Some days ago, the Chief Justice of India broke down while speaking of the Judiciary's problems. His audience included several luminaries from the Executive, including the Prime Minister. A closed door meeting followed.
In the meeting, I hope the CJI has put his foot down on transfers of senior HC judges as well as sacking of judicial magistrates and persecution of trial court judges.
Within the last week or two, there have been reports about sacking of the Chief Judicial Magistrate Prabhakar Gwal at Sukma in Chhatisgarh - apparently, the BJP government wasn't happy that instead of rubber stamping, he was applying his mind and the law ( among other cases, refusing to brand scores of tribals as 'extremists'). See catchnews link below in the comments section.
Last year, there were a set of rather disturbing reports (see 1, 2, 3 )about threats and harassment of Retd Judge Jyotsna Yagnik, who delivered the landmark judgement in the Gujarat 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case, wherein she convicted Modi's ministerial colleague Maya Kodnani and the butcher of Patiya, Babu Bajrangi, who'd openly boasted about 'help' from his political masters in evading arrest and then getting bail.
Despite the stinging judgment and harsh terms therein (in lieu of the death penalty that the Judge didn't wish to impose), Kodnani has been out on a long parole and Bajrangi has been out of jail 6-8 times in the last 3-4 years.
In 2014, just a couple of months after BJP came into power, Special CBI judge presiding over the Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter (a multiple murder case, in which a totally innocent woman Kausarbi was apparently raped, killed and burnt) found himself suddenly transferred (See 1, 2 )- he'd been rather tough on the lawyer for the main accused ( the current BJP President Amit Shah).
Now comes this report about the transfer of eminent Justice of the Bombay High Court Abhay Thipsay. Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the Delhi High Court was also transferred, despite protests from senior lawyers in February. Is it sheer coincidence that both passed judicial orders that the ruling party has been less than happy with? Once again, Gujarat carnage cases figure here - Justice Thipsay handled the landmark Best Bakery case!
Earlier, this government tried to set up the NJAC, which would've allowed the Executive greater say in judicial appointments to the Supreme Court and the appellate courts. The SC has so far chosen to assert itself on this issue.
These are deeply worrying signs - for any robust democracy, an independent, fearless and nonpartisan Judiciary is vital.
I dread the extension of the Gujarat model wherein the bureaucracy and the entire police machinery bent over backwards - with pliant officers rewarded and upright officers harassed & hounded out. Gujarat has also had the dubious distinction of courts buying the prosecution line in at least 2 major cases, only to find the verdict overturned by appellate courts ( The Haren Pandya assassination case and the Akshardham terror attack case, in which initially the courts found Muslim men arrested by Gujarat supercops to be guilty).
These are deeply troubling times indeed.
[Rakesh Sharma, thw writer, is an eminent film maker.]