We Indians seek pride in all kinds of feats of our fellow countrymen — from bagging gold medals in squash to winning a cricket match. Then why do we fail to appreciate the Indian judiciary as well? History has been witness to change in loyalty of individuals with change in ruling parties. When someone wants to remain honest, he is subjected to political pressure or is replaced. Today, we must appreciate the architects of modern India who framed laws and kept the judicial system independent of the executive. Our judiciary is on par with that in developed countries. It is a a matter of pride that after 68 years of independence, our judiciary retains its image of honesty. The Supreme Court has fearlessly downplayed government’s request for speedy procession of cases against Members of Parliament, as they deserve no special privilege according to the Constitution.
The recent judgment holding all coal block allocations of captive mines since 1993 as illegal and a 4-year sentence to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for corruption throw some light on how our judiciary is able to maintain its impeccable reputation and be free from any political pressures.
The decision of the Supreme Court to cancel 214 coal block allocations of the period 1993-2010 did not merely embarrass the UPA whose government ended its tenure last May. The verdict called it an “unfair distribution of national wealth”. From the Bench’s observation, it is clear that their intention was to correct the wrong done by many governments successively. The strong message inherent in this decision is that the natural resources of the country belong to all its citizens and not a few individuals. No government can use this wealth of people as per its own sweet will. This decision not only gives a golden opportunity to the newly formed Modi government to bring a transparent policy for allocation of coal blocks but also shows a great level of political neutrality of the judiciary.
In a similar type of decision regarding allocation of 2G telecom spectrum, the apex court annulled all 122 licences awarded to telecom companies in 2008 after finding fault with the ‘first come-first served’ allotment process.
The recent decision of the Special Court of Bangalore also serves as an example of greatness of the judiciary. It is not easy to ban a political leader with a huge mass support from holding the post of chief minister or MLA. The verdict was marked by stone-pelting and torching of public property, attacks on mediapersons and forceful closure of shops across Tamil Nadu. It is not that such violent reactions of Jayalalithaa’s supporters were not anticipated by the special court while pronouncing its decision, but that did not deter it from sticking to the law of the land.
It’s not the first time our judiciary has taken such bold steps. Years ago, the Allahabad High Court held former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, considered the most powerful politician of that era, guilty of electoral malpractices. In 2013, Lalu Pasad Yadav was sent to jail for his role in the fodder scam. Former Chief Minister of Haryana Om Prakash Chautala was sentenced to 10 years in jail for illegal appointment of teachers. Rasheed Masood, Jaganmohan Reddy, A Raja, Kannimozi, Suresh Kalmadi and BS Yeddyurappa — all have faced jail because of their involvement in some or the other corruption scam.
Many such decisions justify the status of the judiciary as a pillar of Indian democracy. This pillar of democracy has shown that it thinks for public welfare and will not allow injustice by anyone. In its landmark judgment denying Novartis’s request for patent protection for its Gleevec cancer treatment pills, allowing the nation’s generic-drug makers to continue to sell copies of the drug at a lower price, the Supreme Court showed that the welfare of the people cannot be compromised.
There are innumerable instances that prove that neither crores of rupees nor any strong political power affects judicial decisions. The judiciary has rightly worked to restore the common man’s faith in the legal system. Why can’t we for once appreciate the judiciary and be proud of its independence? It is time we switched from a complaining mode to a celebration mode. Let’s salute the Judges, the heroes of the criminal justice system who daily refuses to succumb to pressure. It is their no-nonsense and focussed attitude that sets a lot of things right. If there are a few exceptions, they prove the rule.
The writer is a practising lawyer. Her column will appear on सिर्फ़ NEWS once every fortnight.