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Posts Tagged ‘justice’

Ramdev: Wronged is not Right

June 5, 2011 Leave a comment

What the government did to Baba Ramdev is wrong. But that does not make him, or his demands, right. While it is difficult to maintain a nuanced view in the middle of such high drama, I hope the civil society will remember that it is the nuances that makes a democracy.

Supreme Court loses its cool

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I don’t know what others think of this story, but I find it very strange to find a Supreme Court bench literally yelling at someone. Judges are not supposed to lose their cool! People have faith in the law because it is expected to act rationally and unemotionally. If the highest court of the land starts showing its rage on just about anything and starts speaking in hyperbole, the common public will stop taking it seriously. Judges are not schoolteachers bringing a class to order, they are unbiased arbitrators of disputes. Supreme court judges even more so, and they need to remain visibly unbiased and rational  even when the supreme court itself is a party to the dispute. Otherwise things may reach the point where their opinion would be like that of anybody else and would be treated like that of anyone else. Some might say that has already happened.

Government obstructing justice

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The Supreme Court has come down hard on the government for not disclosing the names of Indian depositors of black money in Swiss banks, and for talking about only Hassan Ali whenever the issue of black money comes up. It has further scolded the government for not taking action about black money despite having the necessary information. Clearly, the government is trying to avoid prosecuting such people, and does not want the court to take any steps either. In other words, the government is obstructing the course of justice by not disclosing information and often by misleading the court.

Is it really sufficient for the court to rap the Solicitor General? If the decision to obstruct justice has been taken at ministerial levels, shouldn’t the court try to find a way to bring those responsible to justice? Even ministers are not above the law. Really.

Thoughts on the Jan Lokpal Bill

April 16, 2011 2 comments

Everybody seems to have an opinion about the Jan Lokpal bill (draft available here) these days — after Anna Hazare threatened to starve himself to death if the government didn’t agree to put up the bill in the parliament’s next session. Thousands of people waved little flags and wore the white Gandhi caps worn by Anna Hazare and associated with followers of the Mahatma, including Nehru and almost every leader of Congress (but most probably never worn by the great soul himself). It is perhaps a bit ironic that the anti-corruption marches had so many people wearing the Gandhi caps, when those caps are associated with the picture of corrupt politicians. Shiv Visvanathan’s description of the events as a simulacrum is not without merit.

There are now several articles in the blogosphere spelling out problems with the Jan Lokpal bill, for example by Shuddhabrata Sengupta here and Mihir Sharma here. The criticisms focus on the powers of the Lokpal, which appear to be unbridled, and the mechanisms of appointing or removing the said authority. The comments on Tarunabh Khaitan’s post at Law and Other Things seem to be quite well-reasoned, although restricted to a small group of people.

I have another problem with the `movement’. The movement originates in the failure of our justice system — there would be no such movement if the courts did not allow the rich and the powerful to delay or alter the course of justice, often through official mechanisms. The police is completely controlled by the government, which translates to politicians, and the investigations against politicians are often cursory to nonexistent as a result. And this neglect of duty often extends to those in business and industry who fund politicians.

By mobilising in favour of yet another office — that of the Lokpal — the public is reaffirming its loss of faith in the judiciary, the police, the legislature, and in fact the existing laws. So why do they expect this other office to function any better? If there is no one in all these other offices who can be relied upon, or if there is so much corruption in all courts, all law-enforcement agencies and among all politicians that it smothers all efforts to bring the corrupt officials and politicians to justice, how will the office of the Lokpal remain free of it?

My feeling is that one bill or one office will not serve the purpose of preventing or removing corruption from public offices and officials. The only way that will happen is if the existing laws are enforced properly, justice is served quickly, and action is taken quickly against those who protect politicians or rich people. Some new laws may be needed as well, but those must be easily enforceable.

For example, one way of restricting the movement of cash is to prevent the withdrawal of more than Rs.25000 cash per day from any bank account. There was a proposal by the finance ministry under Chidambaram in 2005 to impose a 0.1% tax on cash withdrawals above Rs.10000. Savings bank accounts were exempted from this soon afterwards. I cannot help but think that the pressure to exempt savings accounts must have come from the beneficiaries of such withdrawals, businesses in the real estate in particular, who ask buyers to provide a significant percentage of the price in cash.

Another way of preventing `official corruption’ — i.e. the kind of corruption which grants contracts at inflated prices — is to ensure that whenever such a case comes before the court, all files concerning the government decisions should be provided to the court without delay. I find it very strange when the government asks a court for time to prepare its defense of its own decision, and even stranger that the courts allow such petitions.

Anyway, the Jan Lokpal bill may be passed, with or without modifications. Some actions will result soon after, but in the long run I think it will undermine the functioning of all other offices of law enforcement, thus creating an effect opposite to what it was supposed to.

Mines and Maoists

May 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Today’s paper carries the headlines that Maoists have asked Mittal to keep his hands off the mines of Jharkhand. I am a little surprised that this is headline news, because I thought it was obvious the tribal areas were seeing a lot of violent protests — and often Maoism — because mining activities kept displacing the tribals and destroying the means of their livelihood. There is a clear historical correlation between Maoist activity and displacement. There is no information on the MOUs signed between the state governments and the mining companies, and these are treated as secret by the governments. So it would seem that the companies and the governments have something to hide. Perhaps headlines like these will make more people want to find out exactly what is going on between the mining companies and the tribals.

The limits of litigation

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

A book review by V.Venkatesan of Law and other things includes quotes from legal academic Upendra Baxi, which resonated with my sentiments:

If a social action petitioner had to attend the court on each of the 37 (actually a lot more) occasions – in this case coming from Pune to New Delhi – you can imagine the sacrifice of talent, time and money expected by the Supreme Court of India of a citizen pursuing the constitutional adventure of restoring elementary norms of civilised legality in India!

Indeed. Prof. Baxi mentions this in the context of a public interest litigation at the Supreme Court, but this is no less true for small and nearly trivial (for everyone but the litigant(s)) civil lawsuits in the local/state courts. At least in West Bengal, every civil suit seems to fall into a never-ending series of `dates’ — the re-listing of the case for another day.  Which makes me wonder —  if a lawsuit is filed by an individual or a group of individuals against an `official’ decision of a government office or a corporate body, why does the court repeatedly allow the defendant to take more time to prepare their documents and defense? After all, any official decision should be backed by reasons recorded in some documents already! So what do they need the time for?

Prof. Baxi goes on to exclaim that

while the state attorneys are fully taken care of at the cost of public exchequer in deviously defending manifest illegalities, a social action petitioner is summoned to sacrifice a good deal in the pursuit of an uncertain constitutional result.

This is also quite typical of all cases against government officials (who hide behind the government) and big corporations (who simply have a lot of money). Surely, if the court finds that `manifest illegalities’ had taken place, knowingly committed by the defendants, they can award punitive damages? For the cases against government officials, an alternative would be that costs of defense are to be paid by the officials who took the disputed decisions, to be reimbursed in full only if the court finds that the decisions were taken `in good faith’.

Many disputes never go to court as those who are wronged believe that they will not see justice in a reasonable time, viz., several years. And they keep suffering, and those who cause such suffering continue to inflict unjust decisions on others, emboldened by lack of legal admonition. Prolonged civil injustice is often met by violence, and sometimes all this snowballs into something ugly, like armed insurgency.