The debate over judicial activism came to the fore again on Thursday as Supreme Court judge P Sathasivam said the "weapon of judicial activism" should be used carefully, failing which the apex court could turn into a "dictator".
The words from Justice Sathasivam have come just two weeks after the Supreme Court bench of Justices AK Mathur and Markandeya Katju made self-indicting remarks on the judiciary over encroaching upon the domain of the executive and legislature.
At the Arthanareeswara Iyer Memorial Lecture on Judicial Activism organised by the Bar Association in Coimbatore, Justice Sathasivam said: "Judicial activism is a sharp-edged tool which has to be used as a scalpel by a skillful surgeon to cure the malady."
He added the Supreme Court's pivotal role in making up for the lethargy of the legislature and the inefficiency of the executive is commendable. But the law can be dehumanized, else the final forensic floor, the Supreme Court, may turn into a dictator.
Justice Sathasivam, however, justified the "interference" by the judiciary in environmental laws, protection of the fragile coastal regulation zone, right of employment for disabled and said it was a successful attempt by the courts to streamline matters.
The comment is likely to re-ignite the debate on whether judiciary is overstepping its jurisdiction. The utterance from Justices Mathur and Katju had led to confusion among judges. While a Supreme Court bench referred a PIL to a larger bench, some judges of Delhi High Court refused to hear the PILs.
Immediately a day after the judgment, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice SB Sinha refused to hear a PIL that had sought directions to the Centre to formulate a policy for the protection of children and women who were victims of trafficking.
Justice Sinha referred the case to the bench of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, who has fixed February 23, 2008, to hear the case. "We read what appeared in the papers today," the judge said, while reacting to the newspaper reports on Justice Mathur and Justice Katju's judgment.
Reacting to the reference made by Justice Sinha, a bench headed by the CJI has decided to lay down guidelines on entertaining public interest litigations. In a bid to end the debate, the bench will hear the referred case at length on February 23, 2008.