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Book review- The Shock Doctrine

Certain books outlive their prime years not only due to their authors’ brilliance (which in this case was never in doubt), but also due to the core issues they analyze and address. The Shock Doctrine, currently in its 10th year of publication since its release in September 2007, falls in that category. Although yet to achieve the status of a timeless classic, it certainly is a must-read for the general audience, academics, students, politicians and policy makers. Written in a trademark documentary, investigative journalism style that Klein has mastered over the years, the book delves deeply into the consequences of the onslaught of globalization, free trade agreements and unbridled corporate power witnessed across the world since the advent of “Reaganomics” and “Thatcherism” in the 80s.

The Shock Doctrine seeks to draw parallels between the concept of medical shock therapies and economic shock therapies that were first introduced in the Chicago School of Economics by Milton Friedman, the modern-day guru for classical economists, conservative politicians and big corporates across the world. While these parallels might appear to be exaggerated in some instances, the book clearly brings to light how policy makers and politicians across the world have used natural disasters and man-made disasters to privatize crucial sectors of the public space to profit-making enterprises who today enjoy unbridled power. Analyzing the impact of the pure version of Chicago school doctrine in Chile during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and later on in Russia, China, US and most recently in post-war Iraq, Klein provides a brilliant post-mortem of the destructive implications of globalization and neo-liberalism. Choosing to call this model “corporatism”, Klein argues how governments across the globe either under the garb of democracy (like Reagan and Thatcher) or during times of wars, natural and man-made disasters (Bush-era, the Communist Party in China, Soviet Union’s sell-off of public assets, or Iraq’s own sell-off of national assets to global corporations) have stripped down government functions to a bare minimal and thereby outsourced their basic functions and responsibilities towards citizens to profit seeking corporates who rake in hundreds of billions of dollars during every humanitarian crises. The rise of unbridled corporate power that began with the onset of globalization in the 80s and 90s, has today given birth to an altogether new sector called the “disaster-capitalism” complex, represented by firms like Halliburton and Blackwater besides the established biggies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. This in Klein’s view is the advanced form of the “military-industrial” complex that former US President Dwight Eisenhower had warned against before stepping down from Presidency.

If the fall of Soviet Union in the early 90s, allowed the US to impose its version of liberalisation and deregulation under the garb of World Trade Organization and Free Trade Agreements, the post 9/11 era allowed military power to be used with sheer impunity to turn war-time and humanitarian crises into profit-making opportunities. This conclusion is brilliantly backed by the numerous examples Klein highlights and dissects  – Iraq after the war, New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, South Africa after the end of Apartheid and China after Tiananmen Square massacre – all of which were turned into “opportunities” for business enterprises to take over the ever shrinking public sphere. Even military functions like maintaining jails, military barrack construction or post disaster government responsibilities such as rehabilitation and resettlement are handed over to private players who make whopping profits at the expense of tax payers’ money. Klein brilliantly unmasks the dubious plans and policies of these corporations and lobbyists who very smoothly slide between the public space as politicians of ruling parties (the Neoconservatives like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney) or as industry lobbyists after retirement.

Written in a typical Klein style, backed by hard-hitting facts and ground level research from post-war Iraq, Argentina (interviews with workers of its shut-down factories), Sri-Lanka and New Orleans, The Shock Doctrine is certainly a brave book that presents a horrifying and sadly true picture of the after-effects of the imposition of an extreme form of capitalism that is the norm today. Although Klein does not articulate an alternate view which in her opinion could replace this disaster stimulated growth model, she advocates a return to the Keynes model of the New Deal that would allow the public space to thrive along with private interests. In order to absolve herself of any possible biases, she also rightly criticizes the excesses of the authoritarian left and communist philosophies implemented by Stalin, Mao and Polpot. The book at times might come across as an over-simplification of the link between the rise of corporatism and crises, but it certainly does justice in highlighting the outcomes and human misery imposed on citizens to whom basic services and functions such as health, education and housing are now sold as commodities and not basic human rights.

