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Mainstream, VOL LV No 48 New Delhi November 18, 2017

Grave Situation

Sunday 19 November 2017, by SC


Several major developments having a bearing on our national life have lately hit the headlines. One is the pollution crisis in the Capital which is affecting the people at large. The interventions from the National Green Tribunal in the wake of the serious nature of the crisis have led to considerable controversy. As The Indian Express observes,

Last year, when Delhi was reeling under another pollution crisis, the NGT decreed that steps be taken “on long-term and short-term basis keeping in view the precautionary principle to ensure that the ill-effects and adverse impact of polluted ambient air quality is not repeated in the year 2017”.

Many such summary directives have gone unheeded. According to the court’s own admission, the order that passed strictures on construction activity and use of diesel generator sets in the capital “remains unexecuted”. “The judgment has been complied with only in default,” it noted. The green tribunal usually lays the blame for such failures at the door of State governments. In the last month, for instance, it has admonished the Punjab and Haryana governments on at least three occasions for their failure to implement a 2015 directive that banned stubble burning in these States. The NGT needs to acknowledge that what such failures also signal is that the green body has been treading into areas where it has little expertise, undermining its own credibility....

The NGT should re-visit the cases where it has crossed the line that divides judicial intervention from policy-making.

The second is the conflict within the Apex Court of the country reflected in the unedifying confrontation that has broken out in the Supreme Court. What is at stake is something most important in the current scenario, that is, to repeat the words editorially used in The Indian Express itself:

The reputation and credibility of an institution that has earned itself the title of India’s most trusted, a protector of citizens’ freedoms, an upholder of the constitutional poise. What is more, this public display of divisions within comes at a time when the Court appears at its most vulnerable without. In the last three years or so, the independence of the judiciary has often seemed besieged in the face of a strong political executive that has sought to use the electoral mandate to subdue dissent and circumscribe other institutions, including in the crucial matter of the appointment of judges.

And Ashoka University Vice-Chancellor Pratap Bhanu Mehta aptly opines:

There are lots of legal nuances to the case at hand. But the Court’s loss of external credibility combined with internal anarchy does not bode well for Indian democracy. Instead of becoming a constitutional lodestar in our turbulent times, the Court has itself become a reflection of the worst rot afflicting Indian institutions.

The third is the defiant way in which the gaurakshaks are continuing to carry on their nefarious activities. After the Pehlu Khan lynching in Alwar (Rajasthan), another dairy farmer Ummar Khan was killed by the cow vigilantes in the same place on November 10 (last Friday). The situation has currently turned grave. This was brought out in bold relief in The Times of India which pointed to some facts that need to be highlighted for the sake of justice:

Even as Rajasthan’s cow slaughter law places the burden of proof on the accused, overturning a key principle of Indian jurisprudence, there isn’t much heat on lynch mobs: intentions of local police have been suspect after the Rajasthan High Court granted bail to those accused in Pehlu Khan’s murder this September.

The focus must be on the Alwar incident as is being done by civil rights groups and mass organisations of late.

But in this context one needs to draw attention to another fact: those who are being characterised as “fringe groups” in order to minimise the danger from such elements are actually an integral part of the mainstream politicians as reflected in the manner in which a Chief Minister like Yogi Adityanath of UP is functioning. On Monday (November 13) he made a rather startling statement—that the word “secular” was the “biggest lie” since independence. He also said: “Distorting history is no less a crime than sedition.” And in that connection he accused the Congress of “having divided the country on the basis of caste, religion, language for its own selfish aims”.

Such statements only embolden the so-called “fringe elements” to go on doing whatever they want to do. So what is the difference between the “fringe” and the “mainstream”?

Meanwhile today is the National Press Day as is observed under the aegis of the Press Council of India. It is apt that we bring the media, both electronic and print, under the spotlight on this occasion. In both the electronic and print media we have lately come across several instances of queer functioning seldom witnessed in the past. Thus we find quite a few TV channels going out of their way to placate the powers that be totally oblivious of the media’s prime responsibility of acting as a watchdog instead of a lapdog.

As for the print media, one instance would suffice. Two days ago in a prominent national daily one read a headline: “The Belgrade 1961 gang of five: Nehru is the only one whose legacy has lasted”. That is how the founder-leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement were described: as part of the “gang of five”, and sought to be demeaned.

A manifestation of the changing times?

November 15 S.C.

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