2009 has been a year of much drama and debate for the Indian judiciary. One can easily say that this critical pillar of democracy is approaching a kind of crossroad in its journey towards delivering justice. By saying this it is not intended to overlook the happenings which shook the executive, legislative and media. But above all the unprecedented public attention and participation in the debates related to the judicial offices is the distinction which makes me firmly believe that it was a year of intense judicial debates.
The ghost of the Ghaziabad PF scam in which several judges of the Allahabad High Court were allegedly involved continued to haunt the judiciary. It was one hard blow on the face of the judges’ credibility (and thereby that of judiciary) and gave strength to the increasing demand for reforms and accountability.
The most dramatic events which led to the tarnishing of the Supreme Court’s image and triggered intense public debate was the Judges’ asset declaration issue. The series of events were kicked off by a seemingly innocuous RTI petition by SC Aggarwal through Adv. Prashanth Bhushan asking whether “the judges are submitting details of their assets to CJI, as per a 1997 resolution, or not”. An issue which could have been otherwise handled by a yes or no response was mismanaged to the worst level and triggered the series of debates in public as well legal circles.
No intention to detail the events which finally led to the voluntary declaration of assets by the judges themselves but there are many who are skeptic on the positive outcome due to this act. Even though the judges declared their assets on the Supreme Court website, the lack of proper structure, any recurring process and clarity, not to mention the ambiguity, made it certain that the question of accountability will occupy centre stage in the year 2010 also.
Justice Paul Dinakaran’s recommended elevation to Supreme Court followed the assets declaration issue. The whole episode which temporarily got settled by now fuelled two branches of debate: one was related to the credibility of the judges and their links with the malice of the society making them indifferent from their counterparts from legislature or executive. The other was the process of appointments, which the central government had a larger stake until a few years back but currently is a function of the collegium. The debate continues as we reach a year end. Justice Dinakaran is facing an impeachment motion in the parliament and the issue is in top gear.
Even though the title of this post used the word turbulence, there are aspects of this turbulence which will definitely benefit the judiciary as well as the Indian state in the long run. One of them is the collegium supremacy debate. The whole chapter of Justice Dinakaran’s elevation has the potential to establish the need for rigorous reforms in the appointment process and get it approved by the nation.
Strengthening demands for reforms:
All these happenings are strengthening the ever increasing demand for judicial reforms and greater accountability. Eminent lawyers like Prashanth Bhushan and organizations like Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms are having the upper edge in the prolonged struggle for reforms and accountability. I would recommend readers to visit the CJAR website to know more about the demand for judicial reforms in India and various debates pertaining to that subject.
Altogether a very noisy and turbulent year for the judiciary. But given the history of Indian judiciary there are still hope in the minds of people on the judiciary’s commitment to justice but at the same time it is high time to instill fresh confidence in the social mind by adopting the mantras of transparency and accountability.