The beauty of the book lies in its simple and free-flowing style, easy to understand examples and finely nuanced conclusions drawn by Klein to explain some very highly complicated policy decisions. Doing an impact analysis of any policy decision usually is a mundane read for the layman. Klein’s success lies in avoiding this very mundane storytelling style and instead relying on in-depth research through extensive reading and bringing to the fore hard facts from ground zero of war-zones. This book is difficult to put down after the initial few pages –  a cracker, and a very brave attempt at taking on the powers that be. But Naomi Klein is no ordinary person, so the book’s tone, tenor and thrilling pace comes as no surprise. Over the years she has developed a fearless persona with her hard-hitting articles on climate change and her social activism on issues of civil rights and climate justice. The Shock Doctrine is as relevant today as it was 10 years ago, and with the rise of right-wing forces across the world accompanied by the rise in Islamophobia it will remain a reminder of the downward slide the world has got itself engulfed in with its blind embrace of neoliberalism that thrives on a platform of toxic mix of radicalism and a monolithic form of nationalism.

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Picture diary – Basic Mountaineering Course

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#Being Crazy somewhere between Yuksom and Dzongri La

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Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s samadhi in Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

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Chowrikang base camp, Sikkim

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Chowrikang base camp, Sikkim

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Dudh Pokhari lake, Sikkim

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Glacier training @Rathong Glacier, Sikkim

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Around Chowrikang Base camp, Sikkim

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Somewhere close to Dzongri La, Sikkim

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@Tenzing Norgay Sherpa’s samadhi in Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

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Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), Darjeeling

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A Long Trek Through The Woods

 

Trekking can be a wonderfully rewarding activity. When undertaken in a UNESCO designated World Heritage site like the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), the experience becomes even more exceptional. Situated in Himachal Pradesh, GHNP is home to a variety of flora and fauna. The entry point to the GHNP is a hamlet called Gusheini, about 60 kms from the famous hill-station of Kullu. The village continues to remain a largely unknown place, as tourists continue to throng the better known places like  Dharamshala, Manali, Simla, and McLeod Ganj. This relatively anonymous gem Gusheini is GHNP’s biggest asset. The landscape of the hamlet and GHNP are clean, the air is pollution free providing an astounding sight of countless stars in the night sky, while the free-flowing river provides a pure source of drinking water for flora-fauna and humans alike.

The GHNP covers an area of more than 700 sq km, so a trek through the National Park can extend from a day to a week or beyond depending on the route. There are different routes within the National Park which trekkers and guides take. The difficulty level ranges from easy to moderate and even difficult for the longer distances which comprise of steep inclines and continuous climbing. The two main three-day treks are the Gusheini – Rolla – Chalocha or Gusheini – Rolla – Shilt Hut routes. Both of these cover a distance of around 15-18 kms (one way) and can be done over a three days (including return journey). Some of the longer treks upto Tirthan valley  or the Sainj valley extend beyond 80 kms over 5-8 days. Distance however, is rarely a determining factor for undertaking a particular route. Physical fitness of the trekkers, availability of time on hand and the desire to travel farther into the woods determines the path to be undertaken.

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While walking through the steep curves, narrow ridges, wooden bridges and crossing the rivulets of cold water, destination is seldom a goal for trekkers. The beauty of a trek is the journey. The excursion is a humbling experience in itself, especially for us city folks. While a walk through the city streets takes us through crowded roads, noisy streets and pollution filled air; a trek through the forests takes us through a “road” less travelled, filled with the sounds of birds, flowing water and bristling trees. The aromatic smell of Cedar (Deodar) trees has an energizing effect on the mind and body in contrast to the pollution filled air of our cities.

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While a trek can be undertaken on different terrains, forest areas provide splendid views and drastically different weather between daytime and night time. Walking over narrow ledges, slippery rocks, creaking wooden bridges and thorny shrubs on an endless ‘path’ is a  thrilling experience. The journey is not just a test of physical stamina but mental strength as well. Living with the basic minimal necessities, basic first-aid and medicines, making do with simple food, limited set of clothes and a back-pack is a life-long learning experience. It is a refreshing disconnect from our mundane lifestyle back in the cities. These treks also bring us a step closer to nature and ourselves.

