If Supreme Court Doesn’t Protect Rights Of Citizens, God Help Us

The “illegally constructed” house of Javed Mohammad in Prayagraj was demolished on June 12 by the Prayagraj Development Authority after a notice was put up at the residence. The house was demolished not so much for the fact that it was “illegally constructed” as for its owner being identified as the mastermind behind the recent communal disturbances in that city.

Justice was quick, effective, and salutary. It was a lesson to all “miscreants” that this was how justice will be parceled out in Uttar Pradesh. There is no need to go to courts, no need for the due process of law, no need to abide by the Constitution.

In UP, the law is what the executive determines it to be, and only politics drives the executive.

When I saw images of the Prayagraj demolition I immediately tweeted, “I urge the Supreme Court to take cognisance suo motu of the brazen violation of due process by the UP government by bulldozing people’s houses. The executive cannot be allowed to become the police, prosecutor and judge all in one.” By evening, the tweet had received thousands of “likes” and had been re-tweeted hundreds of times. As usual, the bhakts got into the act and abused me left, right and centre.

I have no idea whether my tweet has come to the notice of the Supreme Court, but it would be interesting to see what course the case would take if the court were indeed to take notice of this demolition.

Houses are not built in a day. They take months, if not years, to finish. So, this “illegal construction” could not have sprung up overnight. Permissions would have been sought and secured from the municipal authorities for water, electricity and other services. Nobody at that time bothered to check whether the construction was legal. It was only when the owner was identified as the mastermind of the violence that the authorities suddenly woke up and decided that the construction was “illegal” and deserved the “death penalty” of immediate demolition. Where is the rule of law? Or do we not have one in UP?

“Due Process” is a concept which was incorporated in Clause 39 of Magna Carta in England in the year 1354, almost 800 years ago. It read as follows: “No man of what state or condition he be, shall be put out of lands or tenements nor taken, nor disinherited, nor put to death, without he be brought to answer by the due process of law.”

Later, this was incorporated in the US Constitution through the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments.

The Constitution of India adopted a slightly different version of the same idea by incorporating the principle of “procedure established by law”. The Indian version protects the rights of citizen to life, liberty and property against the wayward actions of both the executive and the legislature and is therefore wider in its jurisdiction than the American law.

The responsibility of protecting the rights of the citizen has been cast directly on the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. Hence my appeal was directly to that august body to protect the citizen from the excesses of a rampaging state.

India is going through a difficult phase where the Constitution, laws, precedents and practices have no value. What matters is a strong leader to whom no law applies and who can do exactly as he pleases. There is an army of bhakts ready to stand and applaud. The greater the illegality, the louder the applause. And it is now happening with monotonous regularity in states ruled by the BJP. It is the surest road to win the hearts of a section of society and ensure electoral victory as and when elections take place. This is all there is to it – cling to power by hook or crook. What is the recourse available to the citizen in these circumstances? When the executive becomes wayward and the legislature powerless, the citizen can only turn to the judiciary, which has vast powers, specially conferred on it by the Constitution, to protect rights. And this includes the power to take suo motu note of issues where the fundamental rights of the citizen are being assailed. 

The English fought the King and won their rights in a long struggle. In France it took a bloody revolution to secure the fundamental rights of citizens. In the US it happened after a war of independence and a civil war. In India, the struggle for freedom was not only for independence from British rule but also for personal liberty of the citizen. So, these freedoms have not come free; our forefathers fought for them, made sacrifices, including the supreme sacrifice. Then, and then alone, we enjoy these freedoms – the value of which we seem to have forgotten today. Remember, no course of “entire political science” teaches this; you learn it when you study real political science.

The worst form of tyranny is the tyranny of the state. When the ruler starts believing that he is a law unto himself and there is no law superior to his law or no authority superior to his authority, then it augurs the collapse of the rule of law, of fundamental freedoms, of democracy and its values and all that we cherish.

If the Supreme Court of India also remains supremely indifferent to the goings-on and the citizen is deprived of his last recourse, then God alone can save us. Can a free-for-all be far behind? 

(Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004). He is currently vice-president, Trinamool Congress.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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