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?Rule of law is ancient Indian tradition?

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE B N Srikrishna of the Supreme Court observed here that the rule of law was not an imported doctrine and was prevalent in the society during early Vedic period.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 13:00 IST

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE B N Srikrishna of the Supreme Court observed here that the rule of law was not an imported doctrine and was prevalent in the society during early Vedic period. Elaborate references of it were found in scriptures such as Veda, Upanishad, sage Yajnavalkya’s Smriti, Manusmriti, Mahabharata (Vyas Maharshi), Ramayana and Kautilya’s Arthasastra etc, he added.

He was delivering a keynote lecture as part of Golden Jubilee celebrations of the MP High Court on Saturday evening here. Justice Srikrishna’s topic was “Ancient Indian Rule of Law: From Traditional Text to Constitutional Context.”

To substantiate his observation on traces of rule of law in Indian scriptures, Justice Srikrishna quoted Prof P V Kane as saying, “India need feel ashamed or fear a comparison of its ideals and theories of state with the ideals and theories of western countries in ancient and medieval times.

If western countries could boast of so-called republic and city-states in ancient Greece and Rome, India also had several republics in ancient times. The ancient Hindus made their own contribution to political thought, though unfortunately western scholars of the 19th century like Max Muller, Weber and Roth were concerned most with Vedic and allied literature and either they did not know or ignored the vast literature on politics contained in Sanskrit and Pali works, he added.

The absorbing lecture encompassed references of thinkers from Vedic to modern period including Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and so on. He underlined that Dharma was the essence of rule of law and pivotal on which the universal order revolved. Both ‘Law’ and ‘Dharma’ acted as reins to keep under check primeval instinct of the societal constituents. Obedience to the law and upholding them became the sacred duty of every citizen, whether under an oath to do so or not, he added.

He quoted Dicey (law of the constitution 1895) that the first and arguably the most important principle of the rule of law was supremacy of law. In ancient India, though the sovereign powers were vested in the king, he was not free to exercise it arbitrarily. The duties and obligations of the ruler were described as Rajdharma.

He said the principles on which the concept of rule of law in modern administrative laws rested were virtually the same as prevalent during early Vedic period with emphasis on supremacy of law, discretionary power, fairness and judicial independence.

However, Justice Srikrishna stated that one area where Indian constitution had done better that the ancient Rajdharma was by adopting the principles of separation of powers and judicial review.

By quoting an incident about the eviction of cobbler in the Kalhana’s Rajatarangini as perfect illustration of arbitrary state action to conform to rule of law, Justice Srikrishna pointed out that everyone is answerable to law including the three organs of democracy.

In his presidential address, the CJ of MP High Court, Justice A K Patnaik, expressed satisfaction on the outcome of the lectures. Three-pronged objects were being achieved through them; remembering person’s contribution, an opportunity to listen and gather knowledge from learned speakers besides express bond of solidarity in judicial system.

He said that efforts were necessary to revive and uphold rich social values of the past. The present trend was more focused towards commercial and monetary oriented activities. It was not a good sign for the society, he said.

At the outset, Justice S S Jha (administrative) delivered the welcome address and also a brief background of the golden jubilee celebrations. The Saturday’s lecture was delivered in the memory of the late R L Lahoti and the late M L Modi.

Prominent among those present included former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti, Justice K K Lahoti, Justice N K Modi, Advocate General R N Singh, Justice Deepak Verma, MP Bar Council chairman Rameshwar Nikhra, senior advocates R D Jain, Rajendra Tiwari, Arum Pateria, Vinod Sharma and others.