 

This article is also available on – http://unboxedwriters.com/a-long-trek-through-the-woods/#.WB9YgS196M8

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“Stranded” assets, economic models and their linkage to the climate crisis

Despite the Conference of Parties (COP) at Paris ending on a perceived “no-winners or losers” note in December 2015, the world continues to grapple with the challenge of rising emissions and deep divisions over allocations of the remaining carbon budget to limit the rise in global average temperature by the end 2100 to the 2 degree C target agreed upon in Copenhagen in 2010. It is no secret that with current emission rates and the complete lack of leadership displayed by the biggest historical emitters – the US and other western countries, the remaining carbon budget could well be exhausted by around 2035.[1]

Given the scientific data available, most of which ironically comes from the west, what exactly is holding back the much required strong political action at the global scale to cut back emissions? A lot of the blame is pinned on the lack of a “strong political will” on the part of the developed (Annex I) and developing countries (non-Annex I). While this may be true to an extent, it fails to address the processes and economic systems in place which have created the environment of weak political action.

The notion of stranded assets that has dominated discussions pertaining to the available carbon stock has played a big role in the failure to shift away from fossil fuels.[2] In looking at these valuable natural resources as financial assets alone, their importance is only partly accounted for in economic value or exchange value in the short-term. The other important aspect of these assets – their intrinsic natural value and environmental attributes(forests and vegetation under which a large chunk of these resources lie)including their value as natural “carbon sinks” are disregarded completely.A not too visible outcome of considering the unused stock of fossil fuels as investments or stranded assets that need to be utilized is the manner in which the lives of future generations are discounted.[3] By choosing short-term financial and economic benefits over adverse long-term climate change impacts, the higher discount rates applied by staying invested in fossil fuels disregards the principles of inter-generational equity and climate justice.[4] Favouring short-term profits over long-term public investments and mitigation measures, goes against the goals of the climate agreement.

This tendency to seek market-based solutions – Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and emissions trading schemes (ETS) and market-driven interest rates among others – to alone deliver meaningful and effective results downplays the seriousness of the crisis. The author of the landmark Stern review on climate change, Lord Nicholas Stern, has called climate change a result of the greatest market failure that the world has seen.If markets have played a significant role in the crisis, is it then right to seek solutions within that framework alone to deliver the results needed to curb temperature rise below 2 degree C by 2100? If corporations’ current market values and balance sheets have already accounted for these stranded assets, any effective and meaningful emissions cuts will result in a significant impact on these valuations that also account for expected future consumption and use.[5] Therein lies the problem. This notion of stranded assets, balance-sheet valuations and market interest rates only accounts for the financial assets – profits, capex and financial returns. It does not account for the severe social impacts, environmental impacts and other negative externalities which will hit the planet and affect the poorest and marginalized the most. Ironically, a majority of those affected will continue to remain non-market participants. While the hardest impact will be felt by the poor, the well-off sections of society too will face the consequences of increasing heat waves,intense storms, water shortages and other unforeseen events expected in the latter half of the century. The severity of the climate crisis requires solutions which have never been sought before. A crisis of such proportions which threatens the existence of civilization on the planet cannot be addressed without undertaking radical reforms and solutions.

We should certainly strive to mitigate and minimize the impact of climate change on investments and assets by undertaking all possible measures (including market based solutions).The economic assets created today will also play an important role in the mitigation and adaptation strategies of the future generations. But looking at these economic assets from a short-term,consumption oriented view alone goes against the stated goal to limit temperature rise below 2 degrees C. This goal cannot be achieved by allowing such asset bubbles (carbon bubbles in this case) to remain on paper and diverts the risk impacts entirely on the future generations.Disregarding the ethical aspects of the debate and searching for financial opportunities alone in this planetary crisis will only dig civilization into a deeper hole.

 

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A response to ET’s blog by Sriram Ramakrishnan taunting “Left-liberals”

A recent article by The Economic Times’ resident editor, Mr Sriram Ramakrishnan, titled “Left-liberals in India completely unaware of despotic regimes“, came across as one of the most blatantly biased and factually incorrect opinion piece from an editor in recent times.  You will hopefully excuse my choice of words. Mr Ramakrishnan does not leave me any choice other than reverting back with a strongly worded retort.

