New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) The year that is ticking down saw the Supreme Court guarding its turf against the Narendra Modi government’s attempts to have its say in judicial appointments by sitting on the appointments recommended by the collegium, and reversing attempts to destabilise the Congress governments in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand.
Yet another achievement of the year was the court’s determination to cleanse the rot that has crept into the BCCI since its commercial success.
Though court did not interfere with the demonetisation decision, it did prod the government to address the inconveniences and hassles being faced by the common man standing in long queues. Chief Justice of India (CJI) T.S. Thakur also expressed his doubts whether the decision was impulsive or well-thought out.
If the might and majesty of the top court was lost on some, it got reiterated and reaffirmed when its former judge, Justice Markandey Katju, tendered an unconditional apology after he was issued a contempt notice for criticising judges on his blog.
Still more importantly, the apex court added an element of objectivity in the functioning of an assembly speaker in the Arunachal Pradesh case, holding that an individual under a cloud should desist from invoking the anti-defection law for unseating legislators.
The government sitting over the collegium’s recommendation and choking the appointments came in for sever indictment when Chief Justice Thakur bluntly asked the government: “You want to lock out justice?”
Referring to these and some other instances, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves said 2016 saw the top court’s judges continuing to courageously stand up to the “tyranny of the government in browbeating the higher judiciary”, saving democracy and upholding the judiciary’s independence.
If last year saw the striking down of the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) by a five-judge constitution bench, this year the CJI relentlessly raised the issue of non-appointment of the judges by the government, Gonsalves added.
The court cracked the whip when the BCCI dared to defy it by not implementing the Justice Lodha panel’s recommendations for ushering in organisational reforms in the apex cricketing body and its affiliate state units.
This tendency to defy the top court is a matter of worry that was not lost on the judges, snubbing BCCI president Anurag Thakur, a prominent MP of the ruling BJP dispensation, and warning him he may have to go to jail for his act of perjury in seeking a letter from International Cricket Council (ICC) that the presence of the government auditor’s nominee on the BCCI amounted to the state interfering in its affairs.
Stressing that the reforms suggested by the Lodha panel were like “Der Aye Drust Aye” (Better late than never), former Indian cricket captain Bishan Singh Bedi said: “The Supreme Court verdict must be complimented by one and all and accepted gracefully by the BCCI.”
The court’s intervention in tackling the worsening air-pollution in the national capital and the National Capital Region (NCR) has been commended by the experts in the field for reducing the pollution load.
“Its critical intervention enabled the implementation of an action plan for different pollution sources like vehicles, waste and the construction activity, and also broadened the ambit of the case for the entire region for regional action,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment.
The court’s intervention in securing relief for farmers and the poor in 256 drought-affected districts has been appreciated by experts in the field of agriculture.
Chandigarh-based expert Devender Sharma said: “The government is not at all serious about agriculture. Look at the way the government is pushing a cashless economy. Had it addressed with the same zeal the plight of marginal farmers and the poor, hunger would have been history in this country.”
Taking a holistic view of the top court in 2016, veteran lawyer C.A. Sundram said: “I think there are positives and negatives. Positive is that the court has stood very firm on maintaining its independence and dignity. But the court is increasingly exceeding its own jurisdiction involving whatever that is conceived as extrajudicial.”
The court is now increasingly getting involved in the government policies, something which it would avoid, he said, adding that it ought not to step into private bodies such as BCCI in its zeal to protect public interest.
Important pronouncements in 2016:
April 25: It is better to dance to earn a livelihood than begg on the streets
May 6: Four weeks’ parole granted to Sahara group chief Subrata Roy for performing his mother’s last rites
May 11: Asks government to discuss relief measures with drought-affected states
May 13: Upholds the constitutional validity of India’s criminal defamation law
July 13: Restores Nabam Tuki as Arunachal Chief Minister, holds that Governor not the legislature’s conscience-keeper
July 18: Bars government ministers/officials from BCCI
July 26: Customs and traditions have to pass the test of being legal and constitutional
August 1: Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Ministers should vacate their official accomodation
August 31: Quashes Singur land acquisition for Tata Nano
September 30: Orders criminal-turned-politician Mohammad Shahabuddin back to jail
November 9: Animals may not have rights, but cannot be subjected to cruelty
November 10: Strikes down as unconstitutional a Punjab act abrogating water-sharing agreement between the state and neighbouring relating to the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal
November 11: Asks Justice Markendey Katju as to why contempt proceedings shouldn’t be initiated against him for criticising judges on his blog
November 11: Entry tax (on trucks entering Delhi) doesn’t violate freedom of trade and commerce as “free trade does not mean freedom from tax”
December 14: Formulate National Action Plan to combat drug abuse amongst children
December 15: Bans sale of liquor on highways across the country.
December 15: Can’t grow beard on religious grounds in the armed forces.
Besides the apex court passed several interim orders on beleaguered liquor baron Vijay Mallya, non-performing assets of banks and made Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh Minister Azam Khan apologise for his statement on the Bulandshhahr gang-rape.
(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was. Parmod Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])