Friday, May 16, 2008

Rule of the Lordships

When India got independence from the British in 1947, the hard line communists made a derisive comment yeh azadi jhoothi hai and were derided for it. The communist thought that power had merely changed hands from one set of imperialists to another- that the white rulers had been exchanged for rulers of another color – brown.

ooking at the Supreme Court’s disdainful dismissal of a PIL brought by the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties that sought to bring judges of the apex court and high courts under the purview of Right to Information Act, it looks in hind sight that the communists were right after all. The Supreme Court armed to the teeth with the Contempt of Court, at least under the current Chief Justice at least seems to keep a scornful and arrogance distance from commoners as an elite group.

The reluctance of the Chief Justice to subject the court and its justices to scrutiny under the Right to Information Act, especially in the matter of declaration of assets is otherwise beyond comprehension. Even more incomprehensive is the Chief Justice’s smug assertion that Judges declare their assets to him. If that were enough than every departmental head could be authorized to handle their subordinate’s affairs and there would be no need to maintain vigilance departments any where !

The modern Indian judicial system has its origins in the Calcutta High Court.

The High Court at Calcutta, formerly known as the High Court of Judicature at Fort William, was brought into existence by the Letters Patent dated 14th May, 1862, issued under the High Court’s Act, 1861, which provided that the jurisdiction and powers of the High Court were to be defined by Letters Patent. The High Court of Judicature at Fort William was formally opened on 1st July, 1862, with Sir Barnes Peacock as its first Chief Justice.Appointed on 2nd February, 1863”

Like most institutions the British left behind , be it the civil service or the military or the judiciary or even the Government of India Act 1935 which to a large extent forms the backbone of the constitution, Jawaharlal Nehru who reportedly once described himself as the last Englishman to rule India; he left them unchanged. And because the changes in these institutions were not intentionally made, they remained frozen in time or actually degenerated into grotesque caricatures like when you see those turbaned and liveried waiters serving in the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Raj Bhavan functions, with the viceroy’s crest replaced by the Ashoka Chakra. To see Brown Sahebs and Babus soaking it all in after being sworn to uphold the Constitution of India which still describes India as a Socialist Republic among other things, positively reeks.

The interesting thing is that in that very fountain had of imperialism, the United Kingdom, things are changing as public pressure builds up. By agreeing to pay income taxes, giving up the royal yacht, changing some royal rules, and limiting the number of royals receiving government money, the Queen has sought to placate growing public criticism of the monarchy. Closer home, in Bhutan voluntarily and in Nepal involuntarily , monarchies and feudal cultures are being dismantled. But in India, “their lordships” that sit in judgment over affairs pertaining to a billion plus people and determine their fate in some small measure at least will bear no scrutiny on their actions and conduct through the common man’s scrutiny conducted through lawful means permitted through the law of the land. They are the new jahanpanahs and will not tolerate any lese majeste!

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