Former law minister Shanti Bhushan, an eminent lawyer in his own right, has, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, claimed that eight of the previous 16 chief justices of India were corrupt. It is a shocking claim, and though he has provided no proof, there is little doubt that some of the mud will stick to the apex court.
If even a quarter of what Shanti Bhushan said is true, then India's loss is immeasurable. For years, we have silently acknowledged that many, if not most, of our politicians and bureaucrats are on the take. The only institutions that were untainted by suspicion were the higher courts, and the army. Today, both these institutions stand tarnished — and the halo of incorruptibility wears thin.
The judiciary is seen as the third pillar of democracy, after the legislature and the executive. For a healthy democracy, the three are required to balance one another. The judiciary also stands apart, since its members are not drawn from the pool of politicians that make up our legislature, and in turn, the executive.
Indians have reason to be proud of their judiciary. Despite moments of weaknesses, the higher courts have ensured that Indian politicians don't destroy this country. The courts have often stepped in to rescue and protect harassed individuals against the excesses of an uncaring state. In fact, the higher courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, have become so active that there are calls to curb excessive judicial activism.
But if Indians turned to the courts for succour, it was because they saw them as honest brokers of justice. Their decisions were assumed to be made on merit rather than petty political concerns or, worse, monetary considerations. This image now stands tainted. In the last few months, we have had too many cases of dubious justices who have blotted the fair name of the judiciary.
Yet, all is not lost. The judiciary may have a few black sheep, but it also has extremely honest and brilliant men. The present chief justice of India, Sarosh Kapadia, has a reputation for honesty. It is for him and his senior colleagues now to take up the challenge of cleaning the higher judiciary and, more importantly, finding a way to ensure that dubious judges are eased out before they cause damage. He must act fast, otherwise the day isn't far off when Indians begin to treat the judiciary with the same contempt they reserve for politicians or bureaucrats. What do you think over this vital matter?