ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Perception and Reality

The Supreme Court is compelled to intervene when the executive fails.

The Narendra Modi government seems to want to test the tension between the judiciary and the executive. Last month Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal spoke of “judicial overreach” in the context of keeping a balance between environment and development. This month the Prime Minister has given full-throated advice to the judiciary on its role when he asked judges to reflect on whether “five-star activists” were driving the judiciary. He was careful to speak of this being the “perception”but the message was clear.

Modi and Goyal’s statements are not that different from those made by members of the previous government who also chafed at judicial activism. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, several members of the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government spoke in almost identical language when they talked about bottlenecks on the road to economic progress being linked to court rulings on environmental issues. While the UPA dealt with the problem, as they saw it, by swiftly changing the environment minister and bringing in someone more amenable to clearing project proposals, the current government set up a high-level committee headed by T S R Subramanian, a former cabinet secretary, to look again at several environmental laws that were ostensibly creating hurdles. In other words, irrespective of the politics of the party in power, on one thing they were united: either environmental laws had to be changed, or worked around, so that the business of business was unaffected.

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