The first thing he does is label all the Sahitya Akademi award winners who chose to return their awards in protest as “left-liberals/leftists” or “pseudo-secularists”.  The contempt with which he throws these labels at the protestors seems to imply that he considers “secularism” and “liberalism” as negative concepts and an affront to the nation. A second point he raises (which all other die-hard BJP/RSS supporters also raise like a parrot whenever the party is criticized for communal polarization) is the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in the late 80s and early 90s. Let me remind him that the exodus of Pandits from the valley too was a painful incident which people across the Left and Right of the spectrum opposed. In fact, barring the hardline Hurriyat at that time, even the common Kashmiri Muslim, who until the exodus, was a next door neighbor of the Pandits, too had tried to stop the Pandits from leaving. Unfortunately, circumstances in the valley at the time, along with Pakistani support for Kashmiri separatists who were gunning for the Pandits, left them with no choice but to leave the state. Did the Indian government fail in its duty to protect its citizens? Of course, it did. No one can deny culpability of our own government in handling the extremist violence in Kashmir. Also, let me remind you that it was not just Pandits who suffered. Even Muslims were killed in the ensuing phase of terrorism and continue to die even today. In the interim period, we have had a BJP led government twice at the centre (1998-2004 and the current Modi led dispensation since May 2014). We also have an alliance government in Kashmir comprising of BJP supporting a (hold your breath) pro-separatist PDP led government. What genuine efforts have been made by the BJP so far to ensure the return of Pandits to the valley, other than gaining political mileage from the issue? Wonder what he has to say about this volte-face by the BJP when it chose to support a known hardline CM – Mufti Sayeed, who in 1989 was responsible for the release of five militants in exchange for the release of his daughter. Whatever happened to “nationalism” and non-negotiable stance of the party on J&K ? Has the BJP taken any steps at all to bring back the Kashmiri Pandits to the valley? You may recollect the famous statement of Dr Shayama Prasad Mukherjee – “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge”. One wonders what he would have had to say about this tie-up with the PDP.

Another point he raised in his article is the “butchering” of hundreds in the Mumbai train bombings. He should be reminded that bombings do not result in selective “butchering” of victims. They rip apart everyone in the way (irrespective of religion, caste and class), which is what happened in the serial train blasts of Mumbai. The blasts killed innocents of different communities and religions.  Mr Sriram, what makes you say these blasts were not opposed by the “left-liberals” and “pseudo-secularists” you wish to condemn? Which secular, progressive and right thinking citizen has opposed the verdict given by the courts against the blasts accused? If you wish to count some fringe extremist or hardline Muslim organizations that have opposed the verdict as a part of “us” (read “left-liberal”, “pseduo-secular” in your own words), then I have nothing much to say.

He also mentions in his article about the killings of members of the Hindu community. Yes, these things certainly happen and are equally vehemently opposed especially by the Left parties. What he conveniently chooses to not highlight here is that the killings of these Hindus generally pertains to the killings of the lower caste Hindus (Dalits, adivasis) by the so-called upper caste. Why is it that the RSS/BJP and its bandwagon of supporters chooses to remain largely silent over these caste-related killings? On the question of NGO-funding, he already seems to have made up his mind about the government’s “noble” intentions of bringing in transparency in the way NGO’s function. Therefore, there is no point in debating over it. In order to defend 2002 riots, as is the case with all BJP/RSS spokespersons and supporters, Mr Sriram too mentions 1984 riots. The misfortune of this country is that innocent citizens (whether in 1984 or 2002) have been killed time and again over politics. It is only the label (Congress in 1984, BJP in 2002) that has changed. The difference in both the cases is that while 1984 happened (unfortunately) in the backdrop of the then PM’s killing amidst a raging pro-Khalistan insurgency in Punjab, 2002 was part of a much larger experiment – Hindutva carried out due to the ruling government’s complicity and tacit support. Two wrongs do not make a right. Those guilty of 1984 riots need to be brought to justice. Period. Likewise, with 2002.

