Immediately after stunning judgments of the Supreme Court —the Thomas (CVC) case, the 2G Spectrum case, the black money case and the Salwa Judum case – politicians and corporations criticised “judicial overreach” in an attack on the court.
The CVC case saw the appointment of an officer against whom criminal proceedings were pending where the leader of the opposition had protested. Government went ahead regardless and arrogantly told the Supreme Court that if ethical standards were to be enforced many of the current judges would not have been appointed.
When the court looked at the agreement it found that it specifically provided for disclosure in Court. For example in the Salwa Judum case, government told the court that the vigilante group paid for by the State and central government and were provided arms with permission to kill. The disrespect the central government had for the institution of the Supreme Court was apparent. Apparently the control of these proceedings lie in the hands of two distinguished advocates who are now the Home and HRD ministers.
Did the Supreme Court jump the gun and make directions in undue haste? A perusal of the judgments will show that many of these cases continued for years and were heard time and again with repeated opportunities being given to the government to file affidavit after affidavit. In all these cases government was asked to explain the steps taken and proposed to be taken but chose not to take advantage of the repeated opportunities given by the Supreme Court to set its house in order. On the 2G scam the Prime Minister responded to the nation by saying that the compulsions of coalition politics tied his hands.
When governments fail to uphold the rule of law and men at the top act as if they are a pirate ship plundering the nation at will, the Constitution is effectively put into the dustbin. Courts are mandated to intervene in such circumstances to maintain the democratic structure of the nation state.
The Prime Minister, however, thinks differently. When the Supreme Court requested the UPA government to give grain that was rotting to the poor free he called a press conference the next day and warned the Supreme Court not to interfere in policy matters. This is what he and the corporations mean by judicial overreach. The working people, to the contrary say, thank God for the Supreme Court!
Colin Gonsalves is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and a human rights activist.