Vital for just social order

Independence of Judiciary

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is expected to be the next Chief Justice of India, recently analysed the problems of the judiciary, more so because of the immense public faith and reliance on this system. At a time, when people are losing faith in the political system, the judiciary has possibly become the last bastion on which the people can rely on.
Delivering the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial lecture, Justice Gogoi rightly favoured a judiciary that was more proactive with judges on the front foot to dispense justice. He regretted the fact that dispensation of justice through prompt handling of cases has not become possible as the judge has become “a workman with no tools”, i.e. the required infrastructure is rather poor to cope with the huge pendency of cases. In fact, the situation has reached a point, where proper support facilities are not provided, specially at the lower levels, and thus there is fear that the high regard for the judiciary may be fading slowly fading away.
It is important to note that momentous verdicts by the apex court— whether in the realm of social, or environment or political spheres — have changed the face of the country and ushered in a new understanding of the social polity. Verdicts relating to corruption have been hailed with great acumen by the Supreme Court and punishments have been bestowed on the guilty, sometimes on politicians, who hold high positions of authority.
The judiciary in any country is the custodian of the Constitution and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the people. The institution is not only considered the most sanctimonious pillar of the State but also a foundation on which civilizations are built. All philosophies ungrudgingly acknowledge the independence of the judiciary as a means to ensure social amity, political development, peace and progress in any society.
The judiciary in our country has passed through different phases. One of these is known as ‘doctrine of necessity’, which undermined the role of judiciary. But after the judicial movement, the institution started to regain its last glory.
There is no denying that the judiciary has been playing a stellar role in transforming the socio-political system of the country and judges have been at the forefront due to their independence and judicious role in this regard. The exemplary steps taken by the judiciary give confidence to the people that this wing of the government is possibly the best arm compared with the political class and the Executive.
The present problem of pendency of court levels, specially at lower levels, is obviously the result of the government’s neglect and indifference. It goes without saying that this situation has been continuing with little or no action on the part of the government. While resource constraint may be cited as a reason, people would tend to suspect that this neglect may be due to the fear that prompt disposal of cases may expose the government’s misdeeds.
In recent times, growing judicial activism has surfaced and raised a question. However, a section of legal experts strongly believe that such an approach is necessary and in the best interests of society. However, the Court must take care to see that it does not overstep the limits of its judicial function and trespass into areas which are reserved for the Executive and the Legislature by the Constitution. However, clear violation of constitutional or statutory provisions must be interfered by the apex judiciary.
For example, if a considered policy decision has been taken which is not in conflict with any law or is not mala fide, it will not be in public interest to require the court to go into and investigate those areas, which are the function of the Executive. When two or more options or views are possible and after considering these the government takes a policy decision it is then still not the function of the court to go into the matter afresh and in a way, sit in appeal over such a policy decision (Balco vs. Union of India (2002) 2 SCC 333). Whatever method adopted by judiciary in adjudication, it must be the procedure known to judicial tenets.
The challenge before the judiciary is the need to give this institution greater attention and allow it to play an independent role in society. Moreover, more funds need to be allocated to improve infrastructure at the lower levels, set up fast track courts as well as an additional bench of the High Court in an important city other than the State capital. The judiciary has to reach out to the people with prompt verdicts and making itself more approachable.
The notion that the rich and the powerful have better bargaining power in the lower judiciary should be dispelled. As the country marches ahead on both social and economic front, there is need to assure the common man that the judiciary is neutral and cannot be influenced by money or muscle power or other forms of authority. For this, the higher judiciary should keep a watchful eye on the functioning of the district and sub-divisional courts.
Another facet that needs serious consideration is cases of alleged corruption cropping up against some judicial officers and judges. Though ‘corruption’ among politicians and bureaucrats is quite common and known to the people, this hasn’t been the case with the judiciary, particularly in the past, where integrity and discipline are acknowledged standards. People expect the judiciary to dispense justice without fear and favour and any deviation would betray this trust.
Political analysts believe that judicial activism has increased due to the rather inefficient functioning of the government and non-implementation of policies and rules in various sectors. The outreach of judiciary has thus widened to ensure justice to the people. If proper analysis is carried out, so-called judicial activism, which politicians mostly attribute to denigrate the judiciary, may not be tenable, judging from the point of social justice.
It is believed that in the years to come the judiciary would continue to play its significant role in socio-political transformation and give strength to society to follow its cherished goals of justice, equality and fraternity. However, the biggest challenge remains whether the judiciary retains its true independence and judicious manner of analysis and judgment.
One may mention here an observation of former Chief Justice, R M Lodha, who aptly pointed out: “I am sure you will have a strong rule of law because it is the independence of judiciary that leads to confidence in the minds of people that there is a judiciary that will come to their aid and rescue if there is wrong (done) to them by the Executive or anybody”.—INFA