Felling of the Last Bastion: Is Indian Democracy in Peril with the Judiciary Becoming a Victim of Political Interference

India has seen what undermining of democratic institutions and compromising of their integrity led to during the Emergency. When independent democratic institutions like the judiciary ...

हाइलाइट्स

India has seen what undermining of democratic institutions and compromising of their integrity led to during the Emergency. When independent democratic institutions like the judiciary and the media succumb to political power and interference.

Janhastakshep and PUCL jointly organized a public meeting on 19th January 2018 at ‘Press Club’ on the topic ‘Felling of the Last Bastion: Is Indian Democracy in Peril with the Judiciary Becoming a Victim of Political Interference’.

The meeting was presided over by the Prof Ish Mishra of Delhi University, Speakers were Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Hartosh Singh Bal (Editor: The Carvan), Ms. Poonam (Adv.) and Mr. N D Pancholi (President PUCL).

While introducing the topic Mr. Satentra Ranjan (Senior Journalist) said that the unprecedented media conference by the four senior most Judges of the SC expressing their anguish over what they perceive to be a process under way that threatens the last independent bastion to protect Indian democracy – the judiciary.  They also highlighted that there are irregularities in constitution of benches and assignment of cases by the Chief Justice and asked for remedial measures. They have said, in their letter addressed to the CJI, unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, the democracy will not survive in this country, or any country.

They revealed that not only did their letter evoke no response, it was followed by even more arbitrary assignment of cases and constitution of benches comprising judges who had no domain knowledge or history of knowledge in the cases that had far-reaching consequences for the people i.e. the Aadhar case that pertains to fundamental questions about the powers of the State and the individual, the right to privacy and public interest. According to media reports, the matter related to allocation of a suitable bench for hearing the case about Judge Loya’s death was the final reason for the four judges of the Supreme Court to make their concerns public.

The other cases that worried the four judges were the Sahara-Birla diaries and the case regarding the allocation of a bench to hear a matter in which judges were allegedly bribed by a medical college in UP to obtain a favourable order. Citing conflict of interest the petitioner in the medical college case had asked CJI Dipak Misra to recuse himself from the decision to assign a bench to hear the matter. The request was not accepted.

India has seen what undermining of democratic institutions and compromising of their integrity led to during the Emergency. When independent democratic institutions like the judiciary and the media succumb to political power and interference.

Senior Lawyer Prashant Bhushan has said that the application in front of senior judges of Supreme Court (SC) to look into allegations on Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is a test to determine internal regulations of the SC. Speaking in a public meeting, organized by human rights organizations Janhastakshep and PUCL, Bhushan discussed about allegations against the CJI. He said that the role of CJI has been questioned in the matter related to scam of Uttar Pradesh’s private medical college and that should be adequately answered. Bhushan said that the press conference by four senior judges of the SC has raised issues regarding misuse of judicial power by the CJI. It has surfaced that the CJI has been arbitrarily allocating benches in matters of crucial importance. He mentioned about an old case when the CJI was an advocate in Odisha. It has been alleged that he had given false affidavit to acquire government land for a cattle-shed. The authorities had later dismissed the allocation.

The senior advocate said that the truth behind these allegations has to come out, otherwise the government can try to blackmail the CJI and through him, the SC. In such a situation the governments wish to control the SC can become a reality.

In the public meeting, senior journalist Hartosh Singh Bal spoke about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Judge Brijgopal Loya. Bal is senior editor of magazine The Caravan which broke the story on suspicious manner in which Judge Loya died. Bal emphasized that this matter was the final reason why the four senior SC judges decided to go public with their concerns. Bal strongly criticized the manner in which the mainstream media covered death of Judge Loya and press conference of the SC judges. He said that through TV debates and coverage in print media, there was an attempt to sideline the real issues. It was a deliberate attempt, he said. But because of the press conference of the SC judges, the matter of Judge Loya’s death has risen as a big issue.  He appealed to the vigilant journalists to pledge to bring such issues to light.

Advocate Poonam Kaushik, general secretary of Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, spoke in details about prejudices related class and gender in judiciary. She said that if SC nurtures such biases, then the lower judiciary would be even worse.

N D Pancholi, President of PUCL in Delhi, said that the country should be wary of past and present attempts to commit judiciary to ideology of the government and the ruling party.    

In the end Mr. Ish Mishra said that in the view of allegations leveled against the conduct of the CJI by four senior judges of the SC Justice Dipak Misra must immediately resign on moral ground. If he doesn’t resign, then the process of impeachment be initiated against him.  The details of the cases in which benches were formed by ignoring the senior judges must be made public and it must be ensured that the petition seeking a probe into the circumstances surrounding the death of Judge Loya is heard by a bench comprising the senior-most judges of the SC. It is imperative that a high level and impartial enquiry is conducted in this scandal.    

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