Judicial activism - The only way out

Biplob Ghosal

When the ghost of corruption was haunting the nation and the common man was feeling cheated and helpless in raising his voice against powerful bureaucrats and politicians involved in huge scams, the Supreme Court of India came to the rescue and tightened the noose around the tainted.

The apex court’s mighty hand came down like an angel’s for the citizens of India who felt robbed by the influential. Every Tom, Dick and Harry from politicians to bureaucrats, defence personnel to industrialists has amassed huge wealth through illegal means. What came as a major setback to the public was the revelation that a handful of so-called ‘responsible’ journalists too had allegedly played into the hands of politicians and industrialists. As a matter of fact, it seems no institutional body is left with ‘integrity’.

It makes one feebler when the most powerful person of our nation – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admits that in coalition politics one’s hands are tied and compromises have to be made.

While interacting with media persons, PM Singh recently said, the "limitations of coalition politics" cannot be ignored and some compromises had to be made while managing a coalition government.

It is an irony that in a country which has the biggest democratic structure, the ‘elite’ section thinks it can get away by committing any wrongdoing. And this became evident when the cat came out of the bag in the form of scams like 2G spectrum allocation, Adarsh Housing Society, ISRO-Devas deal, all of which involve the country’s most prominent people.

But, it is commendable to note that since last year, the ‘tainted’ have found themselves in an uncomfortable situation, with the Supreme Court standing tall and coming down heavily on them. The Central government now certainly seems to be in the dock.

The UPA-II has witnessed mass corruption and total inaction by the government. Even the image of PM Manmohan Singh – believed to be the most honest politician in the country –has taken a beating.

Under the guidance of CJI SH Kapadia, the apex court has certainly restored its integrity as the highest judicial body of the country. Even the executive head, Dr Manmohan Singh has been criticised and made answerable to the nation.

The biggest disillusionment is that the government had appointed PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), who himself is chargesheeted. Thomas is facing a corruption case in a Kerala court in relation to Palmolein import scam, which allegedly caused a loss of over Rs 2 crore to the state.

It is disappointing to know that a person with a criminal case was heading an Indian governmental body to address governmental corruption.

But all thanks to Supreme Court which on March 03 struck down the appointment of PJ Thomas as CVC, slamming the Prime Minister-headed High-Powered Committee for the appointment of a person named in a criminal case.

Repeatedly, many former government officials heading various investigating agencies have said they were forced to act according to different governments at the Centre.

The judiciary has undoubtedly strengthened democracy and restored faith among citizens. It has balanced the imbalance witnessed in the system.

The way the 2G probe is progressing under SC’s jurisdiction is remarkable. The court has brought order and scrutiny to the 2G investigation — so much so that the CBI had to arrest A Raja, never mind his political clout.

Where the government should have taken action, it slept over the issue or delayed the probe. It seems the government has made up its mind that it will act only when it faces flak from courts. This was again proven when a day after the SC took notice of the lacklustre attitude of the government, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on March 04 issued a `Look Out Circular` at all airports against Pune-based stud farm owner Hasan Ali Khan, accused of stashing black money abroad, to ensure he does not flee the country.

Such is the gravity of the situation that the bench after taking note of the Hasan Ali case, responded by saying, “What the hell is going on in this country?” and asked the counsel to remind the government to act tough.

According to the unofficial data, Indians have more black money stashed in Swiss banks than the rest of the world combined with almost 1,500 billion dollars. This amount can surely transform the nation if recovered and used properly. We hope SC’s directions help in bringing back our money.

The Supreme Court had last year ticked off the government over rotting of food grains in huge quantities and ordered the distribution of these lots to the poor free of cost. But the government thought otherwise.

Did the Supreme Court cross its judicial limitations while ordering free distribution of food grains among the deprived?

The Prime Minister thinks so. “How can food grain be distributed free to an estimated 37 percent of the population which lives below the poverty line?,” wondered the PM reminding the apex court that it “should not get into the realm of policy formulation”.

This came at a time when India ranks 94 among 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index. What a shame indeed when we claim to be one of the biggest producers of wheat and rice and still have millions dying of hunger and malnutrition.

The question arises: If the government refuses to hear listen to the SC’s voice, then whose cry will it hear?

It’s not that the judiciary has come down heavily just on the government; it has also taken action against people who have maligned the integrity of the judicial system. In its most stringent remarks, the apex court had said that “there is something rotten in Allahabad HC”, indirectly accusing some of the judges there.

The conduct of a former chief justice is also being debated these days. The Supreme Court is even hearing a petition seeking probe into the assets of former Chief Justice of India and National Human Rights Commission chief KG Balakrishnan and his family members.

And above all, current CJI SH Kapadia - ‘the transformer’ - is himself hearing the case. Such is his honesty that he is not letting his former colleague go scot-free.

Judiciary has certainly taken the tainted to task, no matter who they are. Judges like Nirmal Yadav has been chargesheeted in the 2008 cash-at-judge`s-door scam, Karnataka`s controversial former chief justice PD Dinakaran has been sent to Sikkim High Court on ‘punishment’ posting. In the PF scam in Ghaziabad, six retired judges have been asked to appear before the SC on March 14, failing which warrants could be issued against them.

In the past decades country’s most powerful politicians like Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Jayalaithaa, LK Advani and others have felt the heat of judicial orders.

Our politicians have continuously promised to reform the judicial system. But the budgetary allocation for the judiciary in the past by the various governments at the Centre says it all.

Recently, a Supreme Court bench hearing the Amar Singh phone tapping case had said no government wants a strong judiciary. The bench said: "Budgetary allocation to judiciary is less than one percent by the governments. This shows their commitment towards judiciary."

This year’s Budget too had nothing for the judiciary. So it’s evident no government wants to strengthen the hands of judiciary, which they fear will one day grab their neck.

Cases like CWG scam, Gujarat riots, Babri Masjid demolition, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Bofors scandal, ISRO-Devas deal and many others should be brought under the ambit of Supreme Court; only then will justice prevail and democracy will win in the true sense.

Well, the country hopes that judicial activism prevails as it has done an admirable job in bringing the powerful and tainted to book. The nation hopes people like SH Kapadia keep performing their jobs with their socks pulled up, because our political parties and bureaucrats are more interested in filling their pockets rather than reining in corruption.

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