Honourable Chief Justice, drafting opaque affidavits is a cultivated art form | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Honourable Chief Justice, drafting opaque affidavits is a cultivated art form

Official obfuscation can’t have so simple an explanation as the rank of the individual deponent

analysis Updated: Jan 13, 2017 11:51 IST
In a challenge to the dangerous vigilante game that Chhattisgarh is playing by arming young tribals in the region, the State claimed in its affidavit that it was training these semi-literate kids in the most breathtakingly sweeping array of subjects
In a challenge to the dangerous vigilante game that Chhattisgarh is playing by arming young tribals in the region, the State claimed in its affidavit that it was training these semi-literate kids in the most breathtakingly sweeping array of subjects

The Chief Justice of India has faulted the underlings or officers of “low rank” for the poor quality of affidavits filed on behalf of the government. For my part, I doubt whether official obfuscation has so simple an explanation as the rank of the individual deponent. Governments thrive on prevarication. The English television serial Yes Minister was delightful in its humour, but it did portray a grim reality. Bureaucratic obduracy is cultivated as an art form.

Half- truths, untruths, incomprehensible prose and plainly daft contentions are routinely adopted by the State in the most serious of matters. I recollect a case in which uniformed men of the Gujarat police picked up a 13-year-old Muslim boy from a Delhi slum on a mere whim and drove away with him to Ahmedabad from where they were on the verge of deporting him to Bangladesh. The Delhi High Court redeemed the child from that hellish fate. To everybody’s incredulity the Gujarat police claimed in court that the child went with them happily, and of his own free will!

Read: Make Punjabi official language in courts: Plea in HC, notice to state

Governmental responses to issues in litigation are often unabashedly absurd. In a challenge to the dangerous vigilante game that Chhattisgarh is playing by arming young tribals in the region, the State claimed in its affidavit that it was training these semi-literate youth in a most breathtakingly sweeping array of subjects —from criminal law to musketry, in all of six months. Other responses are hackneyed in their repetitiveness. For over seven years the same half a dozen inconclusive FIRs for assorted minor offences have been listed in affidavit after affidavit as due compliance with the court’s orders to bring the offenders to justice following widespread allegations of rape and murder, including those confirmed by the National Human Rights Commission.

Years ago, in response to a petition listing shocking instances of homosexual assaults on juveniles in a jail, the State responded with an affidavit, saying that it was supplying blankets to the prisoners in the winter.

Impunity is fostered first and foremost by evasiveness, and there is no denying that the State has got away with it for the most part. Courts are often exasperated but rarely repressive of the kind of conduct that has today hit the headlines by way of the Chief Justice’s remark in court. Opaqueness is essential to power, more so to abuse of power. It would be fallacious to consider official vagueness an accident, when it is more often deliberate policy. There is a method in this muddling and these are seldom chance mistakes of “low-ranking” officials of which the higher sahibs are unaware.

It is good, though, that those heading departments are asked to take responsibility in writing. It would be even better, if swift and certain consequences follow for prevarication, misinformation and violations.

Nitya Ramakrishnan is a senior advocate with the Supreme Court, based in New Delhi

The views expressed are personal