The judiciary and the executive cannot be at loggerheads in a welfare State as it would make citizens jittery and lose faith in the system
The kind of storm which the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 has kicked up is, perhaps, unprecedented as it deals with the subject of future citizenship and not the current. The matter is now resting the opinion of the Supreme Court (SC) for its constitutional validity, which will hear 59 petitions filed in opposition of the law on January 22, 2020. It would be interesting to note whether the views of the judiciary and the executive would converge on an issue as sensitive as this one. In the case of Ayodhya, the apex court’s verdict has established well that law cannot be detached from the interests of the people it serves. There was a raging debate whether the Ayodhya verdict was based on credible and admissible evidence or was it influenced by the faith and belief of the majority? Irrespective, the verdict was peacefully accepted by all the factions, not necessarily for its veracity but for bringing to end a painful impasse. What is clearly visible and undebatable is that it brought peace finally.
There would be peace if two conditions are fulfilled. One, the interests of the larger sections of the people must be put above all else. To punish a few guilty, we cannot make the masses suffer along with them. Second, there cannot be a chasm between the views of the executive and the judiciary, which would otherwise make citizens jittery and lose faith in the system altogether. Imagine being brought up by two warring parents.
This ethos of acting in public interest and going along with the views of the executive must now be extended to end pain in other areas as well. Take livelihoods as an example, where the case of Goans has been hanging for far too long. Goa was the only State where mining rights were granted to its citizens by the Portuguese Government in perpetuity, but were eventually revoked by the Indian Government. Ever since the apex court abruptly cancelled 88 mining leases in the State on February 7, 2018, life has come to a grinding, tragic halt for mining dependents in the State. This is now no longer just an economic crisis — which is severely debilitating in its own right — but a grave human crisis as well. Such is the situation that the Goa Government has requested a review of the ban by the SC, which is also pending. Jobs and livelihoods disappearing overnight as a result of judicial intervention is painful, particularly at a time when India is going through the worst employment crisis in the last 40 years. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the country’s employment reached the lowest rate in 2017-2018.
Earlier, in 2012, the SC cancelled 122 spectrum licences in response to a PIL filed by a host of activists and to answer the question whether the Government had a right to distribute natural resources in a manner that was not “fair and transparent.” This affected 5.3 crore telephone connections. It was alleged that the exchequer lost Rs 1.76 lakh crore in revenue and a few private telecom players were the beneficiaries. This case was highlighted as among the top 10 abuses of power by Time magazine. The verdict shook the country, changed the contours of a developing telecom industry, made new telecom operators wrap up their business and gave the reins of the sector into the hands of a few business groups.
In a reversal in 2017, a special court in New Delhi acquitted all the accused in the 2G spectrum case citing that the CBI could not find any evidence against the accused in seven years. As per the judgment, “Some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels.” The matter now rests with the Delhi High Court on basis of appeals filed by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. The key question is as to why the case could not have been tried without cancelling the licences? The court should have allowed business to continue, while the case would have carried on. By invoking closure of business, the court caused collateral damage to the industry, the economy and most importantly to the livelihoods of people employed by the companies that had to close shop.
Studies have established that India’s Maoist movement is deeply rooted in socio-economic conditions prevalent in parts of India with large tribal populations. It has mostly affected areas where there is a conflict between the State and the populace on the economic derivation of forest produce and mining such as in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and agriculture in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Such aggressive posturing by citizens has huge direct and indirect costs. The purpose of the law is to create a conducive environment for the citizens of the State. However, sometimes, like in the Goa mining ban and the spectrum case, the law and its interpretation has spelled doom for citizens and businesses. This cannot become a precedent and must be addressed immediately. Situations like these need more complex solutions, just like the CAA. It is simplistic to penalise lakhs of people for the actions of the few with the stroke of a pen, and it is certainly not done.
(Writer: Abhay Raj Mishra; Courtesy: The Pioneer)