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Jallikattu to Dahi Handi: judicial overreach or deliberate confrontations?

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A Soul in Exile. A Kashmiri Pandit Refugee in India. Tech wage slave in Bangalore. News freak in general.

For a while now, judiciary has been acting in an amusing way– sometimes being over-enthusiastic in poking nose into executive matters or going beyond realm of jurisprudence in selectively adjudicating on traditions. By issuing orders that created disbelief, on other occasions by refusing to issue one. And quite often, by simple locking horns with the executive.

Jalikattu, Dahi-Handi, temple administration– Supreme Court is omnipresent when it comes to religion and tradition. A lot has been said and written about the merits of the respective traditions itself, a lot of eyebrows raised on irrationality of Supreme Court’s imbalanced outlook between religions, and even their inexplicable logic of questioning needs of festival/traditions themselves. I won’t belabour the obvious again here.

On 12th January 2017, Supreme court refused to issue its orders on Jallikattu, even though the proceedings have concluded a while ago and in its own words, verdict draft is ready.

Why would judiciary refuse to complete a job, knowing very well that there is a lot of angst and expectation around this issue and the issue ought to be closed ahead of Pongal? Yes, they are overloaded and can’t be dictated to act as per public expectations. But, on many other occasions, the same judiciary has amused us with its over-indulgence for most non-urgent matters, from matter of running a private cricket body, entertaining frivolous cases to reserving time for PIL’s yet not filed.

There was a widespread demand and speculation that Modi govt. will issue an ordinance to allow Jallikattu to proceed, if SC doesn’t give a verdict ahead of Pongal. Its well-known what kind of political and judicial wrestling an ordinance of that nature would open the floor for. The ordinance would have offered a lip-smacking buffet of headlines for political opponents and intelligentsia ‘Modi govt undermining Judiciary’, ‘Facism by ordinance’, etc, possibly followed by an awesome opportunity for Judiciary to smack down the ordinance as well.

Was SC looking to create one more opportunity for confrontation? Judiciary has not missed one over the last two and half years.

In Aug 2016, then CJI lambasted the PM for not mentioning judiciary in his independence day speech from rampart of Red Fort, almost like a petulant teenager miffed at not having been on a birthday invitee list. It was amusing that the then CJI would make such spectacle about it, for when did it become mandatory on a PM to speak about every single topic under the sun from ramparts of Red Fort. If the PM was ever to choose so, the CJI and rest of audience may have had to spend a week under the sun there listening to him. It is a PM’s prerogative to speak on things that the PM deems relevant to convey to the nation at large. Topics that demand deliberation behind closed doors or are issues of constitutional contention still under debate may not be worthwhile discussing with 1.30 billion directly. 1.29 billion probably wouldn’t have even related to the topic of NJAC. Yet, the wise CJI opted to make an issue of the contents of the speech.

But, that was just one day in many. Recall, when the same CJI literally shed tears in public over the topic of judicial appointments in April 2016, PM Modi publicly invited him for a close door discussion on the issue. CJI/judiciary stone-walled that suggestion and continued confrontational grandstanding in public.

Speaking of confrontational attitude, which have been the norm ever since PM Modi took oath and way before NJAC even became a contentious issue- do you recall these?

  • For decades– judiciary didn’t worry about Ganga cleanup and made no queries during ten years of UPA rule. Amongst first thing Modi govt did was to set up a ministry and a multi-ministerial task-force for Ganga rejuvenation and cleanup plan. Supreme court suddenly finds a heart bleeding for Ganga and a stick to beat the ‘just 3 month old’ govt with and starts demanding action plans and results, criticises that it will take 200 yrs to Clean Ganga, wants to monitor Ganga cleanup directly.
  • And ah, Black-Money! For three years, SC couldn’t get UPA to constitute an SIT. Modi govt does so in its very first cabinet meeting.
    Yet, SC finds ways to make a fuss over non-issues. Supreme Court led SIT already had already been given the list of foreign account holders. But SC, not taking cognisance of that ownership of the list still made a fuss about the list nevertheless.

Democracy runs on a fine equitable balance between executive, legislature and judiciary. Judiciary has a role to interpret the law. But for a while now, Judiciary has self-appointed itself as the headmaster. Ex-CJI even went to the extent of appointing Judiciary as the performance auditor supervising the government, when he said: “Time has come to audit the governments performance”

CJI displayed his contempt for government by ignoring the fact every government is audited and censured by the electorate every five years, if not sooner. There is no unhinged leeway for the executive or legislature. The only pillar that has had a free run without any performance audit has been the judiciary, its colossal judicial backlogs bearing a testimony to performance failure.

For years, judiciary has been advised self-correction/introspection, but they have continued to stonewall any criticism or audit. Instead they continue to look down at the rest of the country from their ivory towers with contempt. Enough has been said about the reforms judiciary needs.

But, briefly – just look at the mess. Judiciary is the only organ of governance in India that continues to enjoy the school-like privilege from colonial era of long summer vacations and winter breaks and cozy work weeks. If they start working regular business days/hours like rest of us– that would be a big gain in productivity itself. Instead, they have increased the number of frivolous court cases they entertain and seem more interested in running government, want govt to run cricket instead, spend a lot of time deliberating whether IPL should be played in venue A or not, who should run a private cricket body, to defamation cases against Hanuman and Lord Ram and all such absurdities; cases that shouldn’t have even been entertained. Add to that promoting increase in access-based judicial privileges, enabling star advocates to secure midnight bails for their privileged clients to on-demand hearings for select PILs.

But, why has judiciary been acting so in last two and half years? Throughout the period of UPA-2 rule, SC was getting all the accolades. “Only SC can save India”, “SC is the last hope for democracy”, “SC the messiah”.

Then, India got into the election mode. Modi won a surprise victory. He even got a clear majority. And Modi took the cheering crowds away. Suddenly, SC lost its messiah aura!

Is SC just acting like a jealous sibling? But, I better shut-up, before someone takes me to court for contempt of court here. After all, freedom of speech isn’t permitted when it comes to Lordships!

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A Soul in Exile. A Kashmiri Pandit Refugee in India. Tech wage slave in Bangalore. News freak in general.
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