Courts being starved into submission

The thinly veiled warning given to the judiciary on April 9 by prime minister Manmohan Singh that "the dividing line between judicial activism and judicial over-reach is a thin one" and should not be crossed, followed by chief justice of India K.G. Balakrishna’s cool response to the effect that tension between Parliament and the judiciary is "natural and to some extent desirable", has caused widespread dismay among political pundits and champions of India’s faux democracy.

Such dismay is unwarranted. On the contrary, the public interest is better served by intensification of the incomplete national debate on the respective roles of Parliament, the judiciary and the Constitution of India. Within both houses of Parliament in New Delhi and legislative assemblies of constituent states of the Indian Union there is a pervasive — and erroneous — belief that elected legislators have unrestricted right to enact legislation which they believe is in the larger public interest. On the other hand the higher judiciary has always maintained through several rational and well-reasoned judgements, that legislation which alters or abridges fundamental rights conferred upon all citizens and minorities in particular, is illegal and void for violating the Constitution, which is supreme.

Unfortunately even as this issue is being debated and awaits resolution, the somewhat gullible justices of the Supreme Court seem to be insufficiently aware that through the simple expedient of not filling judicial vacancies in the higher and subordinate courts and starving the judicial system of funds, wily, self-serving politicians have already won half the battle by arousing public hatred, ridicule and contempt for the judiciary. These days it is commonplace for politicians and the citizenry to excoriate the judiciary for the law’s horrific delay, and the alleged tardiness of judges to clear the backlog of 25 million-plus cases pending in courts countrywide.

Surprisingly, judges and lawyers who constitute the backbone of the country’s much-maligned justice system are silent about this flagrant political conspiracy to starve the courts into submission. Surely they are aware that post-independence India’s infamous reputation for the law’s delay is rooted in the nation’s 10 per million judge-population ratio as against 107 per million ratio in the US and 50 in the UK. Moreover it is pertinent to note that annual government expenditure on maintaining the judicial system aggregates a mere 0.2 percent of GDP in India (cf. 4.3 percent in Britain).

Justice V.S. Malimath, a former Supreme Court judge estimates that to become fully effective, India’s ramshackle justice system requires the immediate appointment of 1,500 high court and 18,000 subordinate court judges with requisite supportive infrastructure. It is incumbent upon the bar and bench to insist — on pain of closing down the courts — that the justice system is brought to full strength. This is the non-negotiable prerequisite of restoring citizens’ faith in the rule of law.

Encourage sports at school level

The ignominious preliminary round exit of the much-hyped Indian cricket team from the World Cup tournament recently concluded in the West Indies, is arguably the greatest sports disaster in the history of independent India. Moreover the fact that the star-studded Indian team was roundly thrashed by neighbouring nations Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — countries whose population is less than of most constituent states of the 1.2 billion strong Indian Union — was perhaps the most unkindest cut of all.

Following the dismal non-performance of India’s multi-millionaire World Cup cricketers before a global audience estimated at one billion, there’s been no shortage of learned analyses investigating the causes of the abysmal showing of the national team. Barring a few, all of them have failed to discern the linkage between the conspicuous failure of post-independence India in all fields of endeavour and persistent under-investment in education.

With the country’s benighted central planners averaging an annual investment of 3.5 percent of GDP — half of what most developed OECD nations allocate for education — it’s hardly surprising that very little of it is left over for sports education. Indeed given this grudging national mindset towards development of human resources, it is doubtful if nurturance of athletic and sporting skills is at all accepted as a natural adjunct of education in Indian academia. The consequence is that at primary and secondary school levels, the number of children actually deriving sports education is very small. It is quite probable that Australia (pop.20 million) has more school children playing full-fledged cricket, tennis, swimming, hockey etc than India (pop.1.2 billion).

This grudging national mindset is reflected in the expenditure priorities of the apex-level Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI). Although reportedly the richest sports organisation worldwide, it spends precious little for the development of the game at the base — primary and secondary school or even university — levels. Minimally maintained playing squares and grounds are a rarity in education institutions. In major nurseries of Indian cricket such as Mumbai, overcrowded playing conditions in the maidans defy description with local cricket associations boasting bulging coffers conspicuously failing to provide even the elementary service of levelled and demarcated playing fields for school and/or club cricketers. Admittedly BCCI has promoted a handful of elite, well-equipped cricket academies which intensively train a limited number of ‘promising’ children. But these hothouse nurseries with their shallow pools of talent are no substitute for millions of playing fields countrywide, in which natural talent inevitably blooms.

If BCCI and sports organisations in general are at all serious about India emerging as a force to reckon with in world cricket, athletics, field games etc they must invest their currently wasted millions in creating conducive playing conditions in thousands of public spaces accessible to all. But even these initiatives are likely to prove of limited value until the Union and state governments double their annual outlays for education while simultaneously widening the popular definition of education as a holistic experience beyond academic accomplishment.