Re­move Doubts

Judges must give rea­sons for re­cusal

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas -

Be­fore the Supreme Court gave so­cial ac­tivist Gau­tam Navlakha in­terim pro­tec­tion from ar­rest till Oc­to­ber 15 in the Bhi­maKore­gaon case, five judges of the apex court – in­clud­ing CJI Ran­jan Go­goi – re­cused them­selves from hear­ing the mat­ter. None of the five judges gave any rea­sons for their re­cusal.

True, judges de­clin­ing to hear a case isn’t a new phe­nom­e­non. It’s wel­come that judges re­cuse them­selves when con­flicts of in­ter­est arise. How­ever, when the re­cusal is done with­out stat­ing rea­sons, it un­nec­es­sar­ily cre­ates doubts about the ju­di­ciary. This is some­thing we can ill af­ford to­day when so many cases in­volv­ing demo­cratic rights and civil lib­er­ties of peo­ple are com­ing to the fore. And in many in­stances, the lower ju­di­ciary may in­dulge in over­sight or anom­alies. In the Bhima-Kore­gaon case it­self, there was a con­tro­versy when a Bom­bay high court judge re­port­edly took ex­cep­tion to ac­cused Ver­non Gon­salves keep­ing books like War and Peace, which later turned out to be a ref­er­ence not to Tol­stoy’s lit­er­ary clas­sic but to an­other book called War and Peace in Jun­glema­hal. How­ever, the larger point here is that none of these books are banned – read­ing a book can­not be con­strued a crime, no mat­ter what the ti­tle.

Sim­i­larly, an FIR has been lodged against nearly 50 emi­nent cit­i­zens – in­clud­ing Ra­machan­dra Guha, Mani Ratnam and Aparna Sen – for writ­ing a let­ter to PM Naren­dra Modi rais­ing cit­i­zen con­cerns over mob lynch­ing. The case was filed be­cause an or­der was passed by a chief ju­di­cial mag­is­trate two months ago. These in­stances show up the state of ero­sion of our in­sti­tu­tions which are sup­posed to up­hold con­sti­tu­tional rights and civil lib­er­ties. His­tor­i­cally, the Supreme Court has an il­lus­tri­ous record of up­hold­ing such rights and lib­er­ties – turn­ing it into the last refuge for cit­i­zens seek­ing jus­tice when other in­sti­tu­tions fail to do their job and any act of ques­tion­ing au­thor­i­ties is thought to be sedi­tion. It must step into the breach again.

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