With the NDA government pointing out that many of the judicial decisions adversely affected governance, the debate about judicial versus judicial restraint has again come to the fore in the Supreme Court.
The Attorney General, K K Venugopal, said the cancellation of 2G spectrum licences on the Supreme Court's order wiped out huge foreign investment; its order of liquor vends on highways caused financial loss to the exchequer and people lost livelihood.
'Not everything is negative; but the Court should exercise restraint while dealing with PILs with the country facing a lot of problems.. Like caste... (A veiled reference to top court's order diluting certain provisions of SC/ST Act which led to street protests leading to several deaths),' Mr. Venugopal told a Bench headed by Mr. Justice Madan B Lokur during hearing of a PIL on the condition of jail inmates.
'Day in, day out, I read newspapers and your observations,' Venugopal pointed out. Justice Lokur — who has been pulling up government agencies in various cases for their lapses in dealing with issues of pollution, child rights and women's rights — said the court was trying to solve some of these problems.
'Some of these problems we are trying to solve... Like prison conditions, child rights, women rights... Through orders of this court you (government) have got thousands of crore of rupees in cases like mining, construction work... What more do we do? Rest assured that Article 21 (right to life and liberty) is here to stay and we will uphold it,' he asserted.
The Attorney General admitted that with the top court's intervention, tremendous inroads had been made. He, however, noted that problems in India were 'enormous'.
Mr. Justice Lokur said, 'We have not, and we are not criticising the government for anything. Don't carry the impression that we are preventing the government from doing anything or criticising you. But tell your officers to follow the law.'
It all started when the Bench, which also included Mr. Justice Deepak Gupta and Mr. Justice S Abdul Nazeer, proposed to set up a panel headed by a former SC judge to recommend measures on prison reforms.
The Attorney General told the Bench that the court has been passing orders in individual PILs without realising financial impact it had on other sectors. He went on to highlight some of these cases, inviting an asserting response from the Bench.
'The government is not using funds properly. More than Rs 30,000 crore was collected for the benefit of construction workers but the money is spent on buying washing machines... They don't have clothes but washing machines are bought. Laptops are bought for illiterate people. The government is not using the funds that are lying with it properly,' the Bench said.
It went on to set up a panel of former SC judge which would be assisted by government officials and will file report to top court from time to time on issues such as over-crowding of jails.
The Bench, which has already passed two detailed orders on prison reforms, posted the matter for further hearing on August 10. Dealing with a PIL filed in 2013 highlighting the 'inhuman conditions' prevailing in 1,382 prisons across India, it had issued a series of directions on February 5, 2016, to decongest prisons.
Noting that 'the dignity of the individual is not a plaything for those in authority', it had on September 15, 2017, issued a series of directions for prevention of suicide and custodial death of prisoners; and compensation for kin of inmates who died an unnatural death after 2012.
It had asked all high courts to register suo motu petitions to identify kin of such prisoners and award suitable compensation to them. According to official figures, 1,584 inmates died in prison in 2015, which also included 115 unnatural deaths. (UNI)