Fair criticism of court pronouncements is a democratic right but turning to the judge is not
The observations made by a bench of the Supreme Court about the lack of respect for the judiciary and security for the people who serve it calls for serious attention of all those who have a stake in the democratic institutions in this country. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud has said that it has become the fashion of late to make allegations against the judiciary and that the stronger the judge, the worse are the allegations. He also mentioned that there is little physical security for judicial officers at the district level.
The judge’s observations have a context but their import is not limited to it; he was in fact highlighting the larger pattern of the attitude evolving in this country towards the judiciary. And the people at fault cannot be those in the lowest strata of society; they find it difficult even to access the judiciary, leave alone show defiance to it. He must be referring to people who have a hand on the levers of power.
It was not long ago that Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana made a similar remark to an audience which included the Prime Minister. The CJI had pointed out that contempt of court petitions against government officials are on the rise and they make a major share of the total number of litigations.
Fair criticism of court pronouncements is a democratic right but turning to the judge is not. While casting aspersions on a judge, a person is attributing a motive for a judicial decision outside the parameters of the law and the Constitution. If this becomes the fashion, as the judge pointed out, it would weaken the very institution.
The judiciary may be the weakest of the three arms of the government for it has no infrastructure to implement its decisions. It has to depend on the executive to get the job done in this respect. In a constitutional democracy where the rule of law prevails, it thrives on the respect the executive shows to its orders. If the executive is unwilling to go by judicial decisions and does not see to it that they are implemented, it effectively means a breakdown of the constitutional scheme.
The government must take the reference as a warning for the weakening of the institution. It must take immediate remedial action. It must be ingrained into all levels of the bureaucracy that judicial orders are to be complied with both by the people inside the system and those outside it, and that the erring people will have to face the music. It is unfair to persuade the courts to intervene again to get its orders followed.
There are far too many issues that plague the judiciary, including lack of infrastructure and the physical security for the judges. The former involves allocation of funds and the government must give it priority on its agenda. It could be a slow process but there is little justification in leaving judicial officers vulnerable to anti-social elements. This must be addressed forthwith.
There are complaints against the judiciary, too, but these have to be dealt with differently. As we progress as a democracy, the legislative oversight of the executive is not being strengthened, it is being weakened instead. The judiciary remains the only effective mechanism that plays its role in the scheme of checks and balances. Signs of its weakening warrant the greatest urgency on the part of the government and the people.