DOST KHAN / ANCHOR
JAMMU: Politics has been playing havoc in Indian democracy. It hasn’t even spared the judiciary, the most credible and trusted pillar of the democracy. In recent months, the nation witnessed with disgust the judiciary and the political executive coming eyeball to eyeball situation. The intermittent controversies between the then Chief Justice of India and the NDA Government over appointment of Judges are still fresh in public memory. When the judiciary asserts itself, the executive feels peeved. That doesn’t, however, suggest that the judiciary succumbs to political pressures when there is harmony between the two pillars democracy.
Indian judiciary demonstrated its strength in unequivocal terms when a sitting Prime Minister was unseated in a famous electoral malpractice case against the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which changed the course of democracy. The path-breaking 1975 judgment led to imposition of Emergency, a dark chapter of Indian democracy but judiciary had triumphed.
If unseating of Indira Gandhi, most powerful politicians of her times, is strength of the Indian judiciary, its decisions at times raises questions in public mind when some sort of urgency is shown in the cases involving influential and celebrities. Treatment meted out to actor Salman Khan after his conviction in a hit and run case raised several questions about India’s justice system. After being found guilty of culpable homicide in May 2015, the Bombay High Court overturned the judgment of a lower court in December same year. While the original judgement was hailed as a crucial sign of accountability in a legal system that later appeared to set different standard. The urgency with which the actor’s bail after conviction got processed also speaks volumes. Within an hour of the conviction, his lawyers managed copies of the judgment, processed the documents for appeal and actually sought bail from the competent court. This jet speed must be first of its kind in the country, as otherwise it takes days to get the judgment copies for processing the bail application.
Salman Khan was accused of killing a pavement dweller under the influence of liquor. The apex court has, in one of the recent judgments banning liquor shops on highways, observed that most of the accidental deaths on roads take place due to negligence of drunken drivers. Driving under inebriated condition is an offence itself but nobody has bothered to seek the data as to how many people on wheels have been challaned or booked for driving in drunken condition.
The two sample cases of Indira Gandhi and Salman Khan speak of different yardsticks of India’s legal system at different times. Though motives cannot be attributed to judges, who are still being seen above board by people of this country yet the perception that the judiciary is free from political interference should not only be real but also appear to be so. This is important for retaining trust and confidence of the people who believe in rule of law. The long rope enjoyed by politicians like Sasikala and others in the Indian political class shatters peoples’ faith. The judiciary will have to dispel such a perception by retaining its impartial character. In fact, the judiciary should continue to play the role of a savior, as the reckless politicians have led the nation to anarchy like situation.
Encouraged and patronised by unscrupulous political class, the bureaucracy and the law enforcing agencies have become partners in diluting the rule of law besides delaying and influencing judicial process, which is why the cases continue to linger on for decades and the rate of convictions being dismal. Such a tendency is costing the national security, among other areas of public life, adversely.
In a state like Jammu and Kashmir, the obstacles in the judicial process by those supposed to assist the courts in reaching conclusions is becoming brazen and glaring with each passing day. Last week only, a local court acquitted three terrorists by giving them benefit of doubt. This, in other words, means that the prosecuting agencies left crucial blanks in the investigations may be deliberately, to favour the accused. Here comes role for the judiciary to assert itself and pinpoint the lacunas. This will enhance peoples’ faith in the legal system. This has happened but the courts have generally let the prosecuting agencies go scot-free. On 24th April 2013, a Principal Sessions Judge in Jammu and Kashmir indicted the prosecution for failing to prove cases against a Hizbul Mujahideen militant and his associate. They were allegedly arrested in 2004 along with arms, ammunition, and incriminating material etcetera. More emphatic, however, was the verdict of another Principal Sessions Judge on 17th January 2013 which acquitted two alleged militants by observing that the case was investigated recklessly by the investigating agency.
Had suo motto action been taken by the courts against the erring investigators, many terrorists or their over-ground supporters would not have been roaming as respectable and carrying out campaigns against the nation. Jammu and Kashmir has been reeling under terrorism for nearly three decades. During this period over 60, 000 persons having links with terror violence or being active terrorists have been arrested. The figures can’t be final, as no website has been maintained in this regard by the government for obvious reasons. It can be political. But politics over the terror crime ultimately raises several questions over the judicial system. Therefore, it is for assertive judiciary to be pro-active and set norms for unscrupulous politicians, conniving law enforcing agencies and supportive bureaucracy to assist it in enforcing rule of law, as else the peoples’ faith will continue to get impacted. That will be a bad day for Indian democracy when its people lose faith in their judiciary.
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© 2017 State Times Daily Newspaper