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The Supreme Court has now stated in an Order that strikes and bandhas are a part of the freedom of expression. As reported by the Times of India, this despite a Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that the calling of a bandh is not permitted by the Constitution. This post may be treated as explaining the nature and history of this right under the Constitution.

The right to strike as such is held to be sacred to the history of labour movements and unfolds with the idea of socialism and industrial disputes in our Country. While the Industrial Dispute Act has appropriate provisions to regulate the calling of strikes, in Kameshwar Prasad v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 1166. the Court held that there is no right to resort to a strike under the Indian Constitution and doing so would be violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens who would be affected by it. In TK Rangarajan v. Gov. of Tamilnadu, the Court while deciding on Jayalalitha’s sacking of service officers for striking held that;

“law on this subject is well settled and it has been repeatedly held that the employees have no fundamental right to resort to a strike. Take strike in any field, it can easily be realized that the weapon does more harm than any justice. The sufferer is the society- the public at large”.

 As regards bandhs, the case referred to by the Times of India is that of Communist Party of India v. Bharat Kumar, (1998 ) 1 SCC 201. The court held here that there cannot be any right to call or enforce a bandh which interferes with the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of other citizen, in addition to causing national loss in many ways. Under no circumstances, does the Constitution give sanction to such a right. Interestingly, this case was an appeal from the kerala HC on a decision that the present Chief justice Balakrishnan (then as a HC judge) had ruled.

 So day before yesterday when the Court was asked to issue a stay on the bandh issued by the DMK as a protest for the treatment of the tamils in Srilanka; there was clear precedence that the Court should have done so. However, what the Court did do was to state;

“What has this Court to do with stopping strikes? India is a democratic state where everyone has a right to express their feelings”

In one sitting, taking not more than an hour I am told, the Court deviated from years of precedence and ruled otherwise. This is outrageous in my personal opinion. Writing on the Indian judiciary, one foreign author wrote that what is fascinating about the Indian Supreme Court is how serious questions of policy and law are decided by an unelected elite in just a few minutes of argument in Court. This departing from a formal process of lawmaking which takes months of thinking in that area.

The author has made a right comment and it has a great bearing in the present situation. The Court should not have stated something like this. When the case comes up for hearing again on the 15th of feb., it is hoped that it would realize its folly and make amendments to its order.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

Soli Sorabjee’s writ petition in the Supreme Court asking it to order the government to take measures to effectively deal with terrorism has created quite an interest amongst legal circles. Law and Other Things has detailed posts on it and Abhinav Chandrachud gives and interesting analysis on the ‘Right against Terror’ here.

I also have written here that the petition rests on the rationale that there is a Constitutional duty of the State to protect its citizens under Article 21; where as the Court earlier hasn’t stated any such duty.

In this post, I would like to explore another dimension to this writ. If the contentions in the writ be accepted then it is my opinion that it would have serious consequences on the way the government is run under the Constitution. My argument is that while judicial interference in legislative and executive functions already takes place, doing so in matters of policy and security of the State is warranted neither by the Constitution nor Constitutional law and doing so would belittle the idea of constitutional supremacy.

A reading of Article 355 would allow us to infer that it is the foremost duty of the central government to defend the borders of the Country. This also includes a duty to prevent any internal disturbance and maintain law and order. However, in as early as 1959, the Supreme Court in Memon Haji Ismail’s case held that declarations of war & matters concerning the defence of India are instances on which a Court cannot form any judgment. ‘defence of India’ could include both external aggression and internal disturbance. It could also be that they are to be considered as matters of policy and the Court cannot in any way tell the centre as to how the Government should be run.

Having established that the defence of the Country is exclusively in the realm of the Central Government, in State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, the Court held that it cannot assume unto itself powers the Constitution lodges elsewhere or undertake tasks entrusted to the Constitution to other departments of the State which may be better equipped to perform them.

“Questions of political wisdom or executive policy only could not be subject to judicial control. So long as such policy operates in its own sphere, its operations are immune from judicial process.”

Thus, asking the Centre by a writ to better equip the police and forces with the latest weapons would be interfering into a realm exclusive to the executive.

But in my opinion, the starkest revelation to the dangers of what may happen have been put forth by Justice BN Shrikrishna’s article titled ‘Skinning the Cat’ (2005) 8 SCC (jour) 3 where in he says;

“I wish to point to a recent and disturbing trend of using the judiciary to second guess unambiguously legislative and executive powers. Indeed, our judges have succumbed to the temptation to interfere even with well- recognized executive powers such as treaty making and foreign relations. …

One Shudders to think whither this trend could lead- whether, for example, the constitutionality of a declaration of war or peace treaty (or matter concerning the defence of the Country) could also be questioned in a Court of law? If the courts were to strike down the peace treaty as being unconstitutional, would the armed forces be compelled to pursue the war under judicial mandamus?

Indeed my mind boggles at such eventualities, however improbable they may appear, given the new found enthusiasm for judicial activism in areas that are inarguable no pasaran (they shall not pass) for the judges”

Perhaps Justice Shrikrishna’s fears may just come true with this case.

 


Sarabnanda Sonowal v. Union of India, (2005) 5 SCC 665.

(1977) 3 SCC 592

 

 

This comes as news to all the politicos in Andhra Pradesh wanting to form Telangana.

The AP High Court has now reserved its order on a PIL on whether the government has the power to divide a state into smaller states.

The petition is based on the contention that a state cannot be bifurcated without the consent of its people and going by this; Amendments 5 and 7 to Article 3 of the Constitution should be declared unconstitutional.

