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'PM's '5-star activists' comment borders on contempt of court'

By A Ganesh Nadar
April 09, 2015 11:08 IST
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'The comment is ill advised and unworthy of the exalted office occupied by the prime minister.'

'The judiciary as a whole cannot be attributed to be functioning under extraneous influences or pressures,' says Constitutional expert and Senior Supreme Court Advocate P P Rao.

Narendra Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, April 2, 2009. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

Addressing a joint conference of chief justices and chief ministers in New Delhi on April 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the judiciary should avoid, 'perception driven verdicts,' which are often driven by 'five-star activists.'

What did Modi mean? Constitutional expert and Supreme Court Advocate P P Rao spoke to A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com about the prime minister's comments.

Was Prime Minister Modi's comments on perception-based verdicts driven by 5-star activists justified?

The comment is ill advised and unworthy of the exalted office occupied by the prime minister. It appears to be purely subjective and not an objective assessment of the judiciary's performance.

The judiciary as a whole cannot be attributed to be functioning under extraneous influences or pressures. I don't agree with the statement that five-star activists are influencing the courts.

It is a sweeping comment bordering on contempt of court.

What message was the prime minister trying to convey to the judiciary?

He said the judiciary has to correct itself. That is correct. The judiciary has on several occasions corrected itself in the past by overruling earlier decisions and declaring the law correctly.

The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary have to conduct themselves with the highest respect towards one another.

Has any other prime minister made such remarks to the judiciary??

I don't think so. Prime ministers in the past always showed due respect to the judiciary even when they differed on certain issues. They used dignified language.

Do you think Prime Minister Modi is trying to bend the judiciary to his kind of thinking?

Not exactly bending, but he is trying to tell them what he thinks about the judiciary. It is good he spoke his mind so that others can correct him.

As one of India's senior-most lawyers, what is your advice to judges?

They must conduct themselves true to their salt, maintaining the dignity of the high office they hold and command the respect of one and all. They must select the best possible candidates for judgeship based purely on merit, integrity and ability.

They must do everything possible to constantly enhance the credibility of the institution.

Was the prime minister right in saying that if politicians or the government makes a mistake, the judiciary can repair the damage, but if the judiciary commits a mistake then everything will end?

This is not correct. The judiciary can and does correct itself. A larger bench can correct the errors committed by smaller benches.

Judges are human beings. They are not infallible. They do correct themselves.

Is it true that there are 1,700 redundant laws?

The government has decided to delete them from the statute book. It is the government's decision. They can make and unmake laws. They can get them deleted through Parliament.

What do you think judges can do about delays in litigation?

They seem to have taken some decisions now at the chief justices conference. We will know when they come out with a press release. Opening evening courts will be good. Vacancies on the bench have to be filled in time. The courts and the government have to address the problem.

What will they do about alleged corruption in the judiciary?

Corruption is everywhere and the judiciary is no exception. Corruption is relatively less in the judiciary. The Constitution needs to be amended providing for immediate removal of public servants of doubtful integrity from office, subject to their claim for compensation.

This should apply to all public servants including judges. The power to take this decision should be invested at the highest level. We have to streamline recruitment to all public offices from the lowest to the highest.

There should be a fool-proof system of recruitment based only on merit, integrity and ability.

Prime Minister Modi has said the judiciary is getting powerful, it also needs to be 'perfect.' Is this possible?

The judiciary is indeed powerful because of its credibility. Every institution needs to be perfect. Nothing is perfect in the country now. All institutions should aim to be perfect.

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A Ganesh Nadar / Rediff.com
 
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