By Proloy Bagchi
What is currently being witnessed is total defiance of the decisions/orders given by the Supreme Court. While the apex court takes its own time to examine a matter threadbare to arrive at the bottom of the problem to look for a solution and then gives its well considered decision, it is the political class that tries its best to nullify it.
It does not try to do so by taking the legal route available to it. Instead, it tries to create political opposition against it. Rallies and demonstrations, more often than not violent, are used to neutralise the decisions of the apex court. This is nothing but high-handedness of political parties which, having failed to convince the benches of multiple judges of the Supreme Court, decide to carry through their point of view by sheer mobocracy and its power of muscles and vocal chords.
The judgment of the Supreme Court in respect of entry of women in the Sabarimala shrine is a glaring example in this regard. On 28th September last a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of women of menstrual age in the shrine. While the Kerala Government refused to file a review petition, the BJP and Congress parties held rallies and demonstrations against the judgment. While the judgment trumped the tradition, politics was trying to nullify rationality.
But then BJP’s far right is upholder of tradition and is against all kinds of rational thinking in so far as Hindu religion is concerned. Its fringe elements have gone and even killed rationalists and, from all evidences, were preparing to kill some more if they chanced upon an opportunity.
But, the Congress party’s opposition to the judgment is somewhat inexplicable unless it is viewed from a political perspective. It seems, BJP got a head start in consolidating Hindu votes by siding with the conservative Hindu opposition to the judgment. For Congress to support the Hindu conservatism, though seemingly retrograde, seemed to be pragmatic, as otherwise BJP would run away with all the Hindu votes. It was politics at its worst that dictated the Congress action, in the process, trying to label the Supreme Court as the fall guy.
Strangely, while the Congress has been blaming the BJP for the murders of rationalists it seems to be averse to go with the cold logic and reason of the five-judge bench. Kerala’s LDF government has, however, stood firm in not submitting a review petition despite severe pressure on it to do so. At the same time, it could not enforce the Court’s judgment as several women aged between 10 and 50 years were forcibly prevented from getting to the shrine. The protesters not only stopped them at the foot of the sacred hill, they were also intimidated and threatened of bodily harm if they tried to enter. A judgment that was rational at its core was not allowed to be implemented by politicians.
Another such matter was recently highlighted when as many as 23 lions of the Gir National Park died, some of them of infection of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV). Gir of late had been overpopulated and some of the lions had had to migrate out of the protected area. Repeated reports were received of lions being sighted even as far as in coastal Kathawad, for example in Diu.
The population of lions in Gir seems to have exploded. When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in 2013, to move some of the Asiatic lions to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh, their numbers were around 450. Now some sources say these have crossed the 600 mark. Perhaps that is why they are moving out of the protected area and at some places are sharing spaces with feral dogs infected with CDV.
With the death of as many as 11 lions on account of CDV the matter relating to the translocating some lions to Madhya Pradesh has again gained traction after five years of the judgment. One cannot deny that in this matter it is the Gujarat Government that has been the spoilsport The court had clearly stated that it was not a matter of lions being “members of family” in Gujarat and nor was it a matter of Gujarat “asmita” (pride), it was pure and simple a matter of protecting a species that was teetering at the edge of a precipice. An infection of severe kind that once overtook the African lion could wipe out the entire population at Gir, hence the order for moving some of the lions to Kuno Palpur.
This is a strange case where a State government has been stalling implementation of orders of the highest court. The proposition for shifting some of the lions to Kuno was made over two decades ago after which various environmental norms were checked and whatever was wanting, was provided. The MP government made the Kuno Palpur Sanctuary fit enough to receive the lions. It shifted people from 24 villages, some of whom were unhappy with the land that they got in exchange, as it was rocky and dry unlike what they had in Kuno. Yet, all the troubles of the villagers would seem to have been for no reason as relocation of the lions never materialised on account of the intransigence of the Gujarat Government that was headed by Narendra Modi.
Later the Union Ministry of Environment and Climate Change soft-pedalled implementation of the Supreme Court, presumably, under his direction as he later became the Prime Minister. This case exemplifies how politicians play around with the orders of the apex court as also the lives of the poor villagers besides having no regard for the future of a rare species which is at the cusp of extinction. What they are after is only votes.
There is another vital matter insofar as our democracy is concerned which was adjudicated upon by the apex court as far back as 2006 but its decision remains unimplemented. A petition filed by one Prakash Singh and others had made submissions for Police reforms as the departments in India were being run as political fiefdoms under the antiquated law of 1861. The result has been running the Police by governments at the Centre and in States under a law that was enacted by the colonial masters and had no element of democratic traditions built into it.
Prakash Singh, one of the petitioners, had as a former DGP experienced use of the police force for vested interests of the ruling political class. Whether it is investigations into crime, transfers and postings of police officers or their appointments against sensitive posts or even appointments at the very top level of the Police administration, the political class always keeps its own interests in view. Law and order would therefore, seem to have been hijacked in favour of those who happen to be in power.
The much-needed change needs to be ushered in but it has to be ushered in by the politicians who have much to lose were they to do so. Hence, despite a lapse of over a decade after the judgment and a plethora of reports of committees and commissions at the Central and State levels, the situation remains as it was when the writ petition was filed.
It is needless to emphasise that the orders of the Supreme Court need to be viewed with respect and any consistent disregard of them would make our democracy vulnerable to oligarchy and the professions of democratic norms in the Constitution will remain unfulfilled. People have to remain alert and prevent the situation from crossing the tipping point.—INFA