His charge regarding people blaming the majority community of having turned against the minority community after PM Modi took over, borders on deliberate misinformation. This is a classic case of  deliberately misconstruing and misinterpreting statements and facts. No one has ever said that the “majority” community has turned against the minority. In fact people have said the exact reverse – a majoritarian government is allowing its support base to go on a rampage against the minorities while turning a blind eye to incidents in western UP, Karnataka, Maharashtra and other parts of the country. The PM is right when he states that the centre has no role in incidents such as the one that happened in Dadri and it is largely a failure of the state government. In fact a lot of the “so-called intellectuals and pseudo-secularists” he chooses to taunt have precisely been saying the same thing about Gujarat in 2002. Coming back to the current scenario, people have criticized the central government primarily over its lack of action against its own ministers, MPs and MLAs who have made the most derogatory statements and tried to inflame passions further. Remember what the central government Minister Dr Manish Sharma said – “You must also consider that there was also a 17-year-old daughter in that home. Kisi ne usey ungli nahin lagaayi,” after the Dadri incident as he indirectly condoned the attack. Mr Sriram conveniently chooses to not mention Sangeet Som and his statements or for that matter utterances of Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Prachi and others who time and again have vitiated the atmosphere.

Lastly, he has chosen to highlight the virtues of the current government which has been “tolerant” to all sorts of criticism and has not resorted to throwing in jail all those who have criticized it over various issues. We certainly are “grateful” to this government for its bigheartedness and supposed tolerance to divergent opinions and viewpoints. The last I remember, right to dissent and freedom of expression were guaranteed to us by the Indian constitution and not bestowed upon us by “tolerant” governments. Only 2 years ago, the current ruling party, then in opposition, was out on the streets lampooning the PM as well as the government over serious corruption charges as well as frivolous charges such as diminishing of the PM’s prestige. Did the UPA government throw all the protestors in jail? What is so unique about this government if it has been “tolerant” to criticism? Germany did not become a fascist state overnight. Hitler was in the political mainstream of German since the late 20s and by the mid 30s he had captured the entire state apparatus. By the mid 30s the Nazi’s had effectively taken control of all public institutions in Germany which then enabled them to impose their version of the most brutal form of dictatorship. What we are witnessing in India currently is nothing different. The RSS has publicly proclaimed its admiration for Nazi Germany and Hitler’s version of “nationalism”. Towards the end of the article he wonders over the “strange reason” for Hitler’s autobiography -Mein Kampf, continuing to have high sales. No prizes for guessing why !!

 

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Striking down NJAC – A historic judgment

The Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the controversial National Judicial Appointments Commision (NJAC) has come as a jolt to the government. The much hyped NJAC, was a bill conceived by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Although the UPA at the time was apparently toying with the idea of holding wider consultation with the legal fraternity as well in order to bring the judiciary on-board, the current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) dispensation after coming to power immediately pushed the bills for replacing the collegium system in an unusually hasty manner. The general argument against the collegium system, where judges of the Supreme Court (SC) and respective High Court’s (HC) appoint judges, was the lack of transparency and opacity of the process. While this criticism is not misplaced or incorrect, the system being brought in to replace the existing collegium system was nothing less than an indirect assault on the independence of  higher judiciary. If the government and political class were truly committed to judicial reforms and transparency, they could have sought a reform of the existing collegium system, which even eminent jurists like Mr Fali S Nariman had sought. In fact Mr Nariman, had been openly critical of the collegium system’s lack of  transparency and is known to have called out for reforming the system.

However, the blatant ramming through of an ill-conceived bill such as NJAC, which sought to water down the primacy of the judiciary in judicial appointments by having the Law Minister and two other “eminent persons” hold a virtual veto power, made Mr Fariman come out strongly in support of the collegium system vis-a-vis the NJAC. On the other hand, the Attorney General (AG), Mr Mukul Rohatgi, arguing in favour of NJAC on behalf of the government, continued to highlight the unanimity of parliament in passing the two bills seeking to call it the “will of the parliament”, and “will of the people.” While the unanimity in Parliament truly reflects the “will of the parliament”, drawing further conclusions from it to attribute the decisions of elected MPs and MLAs as “will of the people” is an insult of electoral democracy. If this logic were to hold true, it implies that people of India have also been in favour of the government and political class’ unanimous decisions to pass bills which raise the salaries and perks of elected representatives. Indeed, Justice J S Khehar, who headed the constitutional bench hearing the pleas against NJAC, had noted during the course of the arguments made by the AG, that the only other time such unanimity was observed in parliament was when MPs had passed bills to raise their salaries and perks.

