The Supreme Court of India remarked during the hearing of a petition on Friday 1 July 2022 that the petitioner (suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma) is single-handedly responsible for whatever is happening in the country and that she must apologize to the country. Justice Surya Kant, who was presiding over a two Judge bench, which also comprised of Justice J.B. Pardiwala, made this remark.
The Supreme Court remark came in response to a petition by Nupur Sharma seeking clubbing of all FIRs lodged against her in different States across the country over a remark pointing to Prophet Mohammed. She had made this remark during a panel discussion on TV in response to a comment by another panelist that obviously hurt her religious sentiments and amounted to sacrilege.
When the Court asked the Senior Counsel for Nupur Sharma, why she had filed the petition with a deceptive name (NV Sharma), the court was told that such a measure had been taken to protect her from threats. At this point (as per available reports) Justice Surya Kant observed: “She has threats or she has become a security threat”. Further, the court remarked the written apology by her came too late only after a public uproar and that it was conditional. On th epetitioner approaching the Supreme Court directly, the court went on to remark that the petition smacked of arrogance and that the magistrates of the country are too small for her.
The Supreme Court also enquired why the TV channel (Time Now) had conducted a debate over a subjudice issue (Gyanvapi) and also asked whether or not it was motivated to promote an agenda. When the Court was told that Nupur’s comment came in response to a poser by the TV anchor, the Court took the view that if this was the case, action also should have been taken against the anchor. When a reference was made to the brutal killing of Kanhaiya Lal, a tailor in Udaipur, by two men who claimed that it was to avenge insult made to Islam, the Supreme Court remarked that Sharma with her loose tongue had made irresponsible statement without thinking of the consequences. Kanhaiya Lal was brutally killed after he had extended support to Nupur Sharma on social media.
On the remedies sought by the petitioner, the Court observed that the conscience of the Court has not been satisfied. These observations are not reflected in the court order now available online.
After the Supreme Court made these remarks, the senior counsel for the petitioner sought and was permitted by the Court to withdraw the writ petition with liberty to avail the alternate remedies available under the law. The writ petition was then dismissed as withdrawn.
There is massive outrage over the Supreme Court remarks, criticism – both direct and indirect – has flooded the social media. A former Chief Secretary, with unblemished service record, someone who has also held a Constitutional post, has shared his plight by commenting on his wall: “Loose tongues are every where be it a heated TV discussion or the airconditioned room of the highest court. Even the lowly magistrates are being encouraged to have loose tongues.”
Another citizen writes: “Absolutely disgusted by the flippant and callous remarks…. Is the supreme court of the land there to interpret Constitution and protect the freedoms it guarantees to a citizen, or there to play woke politics and bow down to the mob?”
A facebooker opines: “Last thing India needs is Judicial activism. Judges have to be non- partisan. Only then they can interpret law as established by Constitution. Activism violates impartiality. It is an act of partisanship, whatever the nature of activism may be.”
In the meanwhile, a strongly worded signature campaign is doing the rounds of social networking platforms seeking the impeachment of Justice Surya Kant and Justice Pardiwala.
Postscript: In a brainstorming piece calling for “Total review of the Constitution” retired bureaucrat Kewal Krishan Sethi has a piece of advice to reform the judciary – he writes:
“The main blame for the loss of dominance of the executive must go to the separation of the judiciary from the executive. Nowhere in the world, we have the kind of separation of judiciary which we have in India. To be free from the control of the executive, they have been made free from responsibility. Power without responsibility breeds contempt for the general public. How a particular decision affects the public is not even thought of let alone be taken into consideration. This is true of the military dictators. This is also seen in the present day judicial system.
This separation at one stroke removed the fear of the executive, including the politicians from the mind of the criminals and ensured that an authority which is not aware of the day to day complications of the administration and will not be able to appreciate the repercussions of their decisions will be put in charge. This considerably eased the pressure on the criminals who could act with impunity. By training, the judges magistrates were concerned with only the case at hand and had no inkling of how this will fit in the larger canvass of social fabric. This was ok so far as the civil adjudication went but was disastrous for the criminal administration. It is imperative that the so-called independence should be done away with. The criminal justice administration must be replaced by the judiciary which is answerable to the people. There should be district level cadres of the judges for criminal work. These lower authorities should be elected and should periodically go before the people to explain what they have achieved in terms of the improvement in the law and order situation. If they are not found up to the mark, they must make way for others. The higher echelons will continue to be professionals who will ensure that there is no departure from the rule of law at the lower level and no pandering to the extraneous situations. The jury system should be introduced. This will also imply that there should be a free and frank discussions on the judicial cases. The sword of contempt of court that is always hanging on the people and has been used to do away with all criticism, fair or unfair, must be done away with. While the rulings of the High Courts and the Supreme Court will continue to be good for the lower judiciary, the powers of punishing for the contempt will be taken away. This will ensure just criticism of the judicial pronouncements and the judges will have to explain their conduct to the people, the ultimate reservoir of power. The appointment and confirmation of the judges will be subject to the clearance by the parliamentary committees. It must be understood that in democracy, only the elected representatives are supreme and rest are subservient to them and through them to the society.
Kewal Krishan Sethi, a 1963 batch IAS officer borne on the Madhya Pradesh cadre, has had an illustrious career. He was Chairman Board of Revenue Madhya Pradesh, Chief Secretary Manipur, and head of the National Commission for Linguistic Minorities (NCLM).
Memes on social media