It indeed augurs well that the Supreme Court is paying heed to criticisms from the public about the administration of justice. Although creative moves in cases where personal rights are violated are yet to come, there are signs of a new vigilance at the higher levels of the judiciary. Regardless of the justifiability or otherwise of the apex court's observation that media reports about denial of bail to Siddique Kappan were 'unfair', it is gratifying to note that the court is lending its ear to the society's response. People who wish for justice to prevail will also welcome the interventions by the highest court of the land against a section of the media which indulged in communal propaganda against the Tabligi Jamaat when the organisation was booked in the context of the Covid pandemic. The bench headed by the Chief Justice openly disapproved of the affidavit by the central Information & Broadcasting ministry which ignored the case of channels that had made hate propaganda. The Centre was then forced to correct its affidavit.
In a social milieu where democratic rights and freedom are denied, the judiciary should be able to win and enjoy people's confidence. It is true that in the unusual context of cases piling up and the Covid period affecting the courts' functioning, together with denial or rights becoming rampant, the situation puts the courts under stress. But none of that is reason enough for the judiciary to shirk discharging its constitutional responsibility. And hence the comfort offered by the good auguries from the court.
We view two articles of the Constitution as deserving of special attention – articles 32 and 14. Article 32 offers protection to the citizen when the executive violates the rights of the individual. It makes the Supreme Court the last haven of personal liberty through tools like habeas corpus petition. And hence Ambedkar had said, "If I was asked to name any particular article in this Constitution as the most important — an article without which this Constitution would be a nullity - could not refer to any other article except this one (Article 32). It is the very soul of the Constitution and the very heart of it." But then the words of chief justice Bobde that the apex court is trying to discourage petitions invoking this give cause for concern. He mentioned it while hearing the bail petition of Siddique Kappan. This disinclination towards Article 32 cannot be constitutionally justified. It is perhaps the recent undue spurt in the number of to Article 32 petitions that prompted the to think so. But the implicit rationale that the victims of executive excesses should pay the price for the increase in such petitions. is not justified.
Article 32, which comes under Part III of the constitution is an essential mechanism to ensure enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizen. And that is the route through which numerous landmark verdicts of the judiciary have been released. The Supreme Court is not empowered to curtail or weaken the rights guaranteed under the Constitution. And even delay in dispensing justice will constitute justice denial. Only during an Emergency can fundamental rights except of Articles 20 and 21 be suspended. Work load and surplus of cases are not an excuse for it. The problem of work load is to be addressed by other means. It is through such attempts that mechanisms like green benches came into being.
It is another inevitable plank of justice administration - on equality before law - that Article 14 embodies. It envisions that no one can be denied equality before law and equal protection of law. This means that the recent shortfalls of the Supreme Court in disposing bail petitions comes in direct conflict with the constitution. A compilation of data about detainees having to spend their time in different jails, will not give an enviable picture. When Babu Bajrangi, who was convicted to life imprisonment for the murder of 97 people, was granted bail on health grounds, it is under the same judicial system that countless people languishing in prisons under fabricated – and pending - cases including Varavara Rao, Stan Swamy and Abdul Nasar Madani are suffering from ill-health and undergoing torment. Recently, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Dushyant Dave and Advocate Reepak Kansal complained about the discrimination in listing cases filed in the apex court. The credibility gap in this aspect needs to be filled. The deficiencies can be rectified if a judicial committee is entrusted with the task of compiling the number of bail and habeas corpus petitions filed in the last two or three years, with particulars of when each of them was filed and the time taken for their hearing and judgement. The country hopes that the judiciary, a source of relief and succour for the citizenry will rigorously fulfil its obligations to itself and the constitution.