A court too far

Some of our contributors and readers have put together a fascinating collection of articles based on research and analysis on various aspects of  access to Supreme Court in the latest cover story of Frontline.    (Readers can access Frontine’s refurbished site here.)
Readers may suspect some inconsistency insofar as the lead article by Nick Robinson makes a strong case for the Court to hear less and less regular cases, while Prof. Mohan Gopal argues that the Court suffers from docket exclusion, rather than docket explosion.  As far as I understand it, this inconsistency is more imagined than real.  Nick Robinson wants the Court to hear less and less of cases filed by the rich and the privileged and the cases which are currently disproportionately heard by the court, category-wise, so that it can hear more of the cases, raising substantial questions of law and the Constitution.  Prof. Mohan Gopal, on the other hand, would agree with Nick that  the Court ought to hear more such cases, but would suggest that the answer to the Court’s growing distance from the common man lies in democratising the access, by making it easier and affordable. My piece on the Novartis case raises the question whether the verdict could have gone in favour of Novartis, had it been heard by another Bench, pointing to the uncertainty in law that characterises the Court’s current functioning. A separate article by me, which is not a part of the cover story, highlights the significance of this landmark judgment.

Prof. Mohan Gopal, for the first time, articulates his dissent over the Judicial Impact Assessment.  Though he was a member of the Task Force, set up by the Government following the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Salem Advocates case, he did not sign the report, and had no intention to publicly disagree with it at that time.

The cover story is enriched by articles authored by Abhinav Chandrachud, critiquing the unwritten qualifications for membership on the court, Arghya Sengupta, examining the breakdown of precedent at the Supreme Court, and Sidharth Chauhan, exploring the court’s relationship with the media.

The cover story gave me an opportunity to interview the new Solicitor General, Mohan Parasaran, and also benefit from reading Arun Thiruvengadam’s excellent chapter on PIL, in the recent book edited by him along with Vikram Raghavan and Sunil Khilnani and reviewed by me elsewhere.

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1 comment
  • The theme that has emerged is that of a court too less than too far. This is reflection of the deeper malady that is holding back the judicial system as a real bulwark against injustice.
    The malice is deeper but more elemental. At least, this is the message conveyed by the curious cases over the ownership of the salt work lands in the Konkan Districts of Maharashtra.
    This dispute has sprang from the attempts on the part of the Salt Commissionerate posit themselves to be the owner of these lands denying the right, title and interests of the salt farmers who have been holding the lands much before the creation of the Salt Department during the British rule as an agency to levy the salt tax. The claim is frivolous.
    Along with the levy on salt tax, the salt officers used to collect land revenue from these lands to be credited to the District Collector's receipts. This arrangement was matter of convenience dating back to 1837 when salt was imposed. It was clarified as early as 1840 that this fiscal arrangement vested the salt officers with no rights or powers.
    However, after 1960 some overzealous officials proposed that as the salt farmers are paying no land revenue to the District collector,these farmers are the licensees of the Salt Department, who owns these lands. In the pretext of renewing the redundant licenses, the farmers were compelled to execute lease deeds and pay unconstitutional levies.
    Those who protested were dispossessed and those who approached the courts are being harassed through false pleadings.
    Most illustrious is the case of the salt farmers in Uran whose lands have been acquired for the New Bombay Project and the JNPT without paying any compensation. In spite of litigation for the past three decades, justice still eludes them. The matters, for the third time is pending before the Apex Court.
    This writer is Assistant Salt Commissioner, kakinada. Views expressed are personal.