When the judiciary intervenestext_fields
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard a handful of cases that the country was eagerly looking forward to. The top court bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana heard at least half a dozen cases, including the submission of the judicial committee's inquiry report on the Pegasus spying, the petition against the verdict granting expanded powers to the Enforcement Directorate, the petition against the Gujarat government's decision to release the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case and the bail plea of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad. While there is criticism that the country's judiciary has succumbed to the fascist rule of the Centre, many have been surprised by what can be described as a completely 'different' approach by the Supreme Court in all the cases mentioned above. The court had invited a lot of criticism regarding the preparation of the roster of cases to be considered. There is ample evidence of the use of this discretionary power as a means of easily disposing of cases that are of interest to the government. Therefore, the usual ritual is that the petitions which cause headaches to the administration or hold the government responsible in some sense will be left pending. However, N.V. Ramana 'deviated' from that precedent this time. Twenty-fiveof the 53 cases to be heard by the Constitution Bench were listed on Thursday; the hearing in these cases is also scheduled for August 29. Many lawyers who witnessed these events even wished if the Supreme Court could function at this pace every day.
A very serious allegation was made against the central government for secretly spying on the mobile phones of 142 Indians including opposition party leaders like Rahul Gandhi, two central ministers, the former election commissioner, and journalists, using an Israeli software called Pegasus. The Supreme Court had appointed a committee chaired by Justice Ravindran to investigate this incident which caused great embarrassment to the country internationally. The Chief Justice who opened the committee's report in the court read out selected portions of it. Not only that, but when the committee pointed out that the government did not cooperate with the investigation, the Chief Justice did not hesitate to make it a serious discussion. Justice Ramana bluntly told the government counsel Tushar Mehta "The same stand you took here, you have taken there...". He also suggested that the part containing the recommendations including the amendment of cyber law in the report should be published on the Supreme Court website and made available to the public. Of course, this intervention is a blow to the government; the only consolation for the Centre is the remark in the report which stated that although the spying did take place, it cannot be confirmed whether it was done using the Pegasus software. A similar approach was taken in the Enforcement Department case too. The ED has become the Centre's tool to subdue opposition states and political opponents. Last month, the Supreme Court issued a verdict strengthening the powers of such an agency. While considering the review petition, the Chief Justice openly admitted that there are some problems with two parts of that judgment. He had already rejected the central government's argument that this petition should not be considered in any case.any chance.
In the Bilkis Bano case, even when the Gujarat government raised objections, the Supreme Court took the same stand. The Solicitor General had asked to dismiss the plea by pointing out that CPM leader Subhashini Ali and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, who approached the court against the Gujarat government's decision to grant immunity to criminals, were not related to the case. The court not only rejected that demand but also accused the government of misinterpreting the top court's observation that the state government could consider the request for cancellation of the sentence, thereby paving the way for the release of the criminals. These remarks of the court are very crucial. It is also surprising in light of recent experiences. It is also noteworthy that all these interventions by Ramana were on the eve of his retirement from the post of Chief Justice. Judiciary is defined as 'the system which upholds the law without tearing it down, without breaking it, without tarnishing it'. It is a body that has the authority to direct and if necessary control the legislature that makes laws and the executive that executes laws. One often hears accounts of such a responsible constitutional system being out of joint and subservient to the ruling class. As opposed to that, it is comforting when there are active interventions, like rain in the desert.