Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants his government to speak in one voice, at least before the court.
The Centre has pulled out a long-forgotten circular issued in 1994 to insist that Union ministries consult each other before taking a stand before courts rather than create “avoidable confusion” by contradicting each other.
Last week, cabinet secretary PK Sinha reminded central ministries that this ground rule be applied to all court cases.
“It has, however, been observed that at times different departments take up divergent positions/individual interpretations in court cases thereby causing avoidable confusion in the submissions finally deliberated upon before the courts,” Sinha said in his letter to all departments and ministries.
For the future, Sinha pointed that it was the responsibility of the administrative ministry concerned with a particular issue to file affidavits in court after consulting related ministries for a coordinated approach. But if the courts also require other ministries to file an affidavit, the cabinet secretary — who reports directly to the Prime Minister — said a short affidavit endorsing the views of the administrative ministry could be filed.
The circular is in line with Modi’s stress on ministries taking a coordinated approach rather than working in silos.
“I would therefore request you to ensure that differences, if any,...in any particular court matter are resolved through mutual consultation... It may also be ensured that the counter affidavits are filed only after appropriate vetting by the Department of Legal Affairs,” the cabinet secretary said.
Recently, there were red faces in the government when Union ministers Maneka Gandhi and Prakash Javadekar had a public spat over the culling of animals.
Gandhi, in her capacity as an animal rights activist, had criticised the government’s clearances to kill wild animals in conflict with humans.
The most controversial case where two ministries took contradictory stand in the court, however, is the clash between the ministries of home and health over their stand on decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2008.
The health ministry had supported decriminalising homosexuality while the home ministry had taken a more conservative approach.