With due respect
In July, delivering the third Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture, Justice Ranjan Gogoi had quoted from an article in The Economist which said that “independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence”. He agreed with the sentiment, said Justice Gogoi, while suggesting, in today’s context, a telling tweak: “… not only independent judges and noisy journalists but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges”. On Tuesday, Chief Justice Gogoi led a miffed court in adjourning in a matter of minutes the hearing on CBI chief Alok Verma’s plea against the government’s decision to divest him of his responsibilities. The court’s ire was apparently provoked by the fact that certain aspects of the CBI case, including DIG M K Sinha’s petition alleging corruption, had appeared in sections of the media. Something about the CJI’s anguish and censure, something about his prioritising of “confidentiality” in a public trial, does not meld well with the spirit of his earlier remarks which recognised the need for journalists to be not just noisy but also independent, and not just independent but also noisy.
To be sure, there can be cases when a judge closes a courtroom in the overriding interest of free and fair justice. But the bar must be set high for imposing restrictions, the standard must be strict and the purpose narrowly tailored. There can be security and other reasons, as in rape cases or those involving juveniles. But it is not clear at all that the present case, born of a crisis of institutions that has played out in full public view — involving the country’s premier investigating agency, the political establishment, and maybe the national security set-up — merits this vehemence about sealed covers from the court. In fact, at a time when it is being called upon to weigh in on serious issues thrown up by the civil war that had evidently broken out at the top of the CBI and questions of due process raised by the government’s midnight intervention in the matter, the court’s concern for “confidentiality” and the “CBI’s dignity” seems more than a little off-key.
Justice Gogoi has eloquently described the judiciary as the “last bastion of hope”, and said that it must be more “on the front foot”, more “pro-active”. Those are wise words, especially in times when it may seem that there is a creeping imbalance of power between institutions because of a political executive armed, after three decades, with a decisive majority. But even as it asserts itself more strongly and fully, the judiciary, being the prime custodian of the constitutional letter and spirit, must also protect and nurture the space of other countervailing institutions. Justice Gogoi’s appearance in the January press conference was a powerful statement on the public’s right to know. In the CBI case, the court has its work cut out. The media doing its job only contributes to, not takes away from, the quality of justice.
Noisy: making or given to making a lot of noise.
Example: A noisy, giggling group of children
Synonyms: rowdy, clamorous, boisterous, turbulent, uproarious, riotous
Tweak: a fine adjustment to a mechanism or system.
Example: Here there is little or no help, but a small tweak to the taxation system could make an enormous difference to stay-at-home mothers.
Synonyms: adjustment, modification, alteration, change, refinement
Example: She was slightly miffed at not being invited
Apparently: as far as one knows or can see.
Example: The child nodded, apparently content with the promise
Synonyms: seemingly, evidently, it seems that, it appears that, it would seem that
Provoke: stimulate or give rise to a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one in someone.
Example: The decision provoked a storm of protest from civil rights organizations
Synonyms: arouse, produce, evoke, cause,call forth, elicit
Anguish: severe mental or physical pain or suffering.
Example: She shut her eyes in anguish
Synonyms: agony, pain, torment, torture, suffering, distress, angst, misery
Establishment: the action of establishing something or being established.
Example: The establishment of a scholarship renews that personal interest of donors in students
Synonyms: foundation, institution, formation, inception, creation, installation
Intervention: the action or process of intervening.
Example: They are plants that grow naturally without human intervention
Eloquent: fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing.
Example: An eloquent speech
Synonyms: fluent, articulate, expressive, silver-tongued, persuasive
Decisive: settling an issue
Example: The Supreme Court voided the statute by a decisive 7–2 vote
Synonyms: deciding, conclusive, determining, key, pivotal, critical
Appearance: the way that someone or something looks.
Example: I like the appearance of stripped antique pine
Synonyms: looks, air, aspect, mien