"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well."

-Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Will this Empathy Ultimately Render Justice?

Recent Judgment

Mahanadi Coal Fields Ltd. v. Mathias Oram, SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (C) NO.6933 OF 2007. Date of Judgment 19-07-10

That is one great stroke of judicial empathy. Half of the judgment is a preface (16 paragraphs out of 25) which has highlighted the agony of the writ petitioners and reflected it against the norms of constitution and democracy. It raised questions about the current approach of development and the dichotomies therein. It even touched on the Maoist activities without naming it. In the end, a Commission under the Chairmanship of a retired Justice of High Court of Orissa, fixing his remuneration as that of a sitting High Court judge and equivalent perks, was appointed to implement the scheme proposed by the Solicitor General of India.

Lapse of Time- The Essence of the Judgment

It took 20 years for the petitioners whose properties has been acquired by the Central Government under the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 and not paid a paisa as compensation, not even sure as to whether the status of land is acquired or is de-notified as of date, to reach the SC. Another 3 years in SC to get the attention of Justices Aftab Alam and B.S Chauhan.

It is commendable that the court thought out of the box to find a solution to the problem without further delay . Reportedly, with the able help of the Solicitor General of India, Mr. Gopal Subramanium, a scheme was drawn to accord relief to the petitioners than going through the entanglement of further process of litigation.

Will it be Another White Elephant!

Central Government as well as the appellant agreed upon the scheme of action presented by the Solicitor General. To make sure that the plan of action is implemented, the SC on its own accord appointed a Commission. There is clear direction as to the composition and emoluments and who is to bear the expenses but failed to mention a time frame within which the Commission has to carry out the proposed action plan. Time will tell whether this Commission will serve its purpose, as earnestly intended by the Justices, or will become another white elephant.

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