While the government is silent on Dalit groups’ demand for removal of Justice (retd) A K Goel as National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson, senior Congress leader and former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar on Sunday came out in his support.
Two Union ministers, Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale, have said there is resentment among Dalit groups against Justice Goel, one of the two judges on a Supreme Court bench which laid down safeguards, including provisions for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary enquiry” before registration of a case under the SC/ ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Goel was appointed NGT chairperson after he retired as a Supreme Court judge.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, attacked the BJP government, accusing it of having unleashed a “systematic persecution” of Dalits.
Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the demand for removal of the NGT chairman on the basis of a judgment rendered by him in the exercise of its constitutional function cannot be justified.
“Such a demand is an assault on judicial independence and a breach of their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, in as much as the demand amounts to an interference with judges’ exercise of their constitutional duties and disrespect for the judgement that has become final and binding by the command of the Constitution,” he said.
Interestingly, the Congress had echoed demands for Justice Goel’s removal in Lok Sabha on Thursday with its member Kodikunnil Suresh saying the entire Dalit community has expressed concern over the “wrong message” sent by Goel’s appointment.
Kumar said in a statement, “While it is open for those who disagree with the judgment to criticise it and to explore available mechanisms to undo the same, it is not permissible within the constitutional scheme to browbeat judges of superior courts for their judicial pronouncements.”
He said the “nation must stand together on principle and ensure that constitutional morality prevails over political expediency. Indeed, political motivation in an election year must not be allowed to defeat the first principles of constitutional morality.”
Rahul, meanwhile, hit out at the BJP for the rising incidents of “atrocities against Dalits”. In a letter to the head of the Congress’s Scheduled Caste Department Nitin Raut, Rahul said it is important for the party to reach out to the victims of the “mindless violence” and publicly support them.
“The hate speeches made by various BJP ministers and leaders, exhorting their followers to target certain communities encourages local goons to act with impunity. The inaction of the BJP state governments, especially in Uttar Pradesh, has created an atmosphere of fear among Dalits and religious minorities,” the letter said.