Undermining Supreme Court’s Credibility

By Santosh Bhartiya

If the country’s highest judicial institution comes under the scanner on the grounds that external pressure can influence its functioning, then it is dangerous for the country. It becomes even more ominous when important people running the institution start expressing their mistrust towards the institution. They say if we do not intervene now, its credibility will further downgrade, which cast a permanent doubt over the survival of democracy. The Supreme Court is the most important pillar of democracy. When the executive and legislature fail in their constitutional duties, the judiciary comes into action to give direction to the country. Now the dark clouds hover over the same constitutional institution. Previously too things like this bobbed up in public, but died down on its own.

At least six impeachment motions have been brought against judges since independence. In the past as well, Supreme Court judges were in the centre of controversy, but no probe were carried out, not to speak of taking action against them. The former Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Kalikho Pul had committed suicide in the CM House. He had written a 60-page suicide note, mentioning some important people who control the system. He had mentioned among other things some monetary transactions. The most intriguing part of the note was that two senior sitting judges the Supreme Court were found mention in that, but the Supreme Court did not pay attention to that. Turn down from the Supreme Court, his wife knock the door of the then Vice-President Hamid Ansari to intervene in the case, but he did not take any decision until the end of his term. The file may still be there on Vice President’s table. Be that as it may, in another recent development the Vice President, using his discretionary power, has rejected a seven-party-sponsored plea to bring an impeachment motion against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

A few months ago, four senior Supreme Court judges had questions the functioning of the Chief Justice, which befuddled the intellectuals of the country. Efforts of mediation and conciliation were made but the Supreme Court refused to listen to the four senior judges. This made the country understand that everything is not well in the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, such differences should not come out in public domain. Moreover, on 23 April again, two senior judges wrote a letter to the Chief Justice seeking a meeting of all the judges of the Supreme Court so as to discuss the functioning and future of the Supreme Court, which according to them was crucial for the survival of democracy. They believed that if this did not happen, then not only the credibility of the Supreme Court would take a beating, the democracy would also come under cloud. Cakes were cut amidst applaud on formal chai par charcha (discussion over tea). That was because the vice-president had rejected the impeachment motion. Ideally, the Chief Justice and his colleague should introspect as to why they are being repeatedly accused and efforts are being made to bring impeachment motion against them. However, this happiness did not even last 36 hours that two judges wrote the letter seeking to convene a meeting of all the Supreme Court judges.

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These developments suggest that whether it is the government or institutions responsible for running the government or the system, there is something brewing inside and that is not coming out. The Supreme Court is considered the most sacred institution and now there is a voice emanating from there itself that the country’s democracy is going through a period of basic flaws. The angst the common people are in due this episode cannot be sensed by those who are associated with power. There is no mechanism available for the ordinary people to make their voice listen by the government establishments. There is no doubt that India has got independence by virtue of both revolutionary efforts of Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and by the people movement created by mass mobilization of Gandhi ji. It is not an easily achieved freedom; it came at the cost of innumerable lives. Many families were destroyed, many people found mention in history while many lost in oblivion. After such sacrifices did we win our freedom and became democracy. The responsibility of protecting this democracy falls on the shoulders of every living individual in India, who is breathing in its free air and who has enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of religious belief and freedom of education in the last 70 years. Now if there is a debate pertaining to this freedom and the judges of the Supreme Court have to say that the country’s democracy is in danger, then the issue becomes very serious.

There is another dimension of it. There are many people in the country, including former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who believe that for any institution running the affairs of the country, there should be a selection process for which rules, regulations and eligibility criteria should be laid down, and the candidates willing to join a particular institution should have to go through those processes.  For example candidates selected for IAS and IPS have to go through a certain selection process and prove their eligibility. Similarly, members of state assemblies or members of parliament have to prove their popularity among the people before entering into the assemblies and parliament; they cannot go straight into the house as members. Nonetheless, the judges of the Supreme Court do not have to go through such process. Judges are chosen through a collegium system. A section of people in the country believes that there should be a judicial commission on the line of the Union Public Service Commission as a final authority to assess and appoint judges. The judges themselves do not like such proposals. The judges of the Supreme Court say that they will not allow any other process; they themselves would choose their colleagues.

First, the question here is not related to the formation of the Collegium, or having or not having new commission; the question here is as to why people associated with the Supreme Court – which is considered to be the last resort of upholding the democracy – are questioning the future of democracy? Secondly, Justice Ranjan Gogoi has to become Chief Justice after the retirement of the current incumbent in October. Whatever Justice Gogoi is saying the present Chief Justice is not paying hid to that. Once, Justice Ranjan Gogoi along with three Supreme Court judges has in a press conference openly enunciated his pain of not being heard. Now he has again said that the Supreme Court should deliberate upon procedure of the Court. This is where the question arises as to why the current Chief Justice is not listening to the judge who has to become chief justice in October. I do not believe that the Chief Justice has become obstinate or doing it on the behest of someone else. Then, has the current incumbent got some indication that Justice Ranjan Gogoi will not be appointed as the next Chief Justice? And therefore, attending to Justice Ranjan Gogoi is not important. If we analyze this episode, we arrive at the conclusion that perhaps Justice Ranjan Gogoi will not be appointed as the next Chief Justice of the country.

The current government and the Supreme Court of Indian have a very enormous democratic responsibility on their shoulders that they should try to do away with the contradictions that are repeatedly mentioned by some judges of the Supreme Court. If this does not happen, then there are a lot of powerful people who do not feel the fear of the executive or of the legislature, but they do feel fear of the Supreme Court. If powerful people cease to feel the fear of the judiciary and took advantage of the infighting, then their contribution in defeating the freedom achieved by our ancestors would be considered immense and history would remember them in bad light. However, there are many people who give a damn as to how history will remember them. Had they cared, they would not have done many things that they are doing.

This is where more questions arose: Is democracy failing in the country? Are we not worthy of democracy? Can we not run a democracy? Do we not have faith in democracy? Or should we go for a system based on the principle of democratic dictatorship or should we follow the principle of controlled democracy? What in the end should we do? Are we moving towards the debate as to how to change the system that is in place for last 70 years? It’s a matter of deliberation especially for those who consider democracy as the most ideal system of governance. But today, the submission is in front of the Supreme Court that it must remove those internal contradictions, otherwise their credibility will be shattered, which in the end will degenerate the democratic ideals.

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