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Sabarimala, Ayodhya: Undermining rule of law principle, apex court 'favoured' executive

By Our Representative
Justice AP Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi and Madras High Courts, has regretted that the start of the Supreme Court’s decline “coincided with the coming to power of the BJP-led NDA government in 2014”, adding, “Every institution, mechanism or tool that is designed to hold the executive accountable is being systematically destroyed.”
Also ex-chairperson of the Law Commission of India, Justice Shah, while delivering Justice Hosbet Suresh memorial lecture on “The Supreme Court in Decline: Forgotten Freedoms and Eroded Rights”, said that the Supreme Court is increasingly becoming partisan, “tilting more towards the executive rather than justice and making the executive accountable through constitutional mechanisms and institutions.”
Justice Shah’s virtual lecture on Zoom was collectively organized by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Bohra Youth Sansthan, Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Institute for Islamic Studies, Peoples’ Watch and the Majlis Law Centre.
According to Justice Shah, the apex court “has failed to protect rights and counter majoritarianism”, citing cases of Sabarimala and Ayodhya judgments where, he said, these gave “impunity and compromised the principle of rule of law to rule in favour of the government.”
In the Ayodhya judgment, the court, despite acknowledging the illegalities committed by the Hindus in 1949 and 1992, “effectively rewarded the wrongdoer”, he added.
Justice Shah further said that the Supreme Court, instead of dealing with constitutional issues on Kashmir related to Articles 14, 19 and 21 emerging from the internet and communication shutdown, handed these over to the “executive-led Special Review Committee.”
“This has added to the sufferings of the entire population of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in health, education, business and economy”, he added.
Further pointing out that the apex court’s decline also manifested “in its collusion or silence on the issues of freedom of speech and right to protest which is a democratic right”, Justice Shah gave the example of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to point out how the “protestors -- students, academics and poets -- were targeted by the state and charged them with criminal offences of rioting, unlawful assembly, criminal conspiracy, sedition and invoked provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the Delhi riots case.”
Supreme Court, instead of dealing with constitutional issues on Kashmir related to Articles 14, 19 and 21, handed these over to the executive-led Special Review Committee
“They were labeled as anti-national and accused of destabilizing the government, while the apex court was a mute spectator and found reasons to not address the case”, he added.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who chaired the session, expressed concern over the silence of common citizens when the vulnerable sections like Muslims and Dalits are killed in India, regretting, movements like the Black Lives Matter campaign triggered by the killing of George Floyd in the US have been missing in India for issues of justice and dignity of common citizens, he pointed out. Judiciary in such scenario has a crucial role but the courageous voices of citizens are vital he urged.
Those who spoke on the occasion included Teesta Setalvad, noted social activist, senior advocate Mihir Desai, and Dalit rights leader Henry Tiphagne. Participants included scholars including Uma Chakravarti, Steven Wilkinson and Harbans Mukhia, former vice president Hamid Ansari, top Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, and others.
The Dr Asghar Ali Memorial Achievement Award, 2020 was handed over by Adv Irfan Engineer, director of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, to Rajini Sondur, Shalini Prasad and Malini Kanal, daughters of Justice Suresh. The Award carried cash of INR 25,000 and a citation.
Post retirement, Justice Suresh, along with former Supreme Court justice PB Sawant, was part of the independent fact-finding team on Gujarat riots of 2002, which came up with the well-know report "Crime Against Humanity".

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