Arun teja Polcumpally
In Telangana, it is felt that Political parties work de-facto for their power rather than working for the benefit of the people. It might be true or may not be, but this is a general statement anyone would make in India, but it would appear strong in Telangana during the COVID pandemic. These speculations might arrive because of the pandemic crisis, biased reporting or even personal loss. These are just allegations of the government neglecting the domestic social contract between the state and the public. However, the reality supports these allegations. Though the executive department comprising civil servants recruited with one of the toughest processes in India, it is sometimes alleged to act in favour of the Telangana government. State’s highest bureaucrat, Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar is also alleged by the opposition to be confident of the TRS party. With this background, let us check whether the judiciary that is known to be autonomous is truly balancing the executive and the legislative.
In the recent slew of incidents, Telangana saw cases being registered against ministers of the state. For example, Etela Rajender, former health minister of Telangana, was accused of land grabbing. The government has taken swift action and a detailed report was made within 24 hours. Such quick action is abnormal in India. This sent some signals towards political ploy being made by the ruling party. However, the court ordered the government not to initiate any action based on the report of the Medak governor under whose jurisdiction, the land grabbing was allegedly made. During June, July and August 2021, there is no reporting or government clarification released on Etela Rajender Reddy’s alleged land grabbing. All went silent! In this incident, the judiciary appears to adhere to the rule of law. However, the political damage has been done and one might say that the TRS party’s agenda has been achieved.
Another running case is on sports and excise minister, Srinivas Goud on land grabbing. Though there are no media reports on these, local broadcast media and word of mouth in his constituency run fast. The tussle between the minister and a journalist can be accessed here. There is also short news published by The New Indian Express, reporting a couple residing in Mahabubnagar district approached the state human rights commission for protection against the excise minister and his family. The couple also claimed that the minister would send police to harass and threaten them at night. It shows that they approached the state human rights commission for protection from the Telangana state. Judiciary is silent on this. In this case, the judiciary’s inclination appears to be towards the government.
With these two incidents, what can we say about the Telangana state judiciary and the state? To be clear, here we are separating Judiciary from the entire state apparatus. In Etela’s case, the state has hastily taken up a random complaint and a detailed report was generated within 24 hours. This is unlikely in the history of Indian bureaucracy given its political bias, red-tapism and even more, an enquiry into a state cabinet minister. The High court correctly smashed all the reports and asked the state not to initiate any action against Jamuna Hatcheries until a proper enquiry is conducted. In the case of Srinivas Goud, no judicial intervention or inquiry has been asked or taken up. These are contrasting cases.
Is Judiciary politically biased?
First, we need to remember that the judges will not be prosecuted for their judgements in India. This freedom is not a property of the judiciary but a commodity to be held by the judiciary in trust for the public. An article published by Jurist.org suggests that Indian Judges can be politically biased. This conclusion is arrived at by looking at the data of retired judges occupying government positions soon after their retirement.
Before delving into the judiciary’s independence and its status in Telangana, let’s understand what the term ‘independence’ means.
Simply stated independence of judiciary means that:
- The other organs of the government, the executive and legislature must not restrain the functioning of the judiciary in such a way that it is unable to do justice.
- The other organs of the government should not interfere with the decision of the judiciary.
- Judges must be able to perform their functions without fear or favour.
Pandemic Analysis on Judiciary
Just before the pandemic, Indian media has shown a lot on Judiciary being in hands with the government. Especially with the appointment of Deepak Mishra as Chief Justice of India. However, the allegations were made by the top judges and Justices of the country – J Chelameswar, who has since retired, Ranjan Gogoi, the current Chief Justice and Madan Lokur. Given their stature, the allegation cannot be brushed away. The debate of CJI being political controlled is always present anywhere in the world. No matter how politically biased, as an institution, it always upheld the basic rights of the citizens.
However, during the pandemic, India has seen a proactive stance of the judiciary towards the public. High courts have intervened and strictly asked state governments whether they can manage the crisis or should direct the central government to step in. However, the role played by the supreme court is seen to be antagonistic to the role of the high courts. There was significant criticism of the supreme court as it stepped back from directing the central government to form a national COVID strategy. The Supreme court has even said it would look into the matter of high courts involvement in the state’s executive functions during the pandemic.
Despite these contentions and the contrasting stance of the supreme court, Telangana high court lashed out at the state for its lazy attitude and slow COVID response.
“What are you going to make of the people of the State….sitting ducks?” Chief Justice Kohli remarked at Advocate General (AG) B.S. Prasad
“…Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B Vijaysen Reddy said … People asked you to rein in the private hospitals . We asked you to bring in the GO (government order). You brought it finally at the flag end of the second wave.”
“On one hand, the secretary to medical and health appeared before the court two days ago and said the state is fully equipped with beds, infrastructure, oxygen and life-saving medicines to treat the Covid-infected. On the other, your health minister says the state faced more than 120 tonnes of oxygen deficiency due to the failure of the Union government to supply it, and complains that the Centre is not fair enough in sending the required medicine stocks and vaccination doses. Which contention should be trusted? How much a paucity of oxygen and medicines in one day? Is it that the situation became critical within a day,” Chief Justice Kohli asked the government.”
“This is blatant violation of the constitution. You are denying medical treatment to people” a division bench comprising chief justice Hima Kohli said while looking at the issue of stopping ambulances at the state borders.
The way the judiciary acted during the pandemic shows that it is not a slave to the executive or legislative political elites. It has kept its independent and functional autonomous stance. Lashing out at the government in the strictest sense and even criticising their measures and governance in public is an example of the latter. However, in the case of Etela Rajender and Srinivas Goud, Judiciary fared differently than during the times of pandemic. From this analysis, it appears that Judiciary realises its role only in the time of crisis but not during the regular time. Pandemic, the case of Etela are crisis periods. Pandemic has human lives at the cost and curbing the virus is the priority of the human species. Etela’s case was a political crisis.
If the judiciary acts only during extreme times, it can be inferred that it is only saving itself from public defame and irrelevance. It’s proactive working, adoption of new techniques to have equal treatment to all cases, be it high-profile or of a common man will sustain its autonomous relevance.