Ex SC judge Lokur releases citizens’ report on Modi govt 2.0, rues ‘bulldozer justice’, ‘judicial backlog’
New Delhi: “Bulldozer justice has taken over from natural justice,” former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur said Monday, while referring to homes being demolished by government authorities allegedly without giving any notice to people.
“Bulldozer justice” is a term used to describe punitive action taken by administrations of some states against what they perceive as criminals and miscreants. Frequently seen as a means of instant justice, most often reported from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the action involves razing to the ground what administrations claim are encroachments and illegal constructions. Critics of the action have termed it “arbitrary and subverting due process of law”.
Justice Lokur, who was speaking at the release of a report on the performance of the Narendra Modi government in its second term, expressed concern over the implementation of laws in the country.
Titled ‘Promises & Reality’ – a Citizen Review of 4+ years under NDA II Government 2019-2023, compiled by ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan’ — a campaign formed by civic society organisations to hold the government accountable to its commitments — the 206-page report aims to reflect citizens’ perspectives on the status of governance in the country.
Significantly, the report raises concerns about the “hurried passage of Bills, limited engagement parliamentary committees, reduced sittings…reduced access to data for Members of Parliament”.
Addressing the gathering at the Constitution Club in New Delhi, Lokur said that the executive is not appropriately implementing the “good” laws made by the Parliament such as the ones related to food security (National Food Security Act, 2013), guaranteed employment to rural poor (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005), disability rights (Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016), and Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996. The executive, he said, needs to be accountable to the people for the implementation of the law.
“On the one hand, there are laws which are not being implemented (by the executive). On the other hand, you have laws which are being implemented with a very heavy hand,” he told the gathering. “Bulldozer justice is something people have been talking about. Homes are being demolished; not one or two homes, but hundreds of homes are being demolished without any notice or legal procedure … Bulldozer justice has taken over from what we call natural justice.”
In his speech, Lokur raised concerns over a number of issues — the alleged heavy-handed use of the sedition law as well as legislation such as the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, and the National Security Act, 1980.
The sedition law under the Indian Penal Code, he said, was being used against everybody”.
“The Supreme Court said not to use the sedition law. What did the executive do? The executive started using UAPA …Now the trend has been to bring in the National Security Act,” he said.
The retired justice said that while people have the right to protest peacefully under the Constitution, but if somebody says that the protest is anti-national and the person is a security threat then the person is put under the National Security Act.
“Persons have been preventively detained without a trial under the National Security Act for months together, for several months, and in some cases for more than a year,” Lokur said.
He also voiced concerns over issues such as the tug-of-war between the executive and judiciary over judicial appointments and the ongoing tussle between governors and elected governments in states such as Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Kerala.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a plea by Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) government against Governor R.N. Ravi’s decision to withhold his assent on several bills passed by the state assembly. Last week, the Supreme Court, in a case involving the Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab and Governor Banwarilal Purohit held that if a governor decides to withhold assent to a bill, then he or she has to return the bill to the legislature for reconsideration.
Speaking on the subject, Lokur said the judiciary could do “very little” on this or when it comes to appointment of judges, other than ask questions and set a deadline for action
Appointment of judges pending
The former Supreme Court judge expressed concern over the ongoing tussle between the government and the judiciary over appointing judges, saying that as a result of the delay “the independence of the judiciary, which is fundamental to the Constitution of India, gets eroded”.
“People don’t know whether the person is going to be appointed or not and if that person is appointed, why is he being appointed? So the faith we have in the appointment process in the judiciary is somewhat eroded because of this problem,” he said, adding that this adds to the judicial backlog.
In this context, Justice Lokur also referred to President Droupadi Murmu’s Constitution Day speech in which she referred to the need to ensure easy access to justice. In her speech, Murmu said litigation costs and language, act as barriers to accessing justice and that the judicial system must be made more citizen-centric.
In his speech Monday, Lokur said judicial backlog acts as a detriment to the notion of easy access to justice.
“The honorable President of India spoke about access to justice,” he said. “What is access to justice when there are five crore court cases pending? When is your case going to be taken up, after 10 years or 20 years? Does it have any meaning if it is taken up after 20 years? That person may not even be alive at the time when the case is decided.”
‘Bills need to be discussed at length’
Lokur also spoke about one of the major issues highlighted by the citizen’s review report — the “hurried passage of bills”. Lokur stressed the need for detailed parliamentary discussions before bills are passed.
The citizens’ report also highlighted issues allegedly faced by civil society organisations (CSOs) across the country. Instead of being recognised for “the pivotal role” that they play in addressing issues of social justice and the climate crisis, “CSOs in India have found themselves scrambling to cope with new, onerous regulatory compliance requirements, even as governments worldwide provided fiscal support and/or tax incentives to their non-profit sectors through the pandemic”, claimed the report.
The report, which is based on reviews by various civil society groups, government reports, and media reports, among other things, also focussed on the impact of COVID-19 on marginalised groups and their livelihood and is critical of the central government’s role in the management of the pandemic.
In a section about lessons learned from the pandemic, the report said: “COVID-19 has brought in unprecedented misery for millions of people in India. While people were facing the worst health and humanitarian crisis, political leadership responded with little empathy and sensibility, remained busy in propaganda and displayed complete lack of foresight”.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)