It is a little difficult to suppress a sense of disquiet over the Supreme Court’s directions on police and students’ union election reforms. No one will question the urgent need for change, indeed, a deep and abiding one, in both these institutions. But perhaps a greater reform is needed to make our democratic system work the way it should. In a democratic society, the task of making laws belongs to elected assemblies, and of executing them to a government comprising largely of elected legislators. The courts are meant to interpret laws and rules, not make them. In recent years, failures of government have led to an unconscionable and uncomfortable tilt towards judicial activism that has undermined the basic balance.
The problem with court verdicts is, as Andrew Jackson once declared in another context, that they require some other authority to execute them. That institution can only be the government. Weak governments often find courts a convenient crutch to conduct their work, as did the Delhi government in pushing for the use of CNG fuel for public transport. But this doesn’t always work. Witness the emerging clash on the issue of demolitions and sealings.
At the same time, however, we cannot but applaud the proposals mooted by the apex court to reform the police services and the students’ union elections. But it would have been much better if the executive had come forward on its own to push through some of these measures. With the practical experience of running government, there may be greater realism in its proposals. For example, the sum of Rs 5,000, proposed as a ceiling for students’ union election, will not even cover the cost of poster paper, paint and fuel for a mid-sized college election. Police reforms, too, need to be viewed through realistic lenses. The reason why the various police commission recommendations remain unimplemented is because the political class finds it too useful to control transfers and postings of its personnel. Yet, such an instrumentality cannot be under any other supervision but that of a popularly elected government. A recalcitrant executive has many ways to undercut court-generated reform proposals. The better option is to have a government itself do the needful, with the court’s directives viewed as a useful nudge to that end.