One may disagree with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on some of the things he said at the conference of state chief justices in New Delhi on Sunday but that he flagged some issues and spoke freely without reservations is as it should be.
His remarks against “five-star activism,” warning that judges must not fall prey to “perception-driven verdicts” are significant and were imbued with a hidden message.
While he did not spell out who are the five-star activists he was talking about, if he was referring to those like Prashant Bhushan who revel in filing public interest litigations, there is cause to dispute his thinking. Some PILs have done a yeomen service to the people at large and he ought to acknowledge that. Perhaps at the back of his mind was also the manner in which human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who is his bête noire was prevented from arrest by a seemingly sympathetic judiciary that he evidently felt went by perception rather than the letter of law.
Modi’s call to judges to introspect and to do “self-assessment” cannot be faulted because it is a fact that there is an awe of the judiciary that prevents people from publicly criticizing the judges or the judgements.
The Prime Minister’s advice to judges to be fearless when it comes to “five-star activists” and his observation that judges a decade ago were more fearless than they are today is a point of view that is debatable. That Chief Minister Dattu refuted him on that was apt and showed a healthy streak.
Modi’s expression of disenchantment with the tendency for ministries to rely heavily on tribunals so much so that there are over 100 tribunals headed by retired judges at work today and his advice to the courts to take over the functions of these tribunals should be duly examined by the Chief Justice of India in due seriousness.
In so far as the meeting of chief justices of high courts with the Prime Minister reflected an attitude of honest give and take it is a step that must be welcomed. More such interactions must be organized and there must be candidness in examining issues.
It is true that there is a general reluctance to question the judiciary’s doings which needs to be thought over.