The upper echelons of the Indian judiciary have long been active in public affairs. Recently, however, they realized that they may have gone a bit too far. This has sparked a lively debate on whether the Supreme Court of India has interfered too much or too little with socio-political affairs in India.
Indira Jaising has a very interesting column about the issue:
Let us remember that in the Supreme Court, the discussion is confined to a handful of Constitutional ‘experts’, making it very undemocratic. While this is acceptable for matters of legitimacy in the domain of the judiciary, it is not acceptable for larger social justice and policy issues.
While Justice A K Mathur and Justice Markandey Katju commented that there have to be limits to judicial activism, Justice S B Sinha retaliates the following day refusing to decide the issue whether women prisoners in jail are being denied their rights. Further, the high court retaliates by refusing to decide a petition relating to beggars, for being chastised by the Supreme Court in entertaining all petitions in public interest.
And while the judges fight it out, justice suffers.
The other side of this debate may be summarized by viewing the comments on the above article; however, being the usual Rediff comments, they are couched in language and attitude too abysmal to quote. Essentially, the Supreme court has the status of a hero with many people (including, to some extent, me) – with its popular stance on many issues such as reservations, ragging and human rights. And of course, all Indians complain that the legislature of this country does absolutely nothing. Scarce a week in session passes by without near violence in Parliament, and recent reports of of MPs slacking don’t help. There’s long been a feeling of tiredness with our elected representatives; and we can’t help but applaud when an institution with a semblance of matched power steps in firmly and seemingly on our behalf. The people of India would like someone, anyone, to fix their problems, while they focus on how much money they can make now that the Sensex has gone above the 20,000 mark; and the judiciary seems a not wholly inaccurate approximation to what we need.
Nevertheless, Ms. Jaising’s argument and the judiciary’s self-reproach must be taken seriously. The judiciary isn’t there to do the dishes and clean up Parliament’s mess. Multiple branches of government exist to provide checks and balances, not backups. The parliament being lousy isn’t enough reason to have the judiciary start making national policy.
The scary thing about democracy is we get the government that we deserve. While I’d like for someone, maybe even myself, to just go in and fix some glaring issues in this country, I wouldn’t trade it for living in a democracy. At the end of the day, it’s the voters who must do the hard work for progress. As they say, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.