Justice Madan B Lokar was among the four senior most sitting judges of the supreme court who had spoken out in an open press conference against the functioning of then Chief Justice Deepak Misra. The same former Judge of Supreme Court Justice Madan Lokar, who is highly respected in the legal fraternity has recently given an interview to renowned Journalist Karan Thapar for The Wire channel. He has severely criticised the supreme court and continues to feel that the apex judicial body is “not fulfilling its constitutional functions adequately”. There seems to be no visible improvement in the functioning of the supreme court. In the words of Justice Lokar, supreme court “should be more proactive than it has been in its functioning. In the interview he disagrees with the present Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde’s stand that “this is not a situation where declaration of rights has much priority or as much importance as in other times.” “To say that fundamental rights are not so important today because of the prevailing situation is the wrong way of looking at it”, says Justice Lokur. He has rightly compared this stand of the Chief Justice Bobde with supreme court’s judgment in ADM Jabalpur case during the emergency. He said that “you cannot say today let’s forget about the right to life.”
Justice Lokur specifically expressed his unhappiness on supreme court taking three weeks time in disposing the case of migrant labors. He said: “The court let down these migrants.”
It may be worth noting here that the supreme court in the recent case of thousands of migrant laborers, who were stranded and starved in metropolis due to sudden declaration of national lock down in the wake of Covid 19 pandemic, has directed the government to “take such steps as it finds fit to help the migrant workers.” Justice Lokur has been very categorical when he said that “ the (supreme) court should have and could have gone much further.” He seems to be of the opinion that instead of leaving it to the government to take whatever actions it deem fit, the Supreme Court could have told the government to take specific actions to protect the rights of the migrant workers. To say that “whatever steps you’re taking is good enough is not an answer, particularly in a situation like this”, said Justice Lokur in the interview.
Justice Lokur also criticized the supreme court in unambiguous terms for taking up within 15 hours the petition of Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami seeking protection against multiple FIRs. He said “it was very very wrong of the Supreme Court to have taken up that case without it fitting in the category of extreme urgency.”
He said that“given the situation, nothing was more important than the right of the migrants wanting to go back home, their shelter, their food, their wages……..this was of crucial importance and extreme urgency. Against that you place a case where (perhaps) 10 FIRs are filed. What is the urgency? The police have not even acted upon these FIRs. The possibility of an arrest is almost zero… if you compare the plight of the migrants, the plight of the poor, as against this there is just no comparison at all. I think it’s very, very wrong on the part of the Supreme Court to have taken up that case without it fitting in the category of extreme urgency.” He is of the opinion that”it would be a good idea if the Chief Justice conducts some sort of inquiry to find out what went wrong.”
Justice Lokur also questioned the delays in taking up petitions relating to Article 370 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. He said that“ These cases are very important because they have the character of affecting a very large section of the people. Huge sections of society are impacted. These cases should have been taken up on a priority. I’m frankly not able to understand why that priority has not been given to these cases.”
Justice Lokur also criticised the Supreme Court’s for deferring habeas corpus cases. “This is a matter of extreme urgency. A person is kept in detention without a trial for months together. These habeas corpus petitions should be heard. How much time is it going to take? One hour? Two hours? May be a day? Why not hear them? Justice Lokur said that “a person has a right. If he has that right, it has to be enforced. That’s it. You can’t say I hope and trust that somebody will enforce that right on his behalf. The person has a right. Why are you not enforcing it? It (the Supreme Court) is not fulfilling its constitutional functions adequately.” There have been criticism on the supreme court in other cases too; for example, keeping EPF pensioner’s case pending since July 2019. There are apprehensions in the minds of litigants that Govt of India does not want this case to be heard; therefore, dates are given then again changed by registry of the court. Petitioners feel that some people are deprived of their due pension because of delay in justice.
Justice Lokur’s observation about the overall functioning of the supreme court is very disturbing. He said that the functioning of supreme court is “certainly disappointing.” Justice Madan B. Lokur also observed that”the Supreme Court of India is capable of doing a good job but I think they need to introspect, they need to sit down, brainstorm and figure out how to go ahead.”
This is not for the first time that we have heard such strong criticism about biases and favoritism in the functioning of supreme court. We have seen in the recent past that four Honb’l judges, including former chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, themselves have had pointed it out in an open press conference and informed the nation about arbitrary preferences, biases and favouritism in composition of benches and allotting of cases among them. They “raised issues affecting the institution.” Justice Chelameswar, one of the four judges who addressed the press conference said: “Unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country.” But there seems to be no improvement during the tenure of Justice Gogoi as pointed out in an open letter dated 16 August, 2019 written to him by a senior advocate and former president of Supreme Court Bar Association Dushyant Dave. He questioned the process followed by the apex court in listing the cases relating to Adani Group of companies by the summer benches in violation of laid down rules. Earlier, charges of sexual harassment was leveled against Justice Gogoi by a lady staff member working at his residence office. And subsequently he himself presided the bench to exonerate himself, which was severely objected to by SC Bar Association, Advocate on – record Association and legal luminaries. Justice Gogoi presiding the bench which was looking int charges against himself was totally against the principle of natural justice. It is no wonder that the conscious of the nation was shaken when later on Justice Ranjan Gogoi delivered the judgments in the purchase of Rafale aircraft and Babri Masjid ownership cases during last days of his tenure. Then the follow up, political nomination of Justice Gogoi to Rajaya Sabha soon after his relinquishing the office of Chief Justice of India after retirement has definitely lowered the image of the high office in the eyes of common men. Advocate Parsahnt Bhushan is perhaps not very far from truth when he observed that our judiciary is taking the words of the government true without verification and proofs. Impression is growing that Supreme court is doing what government wants it to do and it is no more an independent and fearless constitutional institution set up to protect the rights of common men from the mighty and powerful government.
And now this Arnab Goswami case getting preferential treatment and quick grant of relief by the supreme court. Top lawyer Mukul Rohatgi appearing on behalf of Arnab Goswami itself reflect that only those who are close to present political power structure can get early hearing in any court. We can also not ignore the fact that ministers and political heavy weights publicly spoke for their favoured TV journalist. Such obvious connectivity and glaring preference shown by the Supreme Court registry hints at the obnoxious and unfortunate influence of mighty and powerful lobby on the functioning of the apex court . There are apprehensions in the mind of people that this constitutional judicial pillar of the democracy may let down the people of the country. Expressions that ‘any rot in the executive work of courts and that too in Supreme Court, will result in nation loosing faith in its judicial system’, are now not uncommon. Worst will be the adverse impact on delivery of justice by the higher courts. Sadly the deterioration in the functioning of the judiciary will result in common man loosing faith and trust that it has for the top Court. And , unfortunately, judiciary itself is going to be held responsible for this sharp decline in its functioning and delivery of justice in recent times. I conclude with a reader’s comment in a newspaper:
“One institution in India which is most corrupt but not affected by any police or vigilance organisation or investigation is judiciary and its administration………………………After all, the courts have become pandemic towards the problems of litigants for whose sake the courts are working . God save this country”.