Judiciary is one of the fundamental pillars of a democracy which ensures that the democratic system is run by the rule of law not by the whims and fancies of the rulers. It is one of the biggest checks and balances which prevents a democracy to go on the path of authoritarianism and take turn of autocracy. That’s why the independence of the judiciary is a paramount issue for a healthy democracy.
But the independence of the judiciary has been compromised at different points of time in India. Whenever it has been compromised, the rulers have gone unchecked and the system took turn of authoritarianism. People’s rights have been violated and getting justice against the government became a distant dream for the citizens. This is the situation the country has been going through under the Narendra Modi government.
The story of two judges former chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Punjab High Court judge Murlidhar sheds glaring light how seriously the independence of the judiciary has been compromised. The one who gave verdicts in favor of the Central government has been rewarded and the one who pulled up the Delhi police for discharging its responsibility during Delhi pogrom has been transferred.
Gogoi’s nomination by the Central government to the Rajya Sabha is the most glaring example of compromised Supreme Court as it has been pointed out by his fellow judges. Justice Gogoi headed several benches as the chief justice delivered the verdict in the favor of those people which the government wanted. One of the most sensitive issue was the dispute of Babri Masjid title suit. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose leaders are facing criminal charges for demolishing Babri Masjid, has been advocating for building Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid was once stood. Gogoi-headed bench of the Supreme Court ordered to build Ram temple at the site where the Babri masjid stood. The controversial judgment has been questioned widely by the legal experts.
Gogoi-headed bench also gave clean chit to the Modi government in the allegations of corruption in the Rafael deal without any investigation into the matter. The Supreme Court bench under him also refused to order the investigation into the mysterious death of Judge Loya, who was hearing Shohrabuddin fake encounter case in which Amit Shah was prime accused. It was under Gogoi, the Supreme Court delayed hearing the cases of revocation of article 370, Kashmir lockdown and detention of Kashmir’s political leaders.
Now months after demitting the CJI’s office, Gogoi has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Central government. This unprecedented move has not only sparked outrage but also drew serious doubts and questions over the judgments delivered by him. This is not only the compromise with the independence of the Supreme Court but also a clear case of quid pro quo as pointed out by former Judges Justice Kurein Joseph and Justice AP Shah.
There is another glaring example which also shows that how the judiciary is working under the influence of the government. Justice Murlidhar of Delhi High Court has been transferred in the mid of the hearing at the midnight after he pulled up the Delhi police for failing to lodge FIR against the BJP leaders Kapil Mishra, Union minister Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Prvesh Verma for giving hate speeches. Justice Murlidhar had asked the police to file FIR against these leaders. He also pulled up the police for failing to contain the Delhi violence. These judicial directions against the BJP leaders and Delhi police angered the government and he was removed from the case immediately before the completion of the hearing and sent to the Punjab High Court. It was Justice Murlidhar who ordered the Delhi police to allow the ambulance carrying the injured in Delhi violence to reach the hospital while the violence was going on.
Former High Court judge AP Shah revealed in an interview that the transfer of Justice Murlidhar was proposed earlier too because of Murlidhar’s anti-establishment attitude. But it was opposed by other judges and he remained in the Delhi High Court. Finally when he pulled up the Delhi police over the Delhi carnage, he was transferred to the Punjab High Court at the midnight.
These two cases show that how deeply the government is influencing on the decisions of the judiciary. It is not just compromised but people have lost faith in it. After Gogoi’s retirement, the similar situation is prevailing in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to hear urgently over the brutal crackdown on students of Jamia Millia Islamia by the Delhi Police during the protests. The apex court has been delaying to hear the case of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) despite the country erupted into massive protest against the discriminatory citizenship law.
These cases in point show that the expectation of justice from the judiciary against the government is a distant dream. Its independence has seriously been damaged. The judiciary especially the Supreme Court has been losing its legitimacy every day.
As prominent columnist Bhanu Pratap Mehta in his Indian Express column wrote “We should be deeply grateful to Justice Ranjan Gogoi. His conduct has disabused us of any illusions we might harbour about the legitimacy of the Indian Supreme Court”.