Immediately after taking over as Law Minister on May 29 last year, M. Veerappa Moily had declared that the next five years will herald an era of judicial reforms.
A year later, he is turning out to be a minister who wants to be in the news almost everyday. He is making the right noises, but is missing in action.
Having taken over from his manipulative predecessor H.R. Bhardwaj — who quietly handled the most controversial issues concerning the Congress, ranging from the Bofors case to the attempt to remove Navin Chawla as an election commissioner — Moily has been caught in wanting to prove that a lot can be done in the ministry.
Within days of the UPA returning to power, the ministry announced ambitious legislations and plans to reform the judiciary, legal education and election commission.
Moily, however, soon realised that heading a ministry, responsible for framing laws, defending government’s policies in courts and providing legal opinion to all other ministries, was a complex job.
The first blow came in the form of Rajya Sabha rejecting his move to introduce a bill in August to keep the wealth details of Supreme Court and high court judges secret. Moily was forced to withdraw the bill, when MPs, some from his party, insisted on voting whether the bill should be introduced.
The move forced him to slow down on bills, but Moily took an alternate route of holding national-level conferences to debate reforms. The problem has been the implementation of grand announcements.
The ministry in its blueprint for judicial reforms, approved by the Cabinet last year, decided to form a National Arrears Grid before November 26, 2009. It has not been formed till date.
The ministry announced formulation of a National Litigation Policy by December 31, 2009. There is no trace of the policy till now.
Asked about the mismatch in his announcements and their implementation, Moily replied: “I am an incurable optimist. Some deadlines may have been slightly delayed, but these do not deter me. The fact is that the reforms process is on course and the results will be there for all to see.”
The Opposition does not share his optimism. Former law minister Arun Jaitley says, “It has been a year of merely press statements and nothing else.”
The Left is a bit less harsh. “We are yet to see anything tangible. Judicial reforms are still on paper,” said senior CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury.
Many in Moily’s party feel he should appear to be a serious minister. “Running to the press on almost everything doesn’t help. It makes you a non-serious minister,” said a Congress leader.
Ministry officials feel Moily needs to be more focused. “Bhardwaj did not make grand announcements but quietly cleared appointments of more than 500 high court judges, initiated the concept of rural courts and helped in ending major cases pending against Congress leaders,” said an official.