By K Raveendran
With the Modi government increasingly citing ‘policy’ to justify what it is doing, the Supreme Court has felt compelled to deprecate this tendency.
A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, hearing a plea against the levy of GST on equipment such as wheelchair used by people with mobility disabilities, cited the problem faced by the court on account of the ‘shackles of policy’ and that it is important to break these.
The apex court has had to decisively intervene in several cases where the government has attributed its actions on the compulsions of government policy, expressing a certain convenient helplessness. But the court refused to accept the argument and ordered the government to mend ways. Some of the most glaring cases included the government inaction to handle the problems faced by the migrant workers when they staged the great trek back home following the declaration of what later turned out to be an untimely lockout declared by prime minister Narendra Modi.
The court had also forced the government to look beyond the so-called policies when the government sought to run away from the responsibility of ensuring availability of free vaccines to all the eligible people by passing the buck to the state governments. Although the government had no option but to fall in line, it has been raising the so-called ‘separation of powers’ among legislature, executive and the judiciary, criticising the latter for wading into the domain of policies.
In fact, the government has been speaking its heart out through attorney general K K Venugopal, who has complained time and again about the Supreme Court exceeding its defined spheres of responsibilities.
“Many of the Supreme Court judgments have gone beyond its judicial ambit. We have said it is a policy decision; yet the court went ahead… Often the court has been laying policy decisions and telling the legislature to pass such and such laws. There is a separation of powers and it should be kept in mind,” Venugopal told a bench, one of the members of which was DY Chandrachud himself.
It may be noted that when the court raised the issue in the latest GST case, it has been by way of gentle suggestion. It is high time that the ‘shackles of policy’ is debated thoroughly so that the government does not use it as an excuse to run away from its responsibilities. The courts need to put this across to the government more forcefully.
Following policy is fine, but perhaps what matters more is whether the policy itself is problematic. There have been several occasions in the past when the Supreme Court adopted a more proactive approach and pronounced the policy wrong, forcing the government to change. Many of the policies of the government have been found to be wanting and against the rights of people enshrined in the Constitution and somebody has to point out such deviation. There is no other institution more capable and mandated to perform this role.
Unfortunately, parliament has ceased to perform in the way it was envisaged by the Constitution makers, who wanted every action of the government to be scrutinised on its merit and then approved. With the nature of both houses of parliament being what it is today, there is nothing much to be expected from them as genuine debates have become alien to the proceedings.
The government has been pushing its legislations through, riding roughshod over the opposition, using its brute strength or through questionable means without debate. We have seen how important issues such as the general price rise in the country have been brushed under the carpet, citing technicalities and procedures without a thought being spared for the vital need for these to be considered dispassionately.
In this context, it is imperative that the courts step in and function as a corrective force. The government’s antagonism towards an activist judiciary is understandable, but the Supreme Court, as the last resort for people to raise injustice, must not hesitate to act decisively when such action is in the interest of the nation and its people.(IPA Service)