News & Events
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1. ‘Ramshackled!’ Fix the judiciary
Pedants might take objection to former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s neologism, ‘ramshackled’, but it is more useful to focus on the substance of the problem he has highlighted.
The context in which he termed Indian judiciary ‘ramshackled’ might offer some comfort to those who might wish to dismiss Justice Gogoi’s indictment of the judiciary as self-serving — he was offering an explanation as to why he would not sue Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra for her stinging criticism of his conduct as Chief Justice.
But that does not take away from the reality of crushing pendency of cases: 3.75 crore at the district level, 56 lakh at the level of the high courts, and around 70,000 in the Supreme Court. Pendency of cases (43% of those at the high court level are more than five years old, and 22% more than 10 years old) is a gross indicator of dysfunctionality in the legal system.
There are more specific ones, especially relating to failure of the judiciary to protect citizens’ right to liberty. There continues to be huge dissonance between the high bar the Supreme Court applies to substantiate a charge of sedition — a couple of men shouting Khalistan Zindabad and Raj Karega Khalsa in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination did not commit sedition, as there was no incitement to proximate, causally linked violence — and the risible ease with which lower courts are provoked to frame charges of sedition against dissenters.
Iron ore mining in Goa has ground to a halt for more than 1,000 days on account of missing legal clarity on the validity of mining leases, in the absence of a verdict on the matter by the Supreme Court.
The former CJI is spot on when he says a functional judiciary is a necessary condition for attaining a $5 trillion economy. In 2019, Parliament increased the number of Supreme Court judges to 33. But appointments have been tardy. Court management matters, besides the number of judges. The judiciary must take the lead to raise efficiency, drawing lessons from those high courts that have cut their pendency significantly.
2. Missing link in power sector reform
The budget rolled out a revamped, reforms-based and results-linked power distribution scheme, with an outlay of over Rs 3 lakh crore, over the next five years. The new scheme would provide assistance to the distribution companies, or discoms, for infrastructure creation. However, while prepaid smart meters would make perfect sense to stamp out routine revenue leakage and outright theft, opting for feeder separation for agricultural and non-agricultural connections nationally may not be such a good idea. Such hiving-off may have made sense back in the 1990s, but the availability of reliable inexpensive digital meters makes feeder separation quite redundant.
Also, currently, with large solar power capacity functional and slated to be 60 GW next year, what’s surely required is better integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid and not so much differentiation between farm and non-farm usage. That will call for capacity creation in grid operations and storage of power. Smart, prepaid metering would allow targeting of subsidy, on par with direct benefit transfers (DBT) strongly endorsed by the Finance Commission, and, hence, put paid to needless politicisation of power tariffs. Reckless giveaways and gross, unbudgeted subsidies in power are totally unwarranted and have, indeed, precipitated a severe crisis in the vexed power sector.
Discoms do need to step up metering of individual household units in a residential building that hosts multiple households as tenants but has a single meter for the building as a whole. Lack of metering should not deny the poor the subsidy meant for them. The move to upgrade systems should reduce ohmic losses in distribution with better transformers, series capacitors and automatic voltage boosters.
3.Failing system? Ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s remarks starkly underline the need for judicial reforms
Rajya Sabha member and former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s souring appraisal of the judiciary portrays an institution failing to fulfil individual and national economic aspirations. Of course, Gogoi himself could be seen as part of the problem: His hasty acceptance of a RS seat within months of demitting office hadn’t helped the judiciary’s cause, raising worries about judicial independence being compromised. Nevertheless, there can be no quarrel with Gogoi’s basic thrust on the need for judicial reforms.
His view of a “ramshackle” judiciary and that people going to court regret their decision does no credit to either the government or judges like him who have overseen the country’s judicial administration. Judicial reforms remain caught in a limbo, amid decades of power struggle between government and Supreme Court over judicial appointments. The present condition – where four vacancies in SC and 419 openings in high courts remain unfilled amid differences of opinion and procedural wrangles – highlights the rot.
