The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: A high court judge is about to be impeached. Does the rot go deeper?

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Robe and dagger

Weeks after senior judges of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference to express their concerns about unseemly judicial conduct, there seems to be some progress. At that time, the four judges said that “democracy was in danger”. Over the last two days, it has emerged that an in-house panel set up by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has recommended the removal of an Allahabad High Court judge because of his questionable actions. The Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court subsequently withdrew all judicial work to that judge, Justice Shri Narayan Shukla. Chief Justice of India Misra has reportedly started the process of recommending impeachment to the prime minister. Justice Shukla, on his part, is said to have refused to resign or take voluntary retirement, and has instead gone on 90 days leave.

The case is connected, though different, to the Medical College bribery matter in which the Chief Justice of India himself has been entangled. Justice Shukla was being investigated for allegedly overruling restraint orders passed by the Supreme Court in August 2017, and allowed a Lucknow institute to admit medical students. He even allegedly made hand-written corrections to his own bench’s order to ensure the institute could admit students in the 2017-’18 academic year. The in-house panel set up by Chief Justtice Misra found that Shukla “disgraced the values of judicial life [and] acted in a manner unbecoming of a judge”.

Shukla’s removal from office is all but certain now. The subsequent question is whether Misra, who earlier refused permission to the Central Bureau of Investigation to name Shukla in its First Information Report in the case, will now allow the investigating agency to look into these allegations of judicial impropriety. The other question is whether the public at large will get a chance to see the report the in-house panel prepared on Shukla’s conduct.

This is tricky territory here, and while it is commendable that Chief Justice Misra is willing to go so far as to recommend impeachment of a high court judge, it is important that this also comes with transparency. If there is one thing that became clear after the revolt-that-amounted-to-little by the four senior judges of the Supreme Court, it is the opacity with which the higher judiciary conducts itself. In this case, the chief justice of India has acknowledged impropriety, and now Parliament will get a chance to examine the same.

But that simply cannot be the end of the matter, since the case at hand suggests that the rot in the judiciary goes deeper. Opening up to investigation agencies of course brings in the danger of the Centre having power over the judiciary. But that is the exact reason why the entire process needs to be more transparent, taking the legislature and, in that way, the public at large into confidence. Indians were given a glimpse into some serious concerns about the higher judiciary a few weeks ago. It is important that the window that was cracked open is not summarily shut with information of a recommended impeachment. There are many more questions about why “democracy is in danger” because of Chief Justice Misra’s conduct, as well as goings on in the judiciary. The Indian people have a right to know whether that danger has passed.

The Big Scroll

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Punditry

  1. “In retrospect, the timing of demonetisation and GST turned out to be exactly right from a political viewpoint,” writes Swami Aiyar in the Economic Times. “The dislocation and damage to the economy were done in 2017, leaving time for the economy to recover smartly in 2018-’19, in the run-up to the next general election.”
  2. “A clear separation of national, state and local body powers in the Constitution will actually obviate the need for holding simultaneous elections as voters will know whom to hold accountable for what,” writes R Jagannathan in Swarajya.
  3. Ajay Srivastava in Hindu Businessline offers a new model to improve agricultural productivity in the country.
  4. Will the Budget address the concerns raised in the Economic Survey or will it go its own way, asks Ajit Ranade in the Hindu.
  5. “Global economic history suggests that income tax collections as a per cent of GDP tend to rise sharply once average incomes cross the $2,000 threshold – from 1% of GDP to around 5% of GDP,” writes Niranjan Rajadhyaksha in Mint. “India is on the cusp of that threshold.”

Giggle

Don’t miss

Nitin Sethi explains how Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian’s annual Economic Survey reveals a sobering picture of India’s future.

“The lead author of Economic Survey 2017-’18 and India’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, presented a sobering prognosis of how Indian economy could perform in the short term, claiming it will grow at between 7% and 7.5% in next financial year.

This is in strong contrast to the rosy picture Subramanian painted in his first economic survey, for 2014-’15, when he had said that double-digit growth for India’s Gross Domestic Product was within reach.

Asked by a journalist why India had slipped from this sweet spot, he was candid. ‘Stuff happens,’ he said.

Subramanian went on to describe why the ebullience had slipped out of his reports – and the economy. The bad stuff, he said, was the result of the ‘temporary’ impacts of the government’s decision in November 2016 to demonetise high value currency notes and the introduction in in April 2017 of Goods and Services Tax. But these effects, he said, were now fading. He could not have predicted demonetisation and had advised that a better GST system to be put in place. Subramanian did admit, though, that he had underestimated the impact of one factor he had foreseen – the bad loans with which Indian banks are saddled and the unhealthy balance sheets of Indian companies. The unexpected high interest rates of borrowing money made investment difficult and the rise in global oil prices have hemmed in the economy, he added.”

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