A peculiar scenario has emerged in India, in which anyone with a tongue doesn’t stop lashing it against the Constitutional institutions. Interestingly, the abuse by the tongue happens amidst the paradoxical chorus ruing an alleged lack of freedom of speech. For ages, the judiciary had been mercifully spared, but it is no longer the case now.
It is popularly known that ideologically inclined activist critics ostensibly crave for equal and impartial treatment, but in reality, perhaps their concept of justice rests upon irrepressible public posturing to legitimise their strong opinion of what is good or bad in their own eyes, and for ‘taking revenge against’ or ‘savouring a favour for’ on every issue that they strongly feel for. They take upon themselves a self-imposed duty of becoming conscience keepers of the Supreme Court, it’s watchdogs and perhaps ombudsmen in their own right. It is interesting to note that some of them set up shadow Supreme Courts and arrogate to themselves the position of shadow Chief Justice of India.
It is popularly understood that behind the concept of justice lies the notion of propriety – that people get what is right, fair and appropriate. It has been famously said that freedom for the wolves is not for the death of the sheep. The conscience of the court does not rest mortgaged outside upon the shoulders of those who are otherwise duty-bound to maintain its dignity as enlightened citizens of India.
When activists allege that the Supreme Court has failed as the sentinel of people’s rights, and hint that the Supreme Court is partisan and lacking in integrity; a new code of judgmental narrative is born. The Supreme Court is not expected to pass the tests prescribed by self-proclaimed conscience keepers, including the attention-seekers in a media-driven society.
The Courts are at times bound by the rules of procedure. It is observed all the world over that there could be instances when the course of justice may prevent justice itself. The procedural aspects are the dynamic parameters evolved over time. If anyone has any serious issue with the allegedly inappropriate roster for assignment of cases, he should either seek remedy against particular judgments pronounced by any particular Judge or to challenge the Chief Justice of India in the capacity of the Master of Roster before the Supreme Court itself.
The act of some of the Judges of the Supreme Court holding a press conference against their own colleagues was indeed unfortunate. The institution of the Supreme Court will take decades to recover from that setback. Whatever may have been the merits or justification of such a move, like the Judges of Punjab and Haryana High Court had once struck work in their anguish against the then Chief Justice should be seen as isolated aberrations in the otherwise mature conduct of the Judges, and must not be used as a handle by activists for making unending attempts to bring down the institution itself.
Some of the unending homilies addressed in the media to the Supreme Court by the activists include suggestions to handle ongoing contempt cases in a particular manner; to re-define the law related to floor-tests to prove majority in legislatures; to ignore official claims on migrant labour etc. The Supreme Court has often been accused of not acting with urgency to protect citizens from perceived executive excesses; and the Chief Justice of India exercising his power questionably to constitute benches, allocate cases in a manner that raises questions about the independence of the judiciary; and so on. If one goes by the complete list, which is almost unending, the interference by activists claiming themselves to represent the civil society and portraying themselves as Good Samaritans seems to be a big threat to the independent working of the Supreme Court and other courts.
Activists term themselves as crusaders, but it is often seen that these crusades are carried out against the issues that get them most social and political mileage, and not against the issues or difficulties that often go unnoticed or unsupported. For example, in the legal profession, there is an imperative need at the level of Supreme Court Bar and other Bar Associations or Councils not only to focus upon, but also to mitigate the financial plight of junior lawyers, particularly in the face of untold hardships being caused to them during the COVID19 pandemic.
Lakhs of young lawyers all over the country have been rendered without any work because of lockdowns and very restricted working of the courts. Many of them are facing problems of subsistence and shelter. There is a dire need to assist the Supreme Court and other Courts by the respective Bar Associations and those elected to safeguard the interests of the lawyers to increase the scope of virtual proceedings through video conferencing and digitisation of the registries.
It is much more important and critical today to launch effective welfare measures for the young and emerging legal fraternity rather than launching ideological diatribes against the Supreme Court judgments, procedures, and individual judges in the media, which prove hollow in the absence of any worthwhile legal recourse to follow up such issues to their logical conclusion. The Supreme Court is not a puppet court where strings can be pulled from outside. Thousands of young and junior lawyers who are not making even their both ends meet due to the pandemic conditions want the courts to resume full-scale work, rather than suffering vitiated working conditions due to simply avoidable acrimonious exchanges.
It must be appreciated that Constitutional institutions are too sacred and profound to bear assaults of opinionated individuals. Genuine, constructive and bonafide criticism is in fact the catalyst for the healthy growth of such institutions. However, when individual ideological leanings, egotism and biased opinions attempt to demolish the sacred institutions of Indian democracy through persistent onslaughts, that’s not done.
Disclaimer: The author is a practising lawyer. A former IAS Officer, he worked as Chief Secretary to Government of Punjab during 2014-2017. Views are personal.