Chief Justice Altamas Kabir on human rights, influence of neoliberal capital and the role of Supreme Court

November 28, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Altamas Kabir became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on Sept. 29, 2012

Altamas Kabir became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on Sept. 29, 2012

USA, November 27, 2012: A high-powered delegation comprising of the Law Minister of India, Ashwani Kumar; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Altamas Kabi; Supreme Court judge Swatanter Kumar; Attorney-General of India, G.E. Vahanvati; Senior Advocate Rakesh Munjal and Professor S. V. Sivakumar, Director of the Indian Law Institute (ILI), visited Harvard University during the week of Nov 12.

Q. Justice Kabir, what was the purpose of your visit of the delegation to Harvard Law School?

AK: It was basically to enter into an understanding and agreement with Harvard’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research and theIndian Law Institute which is affiliated to the Supreme Court. Both are research oriented bodies, so we were looking for some cooperation in research to work in the area of Human Rights, specifically relating to children and especially adolescent girls who are often exploited and trafficked. So we had a series of discussions on these issues and then additionally on bonded labor and child labor: how we could address the elimination of these practices. We have laws for these issues but their implementation is not very satisfactory. So we wish to work out programs and have an exchange of ideas between students and faculty between Harvard and ILI, even have working groups formed.

Another of the area we wish to look deeper into is that of displacement of people on account of war, ethnic conflict or even because of migration like that of migrant labor – this especially hits children severely as they are denied healthcare and education.

So as part of our collaboration, we wish to make some data available – data that ILI has collected on these various issues – and hope that data can be utilized by anybody in our research partnership to analyse and come up with ideas of conflict resolution.

Q. Does the issue of displaced people also include what are called Internally Displaced People, the IDPs?

AK: Yes, included in the issues we wish to address is also the issue of IDPs, especially on account of ethnic conflicts. The laws relating to refugees are complex owing to the peculiar geography of India. We have Pakistan, China, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka among our neighbors – with some of these neighbors we’ve had boundary disputes. Now a question was raised during our visit here about some of the draconian acts we have, especially in the border areas, Maybe there is no other way.

Q. But, sir, in reference to these laws, we know that human rights abuses are committed on their strength?

Yes, that is true – there is the case of this woman, Irom Sharmila, who has been on hunger-strike for 12 years now trying to fight such laws, but most people in India do not seem to be aware of her.

Q. There are still a huge number of pending cases in India and the problem of under-trials is acute. How do you view the issue?

AK: For that we are pursuing Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanisms which include Arbitration, Conciliation, Lok Adalats (People’s Courts) and Mediation.

Q. How do you see the role or influence of neoliberal capital and policies that has been suspected of trying to influence economic policies and judicial outcomes?

Capital has always been around and has tried to exert an influence on the judiciary. But now when it is flexing its muscle and also when public money is mis-utilized, then something must be done. Such forces or interest groups, if they behave as if they are the law, must be taken to task. We cannot allow the state to be milked. So in such cases courts step in and attempt to rectify the situation. Sometimes no one is willing to even take up such cases involving abuse of power and corruption by powerful people. In those cases, the court directs various authorities to act in ways to resolve the situation and monitors continuously under a process called continuing mandamus.

Q. The law minister observed at a panel earlier at the Harvard Law School that the judiciary should operate between what he termed “judicial activism” and “judicial imperialism.” What do you make of that?

AK: The courts have been given the powers of judicial review and monitoring if there are instances of the executive (branch of the government) not doing what it is supposed to. For instance it has recourse to various articles like Article 142, 227 and 232 which expressly gives it all pervasive powers allow it to order judicial review. The court has been very very conservative till now but is now using its discretionary powers more often to make sure the the executive also functions and delivers as it is supposed to.

Q. How did you think this trip went?

AK: This trip has been very inspiring and rewarding. We’ve had the advantage of the views of the people here. There seemed to exist similarity of thought, there was a meeting of minds. We really want to take the research forward. We are hoping for some kind of written agreement between Harvard and the ILI soon, hopefully in the December-January time-frame.

– tcn

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