Unelected sermonizing to keep faith in the elected!

By Cleofato A Coutinho
12 January 2021 17:16 IST

   

“The elected government is a repository of public faith in matters of development” said the Supreme Court, while green flagging the PM’s dream project of redesigning the administrative nerve center of the country as planned by a Gujarat based architectural firm. Giving a carte blanche, the highest court stated ‘the government is entitled to commit errors or achieve successes in policy matters as long as constitutional principles are not violated in the process. It is not the court’s concern to enquire into the priorities of an elected government’

The Central Vista project includes a new parliament house for 1224 MPs, a central secretariat,  vice- president’s enclave and a new house for the PM at Rajpath. This grandiose extravaganza is aptly summed up by Ramchandra Guha ”the Modi government’s redesign of New Delhi brings to mind not so much living Communist autocrats as it does some dead African despots. It is the sort of vanity project, designed to perpetuate the ruler’s immortality that Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast and Jean Bédel-Bokassa of the Central African Republic once inflicted on their own countries”

Across all times rulers built cities and edifices to make themselves immortal. Mohammed Bin Tughlak may be remembered for disastrous shifting of the capital to Daulatabad. Shah Jahan  may  remembered as a great builder. Why only Pandit  Nehru and his descendants be remembered by  posterity?  Nehru is seen as the maker of modern India. Laterite stones and cement may build edifices, not institutions. It is a healthy discussion, debate and arrival of reasoned decisions that nurture democratic institutions. Nehru is known for building institutions which nourished our democratic spirit and stood the test of time. They even withstood the onslaught against them by his daughter! How can that space where Nehru gave his ‘tryst with destiny’ speech remain as the country’s core democratic symbol and foremost parliamentary space in present times?

Eager to create his own legacy, the PM is possessed by the plan to revamp the main boulevard of Delhi by spending  Rs. 20,000 crores despite economic recession like never before. The collapse of the health care system due to  covid -19 global pandemic has also not distracted the PM’s attention (Rs. 8400 crores have already been spent on buying 2 aircrafts, one for PM). The country is not clear as to how 1.3 billion people would be vaccinated. The health Minister has announced free vaccination only for three crore beneficiaries in the first phase. Even if there was no pandemic, the funds could be utilized in fixing the world’s most polluted capital city, where 80 die a day . Even before the corona pandemic the malnutrition of our children and our Hunger Index has put us in the pit at global stage.   

There may be any number of reasons to upgrade our capital city by modernizing the infrastructure but these are distress times. If 20,000 crores Rupees  are available they deserve to go to ameliorate the poor and vulnerable. People are bound to express their concern on this. The  highest court  says that’s not their concern! The central vista was less of a legalistic issue but in view of certain mandatory provisions   being bypassed, it was believed to be the rule of law matter.

Somehow a belief has grown about  that the courts shall deal with executive highhandedness at all times. Saying that it shall not even impose its own version of good governance upon the government in the name of rule of law, the highest court has cleared the air that clouded people’s expectations from it,

To have a new parliament house ready for the palladium jubilee celebrations of the independence is just vanity as poverty and loss of livelihood becomes endemic. A superstructure meant for country’s premier legislative & debating chamber ought to be with discussion and debate. The powerful dissent on public participation by Sanjiv Khanna J.(he is from H.R. Khanna J stock) removed the sheen of the supreme court nod. The dissenting judge held the change in land use to be a serious infirmity both in substance and procedure, which the majority calls ‘minor modification’. There is no prior approval of the heritage conservation committee as mandated by law and the environmental clearance is not a reasoned one. Dissenting judge is  loud and clear that what is envisaged is redevelopment of the entire central vista and the government has a duty to consult citizens and accord the right to participate in a project of national importance. That’s what participatory democracy all about. The dissenting view was only demanding implementation of participatory process existing in the law. But the majority held a different view that “public participation is not to supplant the discretion of the government or to retard development work. It is only for suggestions…. to sub serve public interest”. There is never a doubt over the power of the elected to decide what is in public interest. But what is mandated needs to be followed, It is strange that the highest court ignored that  and sermonized the country on keeping faith in the elected. The country required better reasoning from the highest court when the central government ignores the mandate of law. 

The sermon comes at a time when the highest court is accused of failing to stand up to the executive in protecting the rule of law. Now the worry is for those who have grown up believing that the highest court is the bulwark against executive highhandedness It’s in black and white. The fear is the court’s approval of the executive entitled to err could be the new guiding principle for a long time. We live on hope…. Waiting for that day when the dissenting view becomes the forerunner

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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