2016: A year of tussles between assertive judiciary, reticent govt

The Asian Age.  | J Venkatesan

India, All India

The trust deficit between the judiciary and the executive started on August 12 when CJI T.S. Thakur came down heavily on the NDA government.

Supreme Court of India

New Delhi: Harmony among the three pillars — the judiciary, executive and the legislature — is the hallmark of Indian democracy. However, in the year 2016, the tussle between an assertive judiciary and a reticent government, each trying to stress their independence in relation to their roles and responsibilities, has consequently ushered in an unprecedented chaos never before witnessed in recent years.

The wrangling between the government and judiciary over delay in judicial appointments came out in the open resulting in accumulation of arrears of cases in the higher judiciary. The Memorandum of Procedure relating to judicial appointments could not be finalised even after one year after the apex court quashed the law on National Judicial Appointments Commission and asking the Union law ministry to finalise the MoP in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.

The trust deficit between the judiciary and the executive started on August 12 when CJI T.S. Thakur came down heavily on the NDA government and threatened that the apex court would be constrained to judicially intervene if the Centre failed to soon fill up the vacancies in the various high courts and if no action was taken to process the recommendations already made. Soon after this outburst, the CJI in his speech on August 15 faulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not uttering a word about judiciary in his Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

If the people of India have utmost faith in one institution, it is the judiciary, and the Supreme Court, which is the top court, came to the rescue of the people of all walks of life and has proved that only an independent and efficient judicial system can create confidence in the society which it serves.

It was during this year that several politicians, such as former Delhi chief minister Arvin Kejriwal, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, BJP leader Subramanian Swami and DMDK leader Vijaykanth got relief in defamation cases. The court heard for over four months the appeals by Karnataka government and the DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan challenged the acquittal of former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa in a corruption case and judgment is expected early next year.

The court rapped the BCCI and ordered the cleaning up of the board. The court appointed a three-member committee comprising former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha as chairman and retired apex court judges Justice Ashok Bhan and R.V. Raveendran gave its report to streamline the working of the BCCI. The court, while accepting the recommendations, has given a time frame for implementation.

Delhi air pollution
Taking note of the dangerous pollution levels in the capital, which have gone beyond the human permissible levels, the Supreme Court called upon the Centre to come out with a common minimum graded response to deal with the problem. The Centre, in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board, has submitted a report and the court asked the authorities concerned to work in tandem to address the problem.

The Supreme Court reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions on whether religion can be used to garner votes in an election and whether it will amount to a “corrupt practice” warranting disqualification of the winning candidate. The court is concerned with the interpretation of the phrase “ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language” occurring in Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act.

The Cauvery river water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka became bitter when Karnataka refused to honour the directions of the Supreme Court to release water to Tamil Nadu. There were clashes in Karnataka and in some areas in Tamil Nadu and the court came down heavily on both the states for politicising the judicial order. Karnataka received a partial victory when the court deferred its decision on setting up of the Cauvery Management Board to assess the ground realities in the Cauvery river basin.

Blow to Tatas
In a severe blow to the Tatas, the Supreme Court held as illegal the acquisition of about 1,000 acres of land in 2006 in Singur in West Bengal for the Nano small car project and quashed the said acquisition.

The court held that the acquisition was a colourable exercise of power and a fraud on the people. It directed the West Bengal government to return the lands to the farmers.

Blow to Modi govt in Arunachal Pradesh
In a severe blow to the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court restored the Congress-led Nabam Tuki government in Arunachal Pradesh. This verdict which is a slap on the face of the Modi government cames two months after the apex court put in place the Congress government in Uttarakhand.

The court strongly indicted then governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the session of the Legislative Assembly from January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015 and held that the governor’s action was illegal and unconstitutional. Further, the governor cannot direct the Speaker as to how the proceedings should be conducted and fix the agenda for the House, viz to take up the resolution for removal of Speaker as the first item.

Despite resistance from several states, the Supreme Court ordered the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions from this academic year, observing that it will save the students the trouble of taking multiple common entrance tests and save their parents large sum of money on fees for taking these tests.

Fiat to Mallya
The Supreme Court directed industrialist Vijay Mallya, who fled to the United Kingdom, to disclose the details of assets and all movable and immovable properties, including shareholdings in various companies held by him, his wife and children both in India and abroad for a meaningful and negotiated settlement for his dues to the tune of `9,000 crores. Earlier, the consortium of 17 banks, led by the State Bank of India, rejected a proposal given by Vijay Mallya towards settlement of his dues.

Temporary relief to Modi
In a temporary relief to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court refused to order a probe into the alleged huge pay offs to politicians, including Mr Modi during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister on the basis of Sahara diary. The court termed the documents, produced by lawyer Prashant Bhushan representing an NGO Common Cause, as “zero”, “fictitious” and “not authentic” to order a probe.

The court has given Mr Bhushan time till January 11, 2017 to file additional documents and said if the court finds the documents authentic and credible, then it will consider his prayer for a probe. With more and more people knocking at the doors of justice, it remains to be seen what is in store for the people in 2017.