Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana. (DC Image)
Shorn of niceties, the concerns expressed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana at the conference of chief ministers and high court chief justices, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, can be reduced to a single point: the government and its officials do not do the job assigned to them, adding to the burden of the judiciary. Though he mentioned it, the Chief Justice was not focusing on omissions of the executive, where it wants the court to be the final arbiter of tough decisions. What worry him most are the way laws are made in our legislatures and the government officials’ apathy towards implementing court orders.
The legislature enacting ambiguous laws without required deliberation, clarity of thought, foresight and the welfare of the people in mind adds to legal issues; on the other hand, a careful process limits the scope of litigation, the Chief Justice has pointed out. This must be seen as a direct criticism of the government in power which has made it a practice to keep the legislature as a rubber stamp and deny it a chance to deliberate on the bills brought before it. There are any number of such pieces of legislation of great consequence that were passed overnight and now waiting for a hearing in the apex court. An anomaly that crept into a draft of a law could remain there in the final text if the elected representatives of the people do not get a chance to verify them. Moreover, the Constitution vests the power of governance with the executive in the hope that the council of ministers, which sits at the top of the structure, is collectively accountable to the legislature. If the latter is passed over, then the very idea of constitutional democracy is lost. As mentioned by the Chief Justice, the same concern was recently expressed by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla who, at the recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meet, said laws should be made after thorough debate and discussion.
The second issue the CJI has flagged brooks no delay on the part of the government. Officials tend to ignore court orders, forcing citizens and institutions to move court with contempt petitions. This is most unfortunate. In our scheme of things, a court has the right and duty to do complete justice in a matter brought before it, and if the orders the courts pass are not implemented on the ground, it’s not only denial of justice but undermining of democratic rights. The executive cannot arrogate to itself all the powers.
While the CJI brought to the attention of the executive the lapses the judiciary has noticed, the Prime Minister highlighted an issue that must make all fair-minded people sit and notice: lakhs of undertrial prisoners, mostly from underprivileged and poor backgrounds, are languishing in jails.
If we see the meet as a part of a process wherein each branch of the state helps the others correct themselves, then the exchanges that happened among the participants will result in better delivery of justice and democratic rights to the people.