Another argument made by the government and political parties against the existing collegium system is that India is the only country in the world where judges appoint judges. This is a flawed argument. One only needs to go back the previous year when the collegium headed by then Chief Justice of India (CJI), Justice R M Lodha had recommended four names for elevation as Supreme Court judges. One of the nominees recommended was Mr Gopal Subramaniam, a former Solicitor General and an eminent lawyer himself. The Modi government had then blocked Mr Subramanian’s nomination on certain grounds while accepting the other 3 recommendations. In fact the collegium system works in a manner that it nominates/recommends certain names after holding wider consultations within, and then forwards them to the government for approval. The government then seeks Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports on the nominated candidates and then sends its recommendations to the President for approval. In case of any negative intelligence reports over any candidates, the government sends its remarks back to the collegium to re-consider the recommendation, which the collegium may choose to disregard and re-send back to the government. Mr Gopal Subramaniam’s elevation as a judge was blocked by the Modi led dispensation despite the absence of any negative intelligence reports. The controversy finally ended when Mr Subramaniam himself withdrew his candidature in order to ensure that the other three recommended names did not get blocked owing to a constitutional crisis.  The entire episode only reflects the different stages and filtration criteria a candidate has to go through to be appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court. A similar process is followed by the collegiums of respective High Courts who send their recommendations to the SC collegium which then passes on the recommendations to the government after due consideration. While there has been valid criticism over the lack of transparency and opacity with which certain names are recommended or rejected, the process has at least ensured insulation from political interference. There certainly is scope for improving the existing process, which the SC also noted in its judgment striking down the NJAC, when it called for further hearings on November 3 to improve the working of the collegium system. It is important to note the government’s unequivocal opposition to the collegium system in the SC while arguing in favor of the NJAC, irrespective of the final decision of the SC on the NJAC petitions. The AG continuously and firmly argued that the “collegium system was dead and buried and could not be revived” even if the SC struck down the NJAC. [1] The government’s stand that the system of “judges appointing judges” is not followed in any country across the world including US or any other western countries, very conveniently highlights selective facts to suit its stated position. While the collegium system may not exist anywhere else across the world, the western countries have many other systems and incentives in place to ensure a fair, transparent and independent judiciary. India today ranks amongst the lowest countries in the world on the basis of a judges to people ratio. The salaries provided to judges of the High Court and Supreme Court are measly and do not match up to the standards followed in the western countries. In fact, the very low salaries fixed by the government since decades has stopped many capable and competent legal luminaries from taking up judicial positions. Government’s budgetary allocations to judiciary since years has hovered around 0.5% of total budget. The lack of sufficient recruitments is a fallout of this extremely low expenditure on judiciary. The high pendency and unending dragging of cases is also a result of these sub-standard budgetary allocations, vis-a-vis the judiciary in western countries.

If the government was truly committed to ushering reforms and transparency in the judiciary, it could have demonstrated it beginning to provide higher financial allocations. The government could have further sought improvements in the existing system, something which even judiciary has not been averse to. If the NDA government had done either of this, it could have truly demonstrated its genuine commitment to judicial independence and respect for judiciary. Instead it only chose to follow in the erstwhile regime’s footsteps by ramming through the NJAC legislation without holding wider consultations with the judiciary. This decision demonstrated how a change of regime in an electoral democracy does not necessarily reflect a change of existing systems and processes. The Modi led government instead showed how it was no different from the erstwhile regimes. The NJAC compromised the judiciary’s primacy in judicial appointments by having 3 non-judicial members (the Law Minister, and two “eminent persons” elected by a separate committee comprising the Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition/Leader of largest opposition party). The only brief for appointing the two “eminent persons” was that they need not be from legal profession or for that matter have any law qualifications at all. In addition, one of the two nominated “eminent persons” had to be from the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities or Women. The act further stated that any person being considered for appointment as Chief Justice and Judge of High Courts, cannot be appointed, “if any two members of the NJAC do not agree to the proposal”. This effectively provided a veto power to the non-judicial members of the Commission, thereby striking at the heart of judicial independence.

