Law and Justice in India - Whose Prerogative?

September 25, 2006

Recently, Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy, the Cabinet Minister for Urban Development in responding to the Supreme Court's order on sealing illegal commercial establishments in Delhi said, "Making laws is the prerogative of the government, not the courts."

Mr. Reddy is, of course, right. Any school student will explain the seperation of powers of the executive, legislature, and judiciary in the Indian administrative system.

The problem, unfortunately, is that the legislature has not been doing its job, as recent newspaper reports suggest. For instance, the Supreme Court this Friday ordered reform of and autonomy for the police establishment. Successive commissions have recommended such reform, yet it took a 12 year judicial process and judgement to force it on the political establishment. Another judgement from the Supreme Court relates to regulating elections for university student unions, to prevent widespread involvement of political parties in the process. Why could this not be done by the local or federal governments, or indeed by universities?

The executive too has been conspicous by its absence. Bungled criminal investigation and prosecution led to acquittals in both the Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lall murder cases. As the SC jugement on police reform shows, there is good reason why our habitual distrust of the police is even higher when it is under political control. And the current protests in Delhi by traders, which prompted Mr. Reddy's remarks, are the result of his own Ministry's failure to do its job. This problem did not arise overnight, but was the result of years in which successive Delhi governments condoned illegal construction and commercial activity.

Suddenly, after the SC judgement the traders now suddenly see no light at the nd of the tunnel. But since they are a vocal - and rich - community, all political parties have taken up their cause and the legislature has hastened to their rescue. The Delhi government amended its laws and changed the Master Plan overnight, even as the Master Plan for 2021 is still being debated. The central government did likewise. And when mobs went on a violent rampage this past Wednesday, not a single politician criticized the destruction of public property.

The traders are keen to point out the loss of livelihood resulting from the SC order. That is certainly an unfortunate consequence but those most threatened are the casual workers and employees. Let us not therefore, save our sympathy for the traders and builders that have grown fat on rent control, stolen electricity, corruption and grabbed land. Nor should it be spared for those that bought or used illegal property, knowing full well that it was illegal. Are we forgetting that these people broke the law?

But it is the legislature and the executive, more than the traders, that have made a travesty of law and our entire political system. Those tasked with protecting the law first turn a blind eye to rampant corruption and unlawful activity. Then, to accomodate the special interests of a few they amend laws with scant attention to the millions of other residents of the city. The message is clear - its ok to break the law because we will eventually change it, so long as you are loud, rich, and violent enough to get our attention - and votes.

No wonder then, that the common man has turned to legislation by judicial fiat. Mr. Reddy is right, but he failed to account for when the legislature is the haven of the influential, and the executive incapable of protecting its people or its laws.

Dweep works in Swiss private banking. He studied Management in International Organizations, focusing on emerging markets and international political economy and writes at The Discomfort Zone on a range of related issues. His expressed views are personal and do not reflect those of his employers, past or present.
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kaveetaa kaul
September 25, 2006
04:15 AM

'Seek refuge in law' when it suits you while blatantly manipulate it when it gets hot under the collar is what the legislature and executive have continuously adopted as their modus operandi . Infact the more proficient you are at twisting logistics, brighter are your chances of retaining your influence in the corridors of power. Colloquially "doodh ka dhula koi nahin hai".."iss hammam mein sabhi nange hain". You are guilty and deserve to be punished because you were stupid to have been apprehended, not because you were corrupt, in the first place.

September 25, 2006
07:58 AM

For years together, there were shops all around. A common man before opening these shops, applied for a commercial electricity meter. The same was installed by the authorities. Then he asked for commercial water connection. The same was also given. Then he paid commercial house tax for that property. Now after doing all this, was he suppose to go to the court and ask that whether my shop is legal.

Noone except a Delhite has a right to say anything against these shops. Even a Delhite loses that right, if he has ever bought anything from any of these shops.

Now tell me, do you have to right?

September 25, 2006
02:05 PM

Its like "king's new clothes".

Indian Judicial system is dysfunctional.

Indian political system is dysfunctional as well.

But things keep happening. Ram Bharose....

So, we feel everything is running fine.

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