A major thrust should be towards improving and consolidating selection processes so that only people with integrity get elevated to the top
A constant and consistent pattern is emerging in the corridors of the Indian judiciary, particularly the apex court. The design, indicative of attacks on the Chief Justices of India (CJIs), past, present or incoming, is neither a desirable sign for the judiciary nor is it, in any which way, a healthy measure of our democracy. Though one cannot, in truth, deny that there have been instances of corruption in the judiciary, but to taint and paint all with one brush is in no way serving the nation or standing up for that which is right. Those who make unfounded allegations vitiate the atmosphere, reduce the strength and independence of the judiciary and gradually make it supine and weak. Subsequently, over a period of time, due to the constant and consistent attacks on the judicial system, it begins to crumble and has no option but to start leaning towards the executive for support.
When the judiciary begins to shake and eventually tremble, anticipating the unending onslaught of attacks, then the entire system cries foul and finally alleges that the judgments are not strong enough to ensure that justice is delivered in every possible sense. So, at a time like this, it is prudent to ponder whether Public Interest Litigations (PILs) do more harm to the judicial system than to the individual judges. It is a fact, that in spite of a major hue and cry, a particular judge of the Supreme Court continued unaffected and happy till his retirement. No media campaign or public scrutiny could alter this position. But it is an equally disturbing truth that the image of the judiciary not only got dented but also went down in the eyes of the citizens of the country.
That poses a very pertinent question to all stakeholders in our democracy: is this trend healthy and does it serve any purpose to any constituent? The larger question also related to the issue is whether this continuing trend shall visibly shake the citizenry’s faith in the judicial ecosystem? Because, make no mistake about it, the country’s judicial ecosystem and all the stakeholders in it have been facing erosion one inch at a time owing to multiple events which have unfolded in the recent past.If this goes unchecked, we are heading for real bad times that will not just impact the judiciary but will threaten democracy itself.
The one feasible option forward is to improve the system, alter the way it functions today, rather than demolish it brick by brick, with allegations and complaints. A major thrust should be towards stressing on the need to simultaneously improve and consolidate the judicial system, so that only individuals with impeccable integrity get selected by the Collegium and make it to the top. Most importantly, if the system is strong, then individuals do not matter in actual terms.
The judicial system is a complex jigsaw puzzle with many entities from the Bar and the Bench, the ever-growing number of litigants, the media, the restless people of the country empowered by the social media and PILs — an array of coteries that keep fighting among themselves for one reason or the other. In the end, if the judicial processes in India do not end up becoming robust and protected, all the stakeholders in the system would end up being the major losers. It is to be first acknowledged that there are a series of attempts being made by outsiders to precipitate fights and differences between the Bar and the Bench and these should be collectively thwarted by the entire judicial system.
People who are placing individuals and individual interests over and above institutional interests are not bothered about the system and in the process end up committing a great disservice to the nation. Needless to say, they ultimately forget that they would end up being the biggest losers in the long run. However, what remains unrealised is that the real casualty in this prolonged tug of war is the sanctity and the institutional integrity of the system itself. Such people will realise finally that by fighting some robed luminaries, they may emerge as crusaders in the short-term but in the long haul end up causing greater damage to the system to which they owe everything, and destroy its credibility making it vulnerable to the core. Does such a judicial system serve any purpose?
The CJIs are such luminaries who come with the heft of decades of dedicated service in the judiciary and a great service to the nation at large. The testimony of evidence for this emanates from the hundreds of judgments penned in their capacities as judges at various High Courts and subsequently upon their elevation to the apex court. A flurry of allegations against them at the time of elevation shows the judiciary in a bad light and causes the people to lose faith in them and question their every move. It is the solemn duty of all stakeholders in the Bar and the Bench to wake up to this bid to tarnish individuals and thereby weaken the system. It is time to pause, introspect and react.
(The writer is a Special Correspondent of The Pioneer)