Justice Sealed in Cover

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

Delivering the LC Jain Memorial Lecture, a couple of months back, Justice A P Shah raised certain pertinent issues, over the functioning of Supreme Court, and Judiciary as a whole, and that has been published in many print medias. This Lecture, in short, summed up the failure of our Judicial system, as the third pillar of democracy, and paving the path of constitutional autocracy rather. The text of the speech is available in Net and You Tube, so instead of going into details of that, I am just touching the main points, and other related challenges the judicial system is facing now.

The helplessness of our legal system, overburdened with pending cases, and diminishing number of Judges, Courts and lack of infrastructure, has long been highlighted by all concerned, but without any effect on the administration or legislature, to initiate remedies on urgent basis. But this shortcoming , is coupled with threats on life of a judge , who may not comply with the will of the ruling party covert directives (the controversial mysterious death of Justice Loya and his associates) , and frequent or targeted transfer of Judges from important to less important courts , are also examples of gross  political intervention on freedom  and independence of Judiciary . Recent transfers of Justice Muralitharan, who ordered immediate lodging of FIRs against hate speech mongers, and the Judge in Naroda Gam mass riot cases, when it was winding up to final verdict, are glaring samples, among a lot others, where ill-intentioned transfers, inordinately delay and thereby deny justice.

But Supreme Court, that so far, was held in high esteem, as the last resort of justice for the people and state (may not be the government), has now faulted in a number of occasions. And that is a real cause of worry for the nation. Concern is obvious as one respected Judge, in an open forum, completely compromised the judicial impartiality, when he described PM as a ‘visionary’ and ‘great inspiration’. That might be his personal  inclination, but as a sitting judge, he must not have vented his personal but controversial feelings in public, that is the demand of the Chair.

The first example, cited by Justice Shah, is the issue of Kashmir. In Kashmir, Govt of India evidently arbitrarily, ‘ abrogated ‘ the special status of the state, without consulting, rather forcefully toppling  the elected govt, and kept the people and public machinery in lock down, by suspending all network , putting leaders in prison and using  draconian laws of PSA, as also random  imposition of Curfew and 144, by military AFSPA. Nothing could be a greater travesty of constitution. But even after six months, Supreme Court could not hold any meaningful hearing on the petitions filed.

The second example is Ayodhya and Ram mandir issue. Though Supreme court failed to manage time and space for hearing in a number of important cases, it showed  extra ordinary  activism , and patience in hearing Ram Mandir arguments on daily basis, and delivering a fractured judgement that best suits the  Hindutwa hooligans  agenda , which had inspired destruction of the historical structure, much to the detriment of human logic, let alone legal prudence.

Thirdly, the most dangerous decision of Supreme Court, that created a mega humanitarian crisis in Assam and North East, is the National Register of Citizens (NRC) verdict. The responsibility of this mismanagement solely rests with the erstwhile Chief Justice, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who by his judgement, had shifted the onus of proving citizenship claim on the accused, from the natural onus of the accuser to prove the charge of illegal infiltration. The endless harassment and torture of NRC inflicted on the non-Assamese speaking people in North East, failed to draw any proactive reaction from the apex court, and they remain blindfolded, to the advantage of ruling dispensation there.

 The Forth point is , the practice of submission in “ Sealed Cover “ by the Govt , to the Court , as Court accepts this bizarre practice as valid method of tendering replies to the court , keeping the litigants in dark , as to the contents thereof , it violates the basic principle of ‘transparency ‘ in matters  of court cases and legal suits . The cognizance of so called ‘sealed covers’ in Rafael purchase cases, and also the notorious Electoral Bonds case, proved, the meek surrender of top court to the finger point of ruling party to save their skins.

The last but not the least is the question of ‘prioritisation’ of litigations. In fact, most of the anomalies spring from the failure to judicious prioritisations. The glaring example is the Electoral Bonds case. Reports suggest that more than six thousand Crores collected by Bonds, the Courts asked the details to be submitted in ‘sealed cover’, which it would assess, but that assessment never came. A number of urgent civil rights violations cases are long pending, including the CAA and citizenship law related litigations. Court initially said they would hear as violence subsides. But after so much of bloodshed and, sit in demonstrations by elderly citizens, particularly women braving all odds, Court deferred it for four weeks, and missed the point of ‘priority’ pathetically.

Amid all this gloom, the ray of hope is the suo motto cognizance of name shaming banners put up by UP Yogi govt. claimimg compensation of so-called riot damages, by Allahabad High Court, and order of immediate dismantling of them. The verdict by Mengaluru Court quashing the fake sedition charge to the school kids and teachers for staging anti CAA theatre, is also encouraging. But on the other discouraging side, is the nomination of ex CJI Ranjan Gogoi, as MP in Rajaya Sabha, within months from the date of retirement. Gogoi having the tainted past of facing a sexual harassment charge, which he himself dismissed without trial, and also delivering controversial verdicts, that reduced Supreme Court into an Executive Court rather than an apex Judicial Court of last resort.

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Jun 4, 2020

Asisranjan Sengupta

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