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OPINION| There Can't be a More Significant Time for Judges to Stand Together as Politics Takes Over

Delivering his farewell speech in February, Justice Amitava Roy had cautioned his fellow judges about the danger that “extra-legal elements and military muscles are waiting in the wings to take over” and destroy the institution once the judiciary projects a fractured face.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:April 24, 2018, 9:02 AM IST
OPINION| There Can't be a More Significant Time for Judges to Stand Together as Politics Takes Over
File image of Supreme Court. (PTI)
New Delhi: During the 1949 Constituent Assembly debates, Dr BR Ambedkar said that although the Chief Justice of India is a very eminent person, he is after all "a man with all the failings, all the sentiments, and all the prejudices which we as common people have".

Ambedkar was absolutely right. And we have seen CJIs and judges faltering, even subscribing to the government's indefensible views during the Emergency. But at the same time, this would make Ambedkar go wrong on another important point.

During the debates, Ambedkar had maintained that "judiciary to a very large extent is not concerned with the executive" but only with the rights of the people in which the government of the day can hardly have any interest at all.

"Consequently the opportunity for the executive to influence the judiciary is very small," Ambedkar opined. His foresightedness could not have warned him of the times to come when the judges would complain about governmental interferences.

So much has changed since the framers of the Constitution debated extensively each and every provision pertaining to the higher judiciary before engrafting them into the Constitution.

Over a number of years, some of these changes were triggered by the government while many others have been the result of the judicial orders upon an interpretation of the Constitution.

Today, we are staring at a never-before, and perhaps never thought-of moment in India's history.

There was a proposed motion to remove the Chief Justice of India—the 45th one since the Supreme Court of India was established in 1950.

This motion was on Monday rejected by the Vice-President on several counts, and now a petition is being readied to be filed before the Supreme Court on the judicial side.

It will be credulous to talk with conviction why this motion was moved. It is perhaps equally naive to talk with certainty what exactly had prompted the four most senior judges to hold the unparalleled press conference in January, given their silence following the hurriedly called briefing.

One thing that can, however, be clearly deciphered is the fractured face of the judiciary.

The highest court of the land is looking like any other institution with a hierarchy of ranks, comprising individuals with differences of opinion who have skirmishes over administrative and other affairs.

There have been apparent discomfiture between the CJI and the most senior judges in the past too. But what makes these times unique is the exceptional routes taken to ventilate the grievances by the men, who had been so far very guarded in their views. There have been so many reservations in expressing opinions or making public the in-house matters that the highest judiciary has attracted criticism for its opaqueness.

For someone like me who spends most time of his days in the courtrooms and corridors of the Supreme Court as a reporter, there is a singular point of concern —faith of the people in the judiciary.

Faith of those who forget not to touch the main steps to the court building like in a temple; faith of those who fold their hands in respect when they enter the courtrooms; faith of those who carry religious textbooks and keep praying while the hearing of their cases are underway; and most importantly faith of those who lose their cases but still believe justice was done since the judges can do no wrong.

A divided house that the Supreme Court today is and the manifestations of this that have come out in the open have shaken to core faith of the people in this temple of justice.

Men are fallible but the Supreme Court had never looked like an institution that required individuals' credibility to assert its majesty and sense of justice.

Regretfully, the Supreme Court today appears to be running from eleven different courtrooms in a building, drawing its authority and probity from the men who head different benches.

Litigants, who have been seeing judges probably for the first time on their television screen, have suddenly become curious and cautious about the court room where their cases will be heard. Lawyers used to appear before the 'court' but they now appear before the judges.

Corridors are rife with speculations and conjectures every morning. A judge gets 10 minutes late to his courtroom and a frenzied guesswork is on. The moment an important PIL is filed, surmises take over where this will be listed.

The fractured face of the judiciary is out on display and this seems to have made way for politics and politicians to enter and tread on its turf. It looked like a perfect opportunity for the politics to make the best of the divide among the judges, and it has been aptly cashed in by the politicians.

The place people flock as their last resort for justice has become a playground for the politicians while the institution’s credibility and strength have taken a hit. The custodian of public faith appears to be scouting for its majesty while the bedrock of its existence – faith and trust of the common man – is shaken.

Institutional integrity, credibility, and well-being are a collective responsibility of all the judges in the top court, for each one of them take an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India and to uphold its values. There can be no duty higher than standing for what the Constitution stands for, and the judges are duty bound to protect these values.

Thus, there cannot be a more significant time for the judges to stand together and pull the judiciary out of this crisis, for it is now only and only about the institution and public confidence.

Delivering his farewell speech in February, Justice Amitava Roy had cautioned his fellow judges about the danger that “extra-legal elements and military muscles are waiting in the wings to take over” and destroy the institution once the judiciary projects a fractured face.

“And that would mean our extinction because we survive for the institution. It is not otherwise… we need to be together. We must demonstrate to all concerned that we are one, one composite unit, upright, independent, fearless and resolved to achieve our mission,” Justice Roy had said in his message. Judges in the top court must listen to him for the glory of the institution.

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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