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Sinha’s exit births the next crisis for the Supreme Court

  • Published at 05:43 pm October 19th, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:55 pm October 19th, 2017
Sinha’s exit births the next crisis  for the Supreme Court
Various parties involved in the Sinha affair all seem to lack crisis management skills. But the governmental machinery came out looking the weakest. They appear better at making allegations than detecting such people beforehand and preventing them from holding offices of great significance which causes the crisis. The damage is not that Sinha is corrupt -- innocent till proven guilty, we must remember -- but that the capacity of the system which handles judicial governance is proven to be inadequate. The part of the state which is supposed to protect other parts of the formal system has not worked well, leaving everyone vulnerable. Two next crisis points are obvious: How does one ensure the prestige of the Supreme Court -- now badly damaged by the Sinha crisis -- in general and not necessarily the allegations? How does one ensure a decision on the 16th amendment that is politically acceptable to all and not just popular with the AL? The first one is not easy because, having accused Sinha of theft, this has to be proven in the court which carries a political cost.
The authorities must now investigate to find out how many judges are corrupt, how many are long-term offenders and so on
By involving all to dislodge Justice Sinha, it has put all of the parties in a single pot and under suspicion of one sort or other. The Sinha crisis may have begun long before when no background check was carried out to examine if Sinha or any other justice was fit for the job or not, legally and morally. And since that was not done, the fitness certificate issue for all justices has become a major need. If the government doesn’t carry that out, the political and judicial costs will be high. The authorities must now investigate to find out how many judges are corrupt, how many are long-term offenders and so on. Public feeling is that many are being tolerated despite such allegations due to political considerations. Suddenly, there is no certainty that the judiciary is morally independent or it just appears or claims to be so. In effect, that makes the entire judicial system very vulnerable, because now that one has been found, how many have not been? After the Sinha affair, no one will look at the justices with the same awe and reverence they did even a few months back. The issue is, most judges are clean, but now the entire community has been stigmatised. We have learned to live with corrupt amlas and politicians but, judges are a new reality. The dismay is not over alleged corruption of such senior people but that this situation, and consequent damage to the institution, could have been avoided. Had those responsible for the vetting, supervision, and surveillance of such people done their job, the crisis would not be here. That responsibility lies with the administrative branch of the state and it’s their inefficiency that has put a question mark over everyone in formal governance and the state into a crisis. What happens to the 16th amendment now? The Justice Sinha affair has been handled badly from the first day, once the 16th amendment verdict was published. By politicising the legal decision, the AL and its minions must have known the pressure being put on the judiciary. This was followed by a very unseemly exit management that has further reduced the credibility of the government. It was reacting to an unprecedented situation and, therefore, acted like novices. That is unlikely to increase public respect for and confidence in the governors. But now the situation moves to the petition review stage and the first test for acting Chief Justice Miah. A signatory to the Sinha-led verdict, he is not in a win- win situation. If the verdict is reviewed and adjusted and is more in line with what the AL wants, the Supreme Court will look like a feeble and pliable court, bad news for the supreme judiciary in general. If the Miah regime lets the verdict stand, the entire position of the AL on the amendment will collapse, and that will be politically costly in terms of prestige loss of the entire party and government. And the conflict between the politicians and the judges will resume. It seems nobody is walking out a winner from this conflict. The problem began when the judicial-legal boundaries were crossed, job descriptions were forgotten, and competence overlooked. Together, the score card of the formal governance cluster looks bad and that is the problem. If the government wakes up to the fact only in the final days of justice’s reign and presses allegations of corruption, it means somebody was sleeping at their job. And there is no way of ensuring they wake up on time. Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.