Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Political Chess

Karnataka government has reappointed B.V.Acharya, senior counsel and former Advocate General, as Special Public Prosecutor in the Jayalalithaa case. This case has become a circular game played by politicians and the judiciary. In the game of chess, if the same position is repeated three times, the game is considered a draw. But in politics, there are no rules. Unfortunately, judiciary is no better.

As the present case has shown, different judges of the Supreme Court come to diametrically opposite conclusions even on questions of law and do not hesitate to use strongest possible epithets to bolster their case. It is now not proper to say that the Supreme Court has taken some decision. We can only say that this particular judge has taken this specific position and that too in a particular case. Different cases may witness the same judge take different legal stands.

Acharya had earlier resigned from Special Public Prosecutorship quoting pressure from different sources. Has the pressure disappeared? His reappointment may very well attract further litigation. Government has reappointed him perhaps because the Supreme Court had allowed the Karnataka government and Anbazhagan of DMK to file their written opinions with the Karnataka High Court. Justice Kumaraswamy has been advised by the Supreme Court to ignore all arguments presented orally or in writing by Bhavani Singh. Strangely, the time prescribed by the Supreme Court for the Karnataka government to submit its written opinion is already over. Another Bench of the Supreme Court had earlier advised the High Court to render judgment by May 12th.

The case is now so replete with enigmatic judicial interventions masked as guidance that only one thing is certain: Justice will not be delivered, only judgments will be delivered.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Judicial tamasha

Justice Dipak Misra of the Supreme Court, ruling on behalf of the three-member Bench in the Jayalalithaa Disproportionate Asset case, has struck down the appointment of Bhavani Singh as prosecutor in the appeal before the Karnataka High Court. The learned judge has also said there is no need to appoint another prosecutor and has cautioned the High Court judge not to take cognisance of Bhavani Singh's arguments.

Dipak Misra also clarified  that for the High Court judge "the filament of reasoning will naturally flow from a dispassionate viewing of the evidence".

Asking the High Court judge to be vigilant about the "corroding effect of corruption" and the "gravity of the offence" against the accused in this case, the Bench said it was the duty of the judge to make a "complete and comprehensive evaluation and appreciation of the evidence in its entirety before rendering his judgment".
The Bench advised the High Court to "dispassionately render a judgment which is objectively and resolutely expressed".
Does the High Court need to be advised by the Supreme Court that its judgement should be objective, comprehensive, complete and appreciative of the entire evidence? It is difficult to understand why the Supreme Court prefers to mouth philosophical inanities and evade a direct ruling. We are reminded of Justice Krishna Iyer's evasive comments on 'democratic dharma' while letting Indira Gandhi off the hook during the emergency days. 
It is not our argument that the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu does not deserve any relief. Corruption in Tamil Nadu was not initiated by Jayalalithaa and it will not end with her. Corruption has many patrons across the political spectrum. Perhaps Justice Misra's conscience does not permit him either to come down heavily on or give a clean chit to someone as strong-willed as Jayalalithaa. But he needs to remember that the same problem may be faced by Justice Chikka Rachappa Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Distressed farmers

When Gajendra, the elephant king, cried out in distress, Aadhi Moolam (Lord Mahavishnu) rushed to save him. Unfortunately Gajendra Singh, the distressed farmer from Rajasthan could not find anyone to come to his help. Thus one more farmer committed suicide and was just treated as a part of statistical detail.

There is no political party in India which does not profess that farmers constitute the country's backbone. But no political party does anything substantial to alleviate their recurring misery. As we enter another monsoon period with likely deficient rainfall, the picture may become more gruesome.

Political hypocrisy is common in India. Views change depending on whether a party is in power or in opposition. Opinions on land acquisition are a standard example. It is time that we discovered some way out of such political somersaults.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Narendra Modi's style: Debilitating control or Enabling oversight?

Shashi Tharoor has told a private gathering at the World Bank that Modi's operating style may stymie India's development. The report is as follows:

"The office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi exercises such an extent of control over policy matters that it could be impeding implementation, suggested  Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, who is on a brief visit to the U.S.
Speaking at a private event at the World Bank focused on his new book “India Shastra” Mr. Tharoor, who is also the Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, said, “Mr. Modi has said a lot of the right things. The challenge is going to be in doing the right thing, which so far, in ten months, we haven’t seen him doing that.”"
Perhaps Tharoor is right. There is an ocean of difference between Modi and his predecessor. Manmohan Singh escaped legal responsibilty for all ministerial scams under his 'able' leadership because he never intervened in any decisions. He was only a 'pass- through prime minister'. (In Finance, pass- through entities do not attract taxes. Similarly, Singh did not attract any culpability for multiple shenanigans.) 
It is sad that Tharoor never commented on Singh's style and thereby lost an opportunity to save the country from a decadent decade. It is ,however, only too naive to expect him to criticise a prime minister who turned a blind eye to his misdeeds in IPL and what all followed over a period of time including the poisoning of his wife.
The Modi government has asked the state Governors to remain in the states atleast for 80% of the time and to seek President's approval for travel outside. It is strange that there was no such guideline so far. It is time that gubernatorial posts ceased to be mere sinecures.


Saturday, April 04, 2015

Trivialising religion

Justice Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court has objected to having a meeting of Chief Justices of various high courts and judges of the Supreme Court from 3rd April to 5th April as this period coincides with Good Friday and Easter Sunday. His role as a pious practitioner of religion has taken precedence over his role as a judge. He has every right to insist on leave of absence from the meeting, but is it proper for him to insist that such meetings should not be held during any religious festivals or observances? He seems to have overstepped rational limits in requiring days of religious significance to be free from official functions.

Justice Joseph has every right to an avid practitioner of his religion. The following report in The Indian Express points to his zest for religious faith. No one can question his personal faith.

"A member of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Roman Catholic Church, Justice Joseph is a regular at church functions, mainly as a representative of the Catholic laity. In 2012, he was one of the resource persons for an annual conference of the Canon Law Society of India. Its office-bears and members are generally bishops and priests —canon law is the system of laws legal principles enforced by the Pope.
Last year, when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India held a conference on church and media, Justice Joseph was one of the speakers.
On May 27, 2012, when the Faridabad archbishop was consecrated, Justice Joseph, then Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh, did the first reading during mass.
While serving as a high court judge, Justice Joseph preached Bible on Christian TV channel Shalom TV. Then, he would religiously read a passage from the Bible and interpret the verses. This weekly programme was held every Saturday evening."
By protesting against a meeting on days of religious significance, the judge has inadvertently and overzealously trivialised religion. Religious observance can never be an excuse for conducting or cancelling an official meeting. Work is worship. Christianity values work as much as any other religion. 
The honourable judge has questioned why such meetings are not held during Diwali or Eid. The reason is pragmatic. The idea is to ensure that a large number of potential participants do not stay away. This need not be mistaken as preference or persecution of any religion. Interestingly, Good Friday is not a government holiday in 10 states and union territories including the National Capital Region that is Delhi.