SC stick hurts govts across political divide
Over the last ten days, the Supreme Court (SC) has taken some steps, passed certain orders and has come out with a number of directives which exactly do not show the executive, either at the federal level or at the state levels, as competent authorities to deal with the matters concerned.
It started on June 27 when the apex court criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for acquiring prime agricultural land and passing the plots on to builders to erect luxury dwelling units in Greater Noida. The Supreme Court not only questioned the invoking of urgency clause that barred farmers from raising objections but also said that it would step in to prevent 'more Nandigrams'. On July 6, the court set aside land acquisitions in Noida Extension.
The SC rap is not just limited to the confines of Uttar Pradesh. It resonates in nearly every nook and corner of the country where the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is invoked to dispossess people of their private land in the name of building SEZs, industries, shopping complexes and gated dwelling units curiously called societies.
Despite repeated pleas by jurists, activists and even after the Singur-Nandigram-Jaitapur-POSCO experience, the political class has not felt the need to amend, repeal or replace a draconian law enacted by colonists to usurp 'native' properties.
Taking a firm stand against the Government over the black money issue, the Supreme Court on July 5 appointed its own special investigative team (SIT) to track the trail of money in foreign banks.
That the apex court has little faith in the executive's intentions in addressing this issue is clear from its statement. It reads: "We express our serious reservations about the responses of the Union of India. The attempts by the government were clearly evasive, confused, or originating in the denial mode. It was only upon being repeatedly pressed by us did the Union of India begin to admit that indeed the investigation was proceeding very slowly."
On the same day, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on proceedings against former Karnataka Chief Justice and Sikkim Chief Justice PD Dinakaran by a Rajya Sabha-appointed panel.
The Supreme Court said that a new panel would be set up to look into the charges against Dinakaran.
Then on July 6, the Supreme Court heard a petition from the Travancore royal family which wanted details of the temple treasure not to be made public. It barred members of the committee of the Shri Padmnabhaswamy temple in Kerala from talking to the press and expressing an opinion on the ownership of the inventory.
The Supreme Court had earlier appointed the panel to take stock of the treasure worth thousands of crores of rupees. The committee had earlier said that the Travancore royal family was the owner of the jewellery found at the temple.
Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy reportedly threw his weight behind the temple authorities. Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram and former Central minister Shashi Tharoor has been more open in his support for the temple body.
The SC order thus not only silenced the panel set up by the court but also went out as a warning to politicians from openly siding with the feuding parties.
However, the biggest indictment of the elected executive was reserved till late on July 6 when the Supreme Court held that arming civilians to take on Naxals is unconstitutional. The judgment is a serious setback for the Chhattisgarh government and is a shot in the arm for rights activists.
It is an open negation of the Raman Singh and the state police's policy of giving rope to the extra-constitutional armed force dubbed Salwa Judum (ironically meaning march of peace) which is accused of crimes as heinous as those (if not more) being perpetrated by the Maoists they claim to fight.
The judiciary in the above-mentioned cases has not just stepped on the toes of the federal and state authorities but has indicted them for not being serious and intent enough to confront certain problems, for not being respectful of the Constitution and for turning a blind eye to malpractices and corruption. Governments across the political divide have been at the receiving end of the SC's stick.
At a time when public confidence in elected representatives and politicians is at an all-time low, the SC actions have made their situation all the more precarious. Ten days have shaken their world.
More about Tathagata BhattacharyaTathagata Bhattacharya is Editor, Special Editions, at Network 18. Having worked for well over 10 years with leading national and international media organisations, he is as enthused by newsbreaks and analyses as he is by single malts, Jazz and military aviation. You may come across this man listening to John Coltrane or reading Yasar Kemal on some obscure Himalayan tract though work pressure reduces the statistical probability of such a chance encounter.
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