ready to accept it. The recent press conference has made those doubts public. Citizens who saw the judiciary as its saviour, are now losing confidence. People don’t feel secure and free now. And it’s not their fault. When the senior-most members of the judiciary are going through the same emotions, who is to blame the commoners?
Enough of beating around the bush. Let’s get straight to the ground realities and working governance aspect. The judiciary, hailed as the epitome of justice is constitutionally mandated to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and check on other organs for their excesses. But it seems to be marred by politicians who use the court of law as per their whims and fancies. It has become a tool for wielding power, especially to those who don’t care about the nation’s interests. In such a case, the rule of law becomes the first casualty.
Furthermore, the huge backlog of millions of cases desperately calls for attention towards the inefficiency of our justice delivery system. All tiers of the judiciary are overwhelmed with litigation cases, which in my opinion, are impossible to adjudicate with the current strength of judges.
Continuous clashes between the government and judiciary regarding the appointment of judges make daily headlines on our television sets. Such overburdening affects the discharging rate of cases. But no one has formalised the framework to deal with it. Therefore, the judicial organ seems to suffer from malaise of overarching aims with understaffed structure.
Contempt of court and judicial activism have further raised the speculation. It is said that judiciary is using its unfettered power to do whatever it likes. The instruments given to judges as a tool to protect the obstruction of justice is now being misused. Then the cases of judges, like C.S. Karnan demands immediate remedy, where the procedure of appointment and transfer needs adequate attention. It should be ensured that the process of judge appointment and their transfer should be based on sound administrative decisions, which are in conformity with their merit and judicial temperament.
In this regard, I believe that the allocation of benches need urgent reforms. The Chief Justice of India is the master of roster, but the fact that he is the first among equals should also be not denied. The democratic environment can only be ensured as long as it is perceived so in the eyes of public. But the latest series of allegations against the chief justice by his compatriot judges, presents a disturbing picture in this context.
The incident raises important concerns related to judge’s grievances. It was said that the seven-page letter was already forwarded to chief justice after much deliberations. But when he didn’t pay any attention to it, the four judges didn’t have any choice but to go public. They safeguarded their decision on the grounds of their national duty. While the event has divided intellectuals in the factions of supporters and critics, I am yet to decide my stand.
The one thing that I am really sure about is that this conference news made me worry for our governance system. I mean the people who are in the ranks of authority themselves have no one to register their grievances to, what about common citizens like you and me?
In the meantime, supporters are applauding the judges for standing up against the dictatorial functioning of an apex judge. They are of the opinion that these men of integrity have done nothing wrong as the manner in they acted is coherent to public interest. The judges’ decision to go public has certainly iterated the constitutional stance that an individual is not sacrosanct as the institution. They did the right thing by bringing such a serious issue to the notice of people.
But the critics have shown apprehensions about the press meet as they argued that it eroded the credibility of the judiciary. The people’s confidence is shaking in the transparency of the system. Wise men are advising that the matter could have been addressed internally and should have never been made public. According to them, such a grave step has created the atmosphere of distrust and hostility. Already crippled with the elements of intolerance and rights violation, the country seems to be entering into a new era of falling standards of democratic institutions.
But I would like to mention one important thing – though the press meet was an unprecedented move, but all judges should be hailed for their impartial assessment of situation. They provided only the factual evidence, not allowing any room for politicizing the event. Even the after press-comments were prepared so eloquently, that there was nothing in it that could have been used to attack the judges’ probity.
The only way forward is that the matter should be put across table and all the stakeholders should work out a common solution through the instrument of integration. The people of high statute should come together to set the things right, correct all wrongs. All the three organs – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, should come together to serve people’s interests. And more importantly, they should be working in a transparent manner, holding each other accountable for their actions. I think that inter-organ democracy should be accompanied with intra-organ democracy.
Therefore, I really wish that we are able to address the issues of the judiciary at the earliest and allow them the room to function as an autonomous institution. The time is ripe for ushering into new phase of democracy.