Before the Supreme Court gave social activist Gautam Navlakha interim protection from arrest till October 15 in the Bhima-Koregaon 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.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
via Remove doubts: Judges must give reasons for recusal