Sunday, September 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L   E D I T O R I A L

A question of judicial dharma
Hari Jaisingh

A serious crisis of credibility has gripped the instruments of governance, including the administration of justice, amidst scams, scandals, cover-up operations and communication gaps at all levels. This is true of the entire country, especially of Punjab, which in recent times has been under the spell of what has come to be broadly labelled the PPSC scam. The seeds of the scam were not sown during the six-month-old regime of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. This was actually the legacy of the system presided over by the SAD-BJP government headed by Mr Parkash Singh Badal and earlier governments. Why and how such a massive money-for-job racket could have survived and thrived is a matter of shame that requires soul-searching as well as a thorough probe with a strong political will to revamp and cleanse the system so that the faith of the youth in the destiny of Punjab, nay, of the nation, at the threshold stage in their career can be revived.

This is not a fill-in-the-blank rhetoric. This has to be an article of faith on the part of all those who have anything to do with the instruments of governance, the judiciary included. Herein lies the big challenge before the custodians of power and justice. Will they rise to the occasion and do justice? Will they learn from the mistakes of the past and apply the correctives so that the citizens can breathe more freely in a comparatively less corrupt and hush- hush atmosphere than that prevailing today? This can be done only if each power-holder plays his or her legitimate role sincerely, honestly and in a responsible manner.

The expectations of the people are high but their patience is running out. Capt Amarinder Singh raised high hopes with his earlier public pronouncements against corruption and his promise of a cleaner system during and after the last election. No one doubts the Chief Ministerís intentions but the problem is with his visible "instruments" in public who are supposed to set the pace for the promised "operation clean-up". Amidst the drift and visible distortions, the much-needed convincing answers to whether the job-for-money scam and related matters are being handled with the promised honesty of purpose and thoroughness are missing.

We understand the ticklish nature of the task. What is important is not the formality of action or actions or of finding a few sacrificial goats so that the real vested interests go scot-free. The track record of the Vigilance Bureau and those operating the system on behalf of the government in this regard leaves much to be desired. This is where the judiciary comes in.

That there are loose ends everywhere is no secret. We have often made pointed references to the wrong acts and malfunctioning which affect the credibility of the judicial system. The judiciary is the crucial focal point of transparency and fair play and, in the final analysis, it alone can ensure accountability of the system and bring the guilty to book and also put the persons at the helm on the right course.

It is very unfortunate to see the shadow of the Ravi Sidhu affair on the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The Chief Justice, Mr Justice A.B. Saharya, has had to undertake the unpleasant task of probing certain related charges against his fellow judges under instructions from the Chief Justice of India, Mr Justice B.N. Kirpal. This must have been a very painful exercise. But, then, a sacred task is a sacred task, especially if it involves vital public interests and the very honour of the judicial system. Mr Justice Saharya has already submitted his report to the Chief Justice of India, which indicts three judges of the High Court. The ball is, therefore, very much in the court of the CJI. He says he has not yet fully read the report, which is understandable. We hope he will do so at his earliest convenience. At stake is the image and credibility of the judiciary. A lot will now depend on how the CJI reacts and acts keeping in view the fact that in a democratic system institutions are bigger than individuals. One wrong step may give sanctity to a wrong act but the damage to the institutional reputation in the process will be irreparable. Action to check judicial delinquency does no damage to the institution of the judiciary; it only enhances its standing in the public eye.

As I have said earlier in these columns, we all are under watch: the administration, the judiciary, the Bar and even the media. Each organ has to conduct itself with determination, dignity and sobriety not only for the sake of survival today but also for the legacy it leaves for the youth who are the future of the country and the flag-bearers of its rich civilisational values and traditions. There are no easy escape routes. What has to be kept in mind, as enshrined in the holy books and scriptures, is that there is a divine court above which also expects transparency in justice and the enforcement of judicial ethics and accountability. A simple message demands ultimately a simple response.

Over to the Chief Justice of India.Back

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