Judicial activism & overreach

  • Supreme Court is increasingly, & controversially, asserting control over the executive & legislature
  • The Union Finance Minister recently cautioned legislators against ceding more powers to the judiciary
  • When the Emergency came to an end in 1977, the Supreme Court, as if to refurbish its image in a new political climate, became more responsive to socio-economic changes in legislation o The right to property was deleted from the chapter of Fundamental Rights in the Constitution (44th Amendment

Act, 1978), leaving no scope for invalidation of property laws by the courts o Thereafter, by a process of reinterpretation of two fundamental rights — the Right to Personal Liberty in Article 21 & the Right to Equality before Law in Article 14 — the court gave the judiciary an enlarged power of review to protect the basic rights of citizens o The Supreme Court, in Maneka Gandhi (a minor case of the govt not granting a passport in 1978) & other cases, overruled Gopalan v State of Madras (1950)

  • The “procedure established by law” of Article 21 now meant that the law or action by the govt must be just, reasonable & fair
  • SC also adopted a revisionist interpretation of “life” in Article 21, by enlarging its dimensions also as an affirmative guarantee for the dignity of the individual & the worth of the human life
  • This interpretation enabled the court to assume jurisdiction in almost all matters for the purpose of ensuring good human existence
  • SC in a new interpretation of the Right to Equality before law in Article 14, imposed the condition of reasonableness on every law & action of the govt
  • The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was originally conceived as a jurisdiction firmly grounded on the enforcement of basic human rights of the disadvantaged unable to reach courts on their own under Article 32 o The courts’ function was to supplement the other govt depts in improving the social & economic conditions of the marginalised sections o It did not assume the functions of supervising & correcting the omissions & actions of govt or public bodies; it, rather, joined them in a cooperative effort to achieve constitutional goals o This activism, soon came to be widely appreciated & even imitated by other common law jurisdictions o The court’s intervention is now not sought for enforcing the rights of the disadvantaged but to simply correct the actions or omissions of public officials, govt depts or other public bodies
  • For eg. SC was moved by petitioners to lay down rules for the conduct of important public institutions & authorities. It gave directions to the Election Commission to order candidates to disclose their criminal convictions, their assets & liabilities at the time of elections, called for quotas in medical & engineering colleges & issued orders to safeguard women from sexual harassment at workplaces. It ordered control over automobile emissions, mandatory wearing of seat belts & helmets, action plans to control & prevent the menace of monkeys in cities & towns, among others
  • The SC also monitors the conduct of investigating & prosecution agencies, a process which began in Vineet Narain vs CBI (1998)
  • SC also directed the govt to set up a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), with statutory status, & gave orders for the selection of its commissioner
  • In several PILS concerning the environment & the welfare of those disadvantaged, the court has directed policy changes in administration
  • As a result, over the years, the judiciary in India has acquired the supremacy over the legislature & the executive Conclusion
  • The SC has original jurisdiction only to entertain petitions for breach of fundamental rights under Article 32 of the Constitution. In reality, no legal issues are involved in most petitions; the court is only moved for better governance & administration in such cases, which does not involve the exercise of any judicial function

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 IAS FUNDA