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Move the wheels of justice

| | in Oped
Move the wheels  of justice

It’s a disgrace that while our courts and babus are busy waging war amongst themselves, neither justice nor governance is within the grasp of the common man

It is ironical that quite a few of our political worthies find time to intercede in matters of which they are either wholly ignorant or which should be of little concern to them, whilst ignoring more pressing matters of governance that concern the average citizen. To do so they will go to any length to dispense with such minor distractions as the law of the land or constitutional propriety.

 In the Padmavati controversy, for instance, it would be fair to assume that none has seen the movie, as it is still to receive certification from the Censor Board but that hasn't stopped some Chief Ministers from wading in either to ban its viewing or, like in West Bengal, invite producers to show it there. The fact that children are dying in hordes in mismanaged hospitals in Uttar Pradesh, that the gau rakshaks are bent on murder and mayhem in Rajasthan, that Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are facing an agrarian crisis of an unimaginable scale, that Kerala is riven apart by horrific political violence or that West Bengal is in the midst of a dengue epidemic seems to be of little concern to the so-called leaders. Obviously, they haven't read EM Forster or they wouldn't rush in where angels fear to tread, or would they now?

But then, as we are all aware, there is a serious scarcity of angels in public life, not just in our country but elsewhere as well. It is a sad but unvarnished truth that we live in a day and age where justice is, more often than not, meted out on the streets and our courts are busier waging internecine war amongst themselves rather than providing justice to the common man. There is also the little matter, as recently reported in the media, of how low the mighty have fallen.

For the first time the hallowed chambers of our Supreme Court were reduced to nothing better than a fish market as officers of that very court were harangued and abused by other officers in open court while the three-judge bench, led by the Chief Justice himself, looked on. The provocation, it was reported, being a request for a court-led investigation into allegations of possible corruption within the judiciary at the highest levels. What could be more shameful or a matter of serious concern than this?

Of course, there is also this other small matter which doesn't sit too comfortably with our often-proclaimed belief in the rule of law, of 218 million pending cases as reported in the Press last year. Of which at the least over 10 per cent have been pending for over 10 years. As if all of this was not enough, we have added to our miseries with an ongoing squabble between the judiciary and the executive over matters ranging from selection of judges to interference in matters of governance. In all of this, the average citizen finds himself left out in the cold with neither justice nor governance within his grasp, a slave to self-serving institutions and individuals who control them, intemperate replacements for our previous masters, the British.

So what choice remains with the common man or woman except to take to the streets or what is even worse stand before some self-appointed ‘Khap Panchayat’ in the faint hope of obtaining some little shred of what could  possibly pass for justice. But that is not how it should be. After all, four centuries ago, Emperor Jahangir did take the progressive step of instituting the Zanjir-i-Adl or the chain of justice, a gold chain with bells, on his ascension to the Mughal throne in 1605. In his memoirs, he writes that his first order was “for the fastening of the chain of justice so that if those engaged in the administration of justice should delay or practise hypocrisy, the aggrieved might come to the chain and shake it so that its noise might attract my attention.” Lest this also be taken for another myth, contemporary foreign travellers of the period such as William Hastings have written of having seen it.

In an era of the Internet and almost instant communication, where justice still costs an arm and a leg, can one dare to imagine a system where an aggrieved common citizen, irrespective of rank or status, caste or religion, rich or poor can approach the highest judicial authority without fear or favour? Well, they did it earlier and there is absolutely no reason as to why it cannot be done again. Of course, only when there is accountability can there be a rule of law, without which we are nothing but just another banana republic.

(The author is a military veteran and consultant with the Observer Research Foundation)

 
 
 
 
 
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