Justice T S Thakur, the most senior judge in the Supreme Court who is due to take charge from Chief Justice of India H L Dattu in December this year, on Sunday said the judiciary was not “too ambitious” nor did it want to take over governance but it would be expected to act in public interest if “there is complete deficit in governance… when the darkness is all around”.
Critical of inefficiency and lack of will by the executive to act, Justice Thakur said the judiciary’s commitment to reforms in the country was unquestionable and it would not look the other way when citizens knock on its door in hope of justice.
“Our attention towards public interest jurisdiction is not because we want to take over governance, or because the judiciary is too ambitious and also not because we have a grudge against people who have the power and authority. It is only because of the necessity of the situation,” he said while delivering the first Kapila Hingorani memorial lecture in New Delhi.
“If there is a complete failure of the system and there is no hope for the citizens, if there is complete deficit in the governance, where else should citizens go? If such is the situation, should the courts show fidelity to various strict principles when the people are suffering, when most of them cannot even afford to come to the Supreme Court? When the darkness is all around, don’t you think we will be asked to take over so many dimensions of governance?”
The remarks by the judge who will be the next CJI with a term of more than a year comes at a time when the NDA government has been successful in enacting a law to take away the exclusivity of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts in appointing fellow judges.
The setting up of the National Judicial Appointments Commission after scrapping the collegium system is seen by a majority in the legal fraternity as an attempt to chain the independence of the judiciary and impose the domination of the executive.
Speaking on the topic, ‘Evolving standards for a humane criminal justice system’, Justice Thakur pointed out that the judiciary has always been forthright in issuing directives to protect the rights of the people but the implementation has to be done by those in bureaucracy and government.
“Is it a case of failure of the judiciary or the government when despite several judgements and orders by the courts, nothing changes on ground? I would say that judiciary has done its duty if the law is clear on the point and appropriate directions have been issued,” he said.
Justice Thakur said that those in administration and governance, who were duty-bound to act to correct wrongs and improve the state of affairs, must be made to act since all stakeholders will require to work in tandem to bring about positive changes in society.
Referring to the Ganga clean-up — a PIL that has been pending for more than 15 years — he said while hearing this case, he realised that Ganga remained as dirty and polluted as it was when the matter started despite the court issuing several directions. He said the executive’s will had been lacking and those who were supposed to act must now be made responsible for their actions.
The lecture was organised in memory of senior advocate Kapila Hingorani who was described by Justice Thakur as the “mother of public interest jurisdiction” in India. It was a PIL by Kapila Hingorani and her husband N K Hingorani, moved exactly 36 years ago in 1979, that became the first PIL filed in the Supreme Court and also entertained.
The PIL was filed for the release of 17 inmates from jails in Muzaffarpur and Patna, Bihar. They had been incarcerated for a period longer than what they had to serve even after conviction. This PIL led the Supreme Court to issue path-breaking verdicts and expand the scope of Article 21 (right to life) to include right to speedy trial and also right to free legal aid.