Eminent jurist Fali S Nariman today appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee to guard against attempts to muzzle dissent, which he said, is essential for an effective democracy to function and cautioned against a growing perception that the country can be more effectively governed only when all executive powers lie with “one person”.
Speaking at a book release function at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the presence of Mukherjee and Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, Nariman addressed himself directly to the President from the dais as he sought to underscore the importance of dissent and republican form of democracy in India.
Supreme Court judges Justices Kurian Joseph and A K Sikri, West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi and various other sitting and retired judges were also present at the function to launch “Statement of Indian Law,” (Thomson Reuters) authored by advocate Govind Goel, which covers the over 2000 judgments of the Constitution Bench since the inception of the apex court.
“Mr President, I have been deeply worried and concerned over the past several months with an impression fast-gaining ground amongst large number of thinking persons in this country that it is only with executive powers concentrated in one person that this country can be more effectively governed. I beg to differ,” he said.
Nariman added that in spite of all the defects in the manner in which parliamentary system of governance is conducted, “for an effective democracy to function, there must be dissent and some consequential disturbance as well.”
The senior lawyer went on to narrate an incident when his friend and a parliamentarian Piloo Mody had gone to Pakistan to meet Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the latter awaited execution on the charges of murder. On his return, Mody told Nariman that Bhutto used to make fun of Indian democracy but this time he said he now acknowledged the supreme importance of the noise and chaos of a parliamentary system of democracy.
“Noise with resultant chaos, we have to accept in a parliamentary system of democracy, because any other system necessarily leads to arrogance of power, autocracy and dictatorship which has to be avoided at all costs,” asserted Nariman, adding veiled attempts by the government to tinker with the parliamentary democracy by amendments to the Constitution would be a “disaster.”
He said: “Mr President, I believe that all of us, and you above all, must guard against this and I must express this mortal fear of mine openly to the person best positioned to receive it.”
At the event, Mukherjee, who received the first copy of the book, pointed out that a meagre one per cent of the apex court’s judgments had been overruled by the Supreme Court Constitution Benches whereas the number of times it has overruled constitutional amendments is more. “There is a desirability to revisit the Constitution Bench judgments based on contemporaneous needs,” he said.
Pointing out that unlike in the US, the judges in India’s Supreme Court are not appointed through a political process, Mukherjee maintained that “self-imposed discipline and restraint” remain the only checks for the judiciary and that it must also help in keeping the balance of power by letting each organ of democracy function in its own sphere.
“Judiciary must introspect and whenever need arise, it must self-correct to meet the evolving needs,” added the President.
He applauded Chief Justice Thakur’s attempts to fill vacancies and said it always pleased him to put his accord on a file relating to making appointments in the judiciary.
Justice Thakur spoke about Goel’s book: “The (book) is a brilliant anthology…it sums up an array of judgments of the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court right from inception and comes as a much-needed and long awaited publication for the Bench, the Bar and the students of law alike.”
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