Judiciary is failing us, said Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court in a hard-hitting speech on August 16, 2020. Explicitly, Justice Shah spoke at the inaugural session of the Janta Parliament webinar; which hundreds of civil society groups organised jointly this week.
Parliament- ‘A Ghost Town’
He pointed out that the budget session was adjourned ‘sine die‘ (without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing) on March 23. Despite of the fact that Parliament previously continued to function at other testing times such as the 1962 and 1971 wars. Moreover, it met the very next day after its own building faced a terror attack in 2001.
Further, in other countries, Parliaments continued to function; with a mix of or completely virtual sessions during the crisis, with remote voting enabled. The functioning of Parliament ensures the accountability of the representatives to the people, he said.
Whereas, the Indian Parliament has remained a ghost town since March 2020, said Justice Shah. “Besides failing to provide leadership to the people in a time of crisis, like the pandemic; it compounds the problem of representation and accountability by granting the executive a free rein to do as it pleases. Executive accountability, in these conditions, is a thing of memory; for there is no one to raise any questions about its actions,” he said. He criticized the Parliament for failing to lead the people of India during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is India moving towards Elected Autocracy?
The former judge asserted that government is systematically destroying the system of checks and balances in India. Justice Shah stated that since 2014, every effort has been made to systematically destroy these institutions; not necessarily in the blatantly destructive way that the Indira Gandhi government did in the past; but certainly, in ways that have rendered the Indian democratic state practically comatose; and given the executive the upper hand in most matters. Thus, he gave a warning that the destruction of accountability institutions is moving India towards a form of elected autocracy.
Judiciary is failing us- Justice Shah
Justice Shah criticized the working of the judiciary as well. “Today, the judiciary appears once again to be failing us,” he said. “In some cases, such as that of Internet access in Kashmir; the Supreme Court has all but abdicated its role as arbiter; and handed over the matter to an executive-run committee to determine,” he said. Adding that with Parliament already so weakened, the Supreme Court would have been the next best space to discuss the Kashmir trifurcation, the constitutional validity of the CAA, suppression and criminalization of protests against this law. He further added the idea of a ‘free media’ was also under attack.
The Other Speakers
Also, speaking at the webinar, Gujrat MLA, Jignesh Mewani, said, “Many questions were and are emerging due to the pandemic; and we have no forum to demand timely explanations from the governance.”
Whereas Activist Soni Sori said this was one of the “worst fallouts” of the pandemic; referring to how the new form of online education has left tribal children out of the educational system. Despite human rights violations continuing amid the pandemic, little can be done to raise questions, she added.
Supporting Shah’s stance, Social activist Aruna Roy accused the government of “using this opportunity to push through policies in the most undemocratic way”. She also referred to the dilution of labour laws, waving of environmental protections; and the introduction of a new education policy without approval from the Parliament as examples.