“Article 3 of the Constitution gives the power to the Parliament to form a new state or alter areas or boundaries. Under the Constitution, the State legislature has no role to play in this act. Though the President is bound to refer the Bill to the state legislature; in Babulal v. State of Bombay, AIR 1960 SC 51, it was held that the Parliament is not bound to accept or act upon the views of the State Legislature.”

 

On a political front, this case may have a huge impact on the upcoming AP state elections where Telangana can now again become an issue.

On a legal front, the consequences are much greater. It was after IR Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu that amendments to the Constitution were open to challenge to the basic structure and the rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21. However, it was held that only those amendments after 1973 would be open to challenge.

Challenging the 3rd and 5th Amendments now would be against the ruling in Coelho’s case and it would interesting to see how the Court goes about to answer this question. 

PS: The Article was in the TOI issue dated 24th Jan 2009 in the HYD “times city” section. I cannot get the link and shall upload it as soon as i get hold of it. 

I learnt today that apparently the Chief Justice and his office do not constitute a ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information Act.

This, after the Supreme Court petitioned the Delhi High Court against an order passed by the Central Information Commission asking the CJI to disclose as to whether the judges of the Supreme Court were disclosing their assets to him.

 

In a brief background to the situation, a resolution was passed on May 7, 1997 requiring every judge to declare to the CJI assets including properties or any other investment in the name of their spouse and any person dependent on them.  Earlier petitions regarding the disclosure of assets of judges under the RTI were dismissed on the ground of such information not being in the ‘public domain’. However, in this order, the CIC did not ask for the disclosure of assets but as to whether the practice set out in the resolution of 1997 was still being followed.

 

In the petition before the Delhi High Court, the Supreme Court (as a petitioner) stated that this practice was only ‘informal’ in nature and that there was nothing in the Constitution or any other law ‘mandating’ the judges of the Supreme Court to disclose their assets to the CJI. I now know that the Delhi High Court has issued a stay on the CIC order and the next date of hearing is set on 12th February 2009.

Questions are raised when the most powerful organ of the Government sheds and denies any degree of accountability upon itself. In Association of Democratic Reforms v. Union of India, the Court had asked candidates standing for elections to disclose their assets stating that in a democracy, those in power must behave responsibly and know that they ultimately work at the behest of the people. Much earlier, it had asked IAS officers to disclose their assets and ordered authorities to keep a check on them.

At both the above instances, the Court judged on the basis that the Right to information was a constitutional and fundamental right of the citizens; thus holding that in the case of the legislature and the executive, this right must not be denied to the citizens. The Right to Information Act was passed to give effect to this constitutional right.

However, when the Apex Court denies this responsibility upon itself and ensures its performance among other organs of government, it is using double standards. There is a tint of supremacy of the Court over the Constitution here which I would say is no where mandated by the Constitution. In the Hamlyn Law Lectures, MC Mehta had stated,

“there is no theory of judicial supremacy in India, but that of Constitutional Supremacy”.

So if there does exist a theory of Constitutional supremacy in India, surely the Court should not place itself above the Constitution. If the argument is that the Right to Information Act does not look upon the Court as a public authority, surely under the rights guaranteed by part III, this disclosure of assets can be achieved; just as done in the case of the executive and the legislature (In both cases, the RTI Act did not exist).

V Venkatesan of Law and Other Things wrote a post here on the CIC decision that was passed on the 6th of January 2009. He says;

“Although the decision pertains to the RTI question on the declaration of assets by the Judges of High Court and the Supreme Court, it has set an important precedent to make the Higher Judiciary truly accountable. It will be unfortunate if the Supreme Court appeals against the decision in the High Court, in which case, the Judges hearing the appeal may not be able to decide the appeal objectively in view of the apparent conflict of interests.”

I will not be faltering when I say that I share the same concern. 

 

 

NewsWire. 

Pathik sends us this Post;

The Union Law and Justice Minister H R Bhardwaj announced recently that 3,000 gram nyayalayas (village courts) would start functioning within a month (by March) across the country. This is an important step in decentralizing the justice delivery system and to promote expeditious adjudication and resolution of disputes. This step towards decentralization at the lower judiciary level, where over 2.5 crore cases are pending disposal, will attract more attention especially in light of the law commission’s recent suggestion of setting up circuit courts or benches of the Supreme Court in different parts of the country.

The proposal to set up 3000 gram nyayalayas was announced by Mr. Bhardwaj at a conference organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) on the “Need for Strengthening Alternate dispute Resolution in India.” A budget of 600 crores, which the Finance Ministry is willing to release, has been sanctioned for this project. Each Court would end up with a corpus of around 20 lakh rupees.

This announcement comes subsequent to the passing of the Gram Nyayalayas Bill, 2008 by the Parliament on December 21, 2008. The bill had earlier been passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 17, 2008. The essential feature of the bill is that it provides for holding of mobile courts and conducting proceedings by the ‘Nyaya Adhikari’ (Judicial Magistrates First Class) by periodically visiting the villages.

The main objectives of the Bill can be summarized as follows:-

a)      To provide speedy, affordable and substantive justice to the poor at grass root level in the rural areas at their doorstep.

b)      Gram Nyayalaya will act as Subordinate Court at Intermediate Panchayat level.

c)      The Gram Nyayalayas so established will be in addition to the civil and criminal courts established under any other law  for the time being in force.

d)      The Central Government will bear all the non-recurring expenditure for setting up of the Gram Nyayalayas and will bear half of the recurring expenditure for three years after setting up of the Gram Nyayalayas.

e)      The Gram Nyayalayas will be empowered to deal with both criminal cases as well as civil cases as per the procedure laid down in the Gram Nyayalayas Bill

This would ensure that inexpensive and efficacious justice is delivered to the remotest areas possible