Let truth be told. Ranjan Gogoi, the honourable Rajya Sabha MP, has as many detractors as diehard followers depending on who is on which side. He was nominated to the Upper House months after his tumultuous tenure as Chief Justice of India ended during which he controversially fast-tracked the Ram Janmabhoomi hearings, ruled in favour of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, and also strangely sat to hear a case of sexual harassment against himself. Gogoi is a polarising figure as is our divided polity. Yet, when he recently remarked that the judiciary in the country was in a ramshackle state and that few preferred to go to the courts these days, Gogoi got our attention. Though an unlikely candidate, he did prick our collective conscience.
In saying what he said, the former CJI gave voice to cascading concerns about the current state of the judiciary, the Supreme Court included. Already driven up the wall by inordinate delays and backlogs that plague our courts—depriving millions of legal redressal guaranteed by the Constitution and forcing them into depths of despair—there are added elements of doubts and distrust we are compelled to contend with. Though spoken only in hushed tones for the fear of contempt, there is swirling speculation about how free our judges are from pulls and pressures, and whether the judiciary remains independent.
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The murmurs of discontent have grown over the years to a point where the elephant in the room cannot be ignored any longer. While evidently the judiciary still boasts of individuals with fine minds and impeccable track records, there are also a few who have periodically invited scorn through their pronouncements, including when several judges chose to heap praise on the country’s chief executive as a ‘visionary’. While what it did to boost the persona of the elected official is yet to be ascertained, that it lowered the court’s stature in public esteem is almost a certainty.
Judges are human too and obviously entitled to opinions. But given the nature of responsibilities they discharge, they are expected to divorce themselves from their personal beliefs while delivering judgments. However, there is growing perception that the judiciary is no longer removed from personal preferences and our legal system serves those in power more than the people.
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The past few years have particularly been replete with such instances. There have been times when the judiciary has acted with uncharacteristic alacrity, including when Gogoi chose to hear the Ram Janmabhoomi case for weeks on end at the expense of other important cases. As was the case when the top court chose to grant controversial TV anchor Arnab Goswami an expedient hearing and hastily granted him bail while others continued to rot in jail for want of a similar privilege being extended to them. Or, when the Supreme Court waded into the debate over the contentious farm laws and ruled to stay them without much of a discussion in what, many believe, was a case of judicial overreach.
The malaise, many say, rests in the age-old opacity and lack of transparency that now define our judicial system, including how judges are appointed, appraised, promoted and the manner in which cases are allotted. But as it is with overreach, the end result is invariably debilitating when the top court decides not to act. The top court has been found to be dragging its feet when it was expected to act urgently—in cases ranging from the abrogation of Article 370 to matters pertaining to personal liberty.
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This special issue of Outlook is an attempt to dive deep into what many of us have often wondered but refrained from asking aloud: Is our judiciary politicised? The jury has been out on this for far too long and it’s time we learn more about what helps or hobbles our Lordships.
Executive Order: Keep The Top Man On A Tight Leash
Supreme Court Of National Governance
Tarikh Pe Tarikh Constitution Benched
First Interface In A Blind Spot On Law Street
Pen, Paper, Roster, Staff: A Messy Knot
Ruben Banerjee Editor In Chief