Critics of the collegium system may rightly argue that ascribing a negative bias or for that matter an ulterior motive in appointing “committed judges” to non-judicial members of the commission is incorrect and unjust. One however only needs to look at all the other institutions of our country which are either led by government/political appointees or by the government itself. The CBI has been a caged parrot since ages. The near toothless police forces across states face relentless political interference by way of appointments as well as the uncertainty of  regular transfer to no-go zones in cases where upright officers dare to follow the rule book at the risk of upsetting the ministers. The word bureaucracy unfortunately has attained a certain negative connotation since ages. Seldom have the civil services officers been able to stand up to the ruling dispensation and ensure the right decisions have been taken. Appointments made to the CVC, CIC, IB as well as other cultural and scientific institutions are equally at the mercy of the government of the day. A majority of our country’s sports associations are run by politicians belonging either to the ruling party of the opposition party. The mess the BCCI today finds itself in is no less due to the involvement of political persons from across the political spectrum. An institution of repute such as the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) too hasn’t been spared of political interference. The ugly confrontation between FTII students and government over appointment of a relatively unknown Gajendra Chauhan (whose claim to fame has been a prominent role in tele-serial Mahabharata and his association with the Modi led ruling BJP) continues till date. If the AG’s argument of “will of the people” were to be applied to the decision of appointing Mr Chauhan as FTII Chairman, it falls flat on its face as the primary stakeholders of the institute, the students themselves, have continued to oppose his appointment since it was announced in June. The incident clearly reflects that decisions made by the executive, do not necessarily reflect the “will of the people.” In fact if one were to extend this very argument further, the Modi government’s decision to promulgate the ordinance on Land Acquisition Bill recently, very much went against both the “will of the Parliament” and consequently “will of the people”. Conveniently changing sides and arguments to suit its own objectives has been a hallmark of the political class in India and the current NDA government by all standards excels in this.

Congress and BJP led regimes or for that matter other state government’s as well have time and again clashed with the judiciary whenever it has stepped into executive’s domain. Judicial overreach too has at times been unnecessary and needless. Parliament and Judiciary are pillars of democracy which need to co-exist and assist each other. While Parliament derives its legitimacy through elected representatives, this legitimacy does not give it a right to step into judicial domain. Elections alone do not determine “legitimacy” in an electoral democracy. The concept of “judges appointing judges” is not “anti-democratic” just because judges do not face elections. The judges themselves have been a part of the social and legal system and have in come up through the ranks after years of practice. It is true that there have been instances of corruption and transgressions in the judiciary. These need to be stopped and halted by creating appropriate systems of checks and balances. It however does not provide an excuse for executive’s interference in judicial appointments. The 2G scam, coal-gate, Adarsh scam, CWG scam, mining scams of Goa and Karnataka, hundreds of fake encounter cases, Vyapam scam, Saradha scam, and numerous other scams have demonstrated the degrading standards of our political parties. If elected representatives collectively represent the “will of people”, does it mean that these scams were an outcome of “will of the people”? How can these very tainted, yet elected representatives be trusted if they were to decide who could or could not become a judge? The collegium system, despite all its flaws, has ensured an insulation from direct interference by the executive. The SC has rightly accepted the shortcomings of the collegium system and has invited recommendations to further improve its functioning.

If our political parties and government truly respect judicial independence and integrity, they will do well to provide useful suggestions for further improvements to bring in transparency. Unfortunately, the current dispensation has instead expressed its anguish at the SC’s appropriate decision to strike down the draconian NJAC. The current judgment rightfully restores the primacy of judiciary in judicial appointments and has ensured its insulation from external interference. This judgment adds another feather in the SC’s cap in safeguarding the interests of the common man.

[1] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/collegium-dead-buried-cant-return-government-to-supreme-court/

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