Meanwhile Covid-19 has struck judicial functioning too, as the pandemic has set courts back by a few years in mitigating backlogs. National Judicial Data Grid reveals 3.8 crore pending cases in lower courts, with the last one year itself aggravating pendency burden by nearly 50 lakh cases. 57 lakh matters are pending in HCs. Appointing more judges, streamlining civil and criminal procedures that are delaying case disposal, embracing technology, and ensuring greater synergy between courts, police, government departments and lawyers are a few necessary reforms.
While most judges strive to whittle down the backlog of years past, select SC and HC judges and bureaucrats must be delegated at central and state levels to finalise judicial/ legal reforms and oversee implementation. The archaic judicial infrastructure is a significant deterrent in wooing global investors to India. Despite clocking 63rd position in World Bank’s ease of doing business report, India ranked a dismal 163rd in one of its most critical parameters: enforcement of contracts. On the criminal justice side, low conviction rates in sexual offences and large percentage (70%) of undertrial prisoners in the jail population infringe upon fundamental rights. Untangling such a vast ecosystem including laws, institutions, individuals and vested interests may be hard, but a beginning must be made. Now that difficult reforms in areas like agriculture, banking and disinvestment are underway, vitalise the justice system too.
4. Trump survives: Failure to convict former US president highlights how divided America remains
Former US President Donald Trump was acquitted for a second time in a historic Senate impeachment trial, but not before he was rebuked by several Republican senators for the January 6 Capitol riots. The final vote was 57 guilty to 43 not guilty, short of the 67 guilty votes needed to convict Trump. Importantly, seven Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues in finding Trump guilty, highlighting bipartisan consensus about the former president’s actions that led to the right-wing insurrection.
There’s no denying that Trump put out a stream of falsehoods on losing the presidential polls, and openly urged his supporters to march to the US Congress. There’s no way he can escape responsibility for the attack on the seat of US power. However, the Senate vote means that despite being impeached twice, Trump can technically still come back and contest the 2024 presidential polls. In fact, the Senate vote revealed the dilemma that the Republican Party faces with Trump still retaining considerable popularity among the party base.
Meanwhile, the Democrats could have done a better job of calling witnesses for the trial, instead of rushing the process through. In the end they went for a compromise which was never going to be enough. Perhaps President Joe Biden wanted to move on and foster the spirit of Congressional bipartisanship that he thought was needed to tackle Covid and myriad other challenges that America faces. But the failure to convict Trump highlights how divided America remains – repairing those fissures won’t be easy. That is music to the ears of autocrats like China’s Xi Jinping. From Delhi’s point of view, however, US instability and division would be a negative development. Biden did say “America is back”. Delhi badly needs that to happen to balance China’s rise.
- Republicans falter, yet again, on Trump | HT Editorial
Fifty-seven senators, including seven Republicans, found Mr Trump guilty of “incitement of insurrection”, but this fell short of the required two-thirds majority
Donald Trump will go down in history as the only United States (US) president to have faced impeachment proceedings twice, and the only one to have been subject to impeachment even after demitting office. The Senate acquitted him on Saturday — a conviction would have disqualified him from running for public office — but this was a function of Republican senators unwilling to antagonise their hardline pro-Trump base. Fifty-seven senators, including seven Republicans, found Mr Trump guilty of “incitement of insurrection”, but this fell short of the required two-thirds majority.
There was a view that since Mr Trump was no longer in office, the impeachment was a distraction, and it was time to look ahead. But this takes away from the fact that holding Mr Trump accountable for undermining the sacred democratic tenet of peaceful transfer of power, and then encouraging a violent attack on the home of US democracy, was an ethical and political imperative. It also offered an opportunity to the Republican leadership to make a decisive break with Mr Trump; send a signal to supporters that political contestation must take place within democratic rules of the game; and chart out a new political trajectory of moderate Right-of-Centre politics — rather than the far-Right politics represented by Mr Trump.
But clearly, the Republican leadership did not want to take the risk. It wanted to hold on to Mr Trump’s base while pretending to wash its hands of his actions. The costs of this strategy have already become clear, and a clean break was essential to bring America back to normal politics and boost the faith of the world in US democracy. The Republicans failed, yet again.