The unseating of central vigilance commissioner PJ Thomas is the latest breakthrough made by the Supreme Court in the course of a resurgent judicial activism under the leadership of Chief Justice SH Kapadia.
The ouster of Thomas, who was earlier telecom secretary, comes close on the heels of resignation of his minister A Raja, again on the Supreme Court’s prodding through a public interest litigation (PIL) related to the 2G scam.
The vigorous manner in which the SC has pursued a range of PIL cases in recent months has marked a new phase and a sharp contrast to the earlier phase when KG Balakrishnan was the chief justice. Many government leaders consider the court now a thorn in their flesh, while to the common man, the judiciary is once again seen as a source of hope — the sole institution that has the gumption to stand up to the high and mighty.
Legal experts say under Kapadia the court’s credibility has been restored after the damage it had suffered during the three-year tenure of Balakrishnan, whose kin are now under the scanner for amassing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income.
The renewed efforts to hold the influential to account have helped the institution put behind the unsavory controversies of the earlier regime — such as the reluctance to disclose the assets of judges and the abortive move to elevate a judge allegedly with disproportionate assets.
The display of such extraordinary commitment to probity in public life was, in fact, consistent with a statement made by Kapadia at the time of his appointment as CJI in May 2010. "I come from a poor family. I started my career as a Class IV employee and the only asset I possess is integrity."
But as regards the idea of PILs, Kapadia seems to have had a rethink while in office. For, on his very first day as CJI, Kapadia, far from extolling the virtues of PIL cases, struck a note of warning by declaring that those filing frivolous PILs would be charged huge penalties. He also said the procedures for PILs would be tightened.
But as it has turned out, for PILs with merit, there hasn’t been a more sympathetic court than the one headed by Kapadia. The petition against Balakrishnan, for instance, was entertained despite Kapadia’s own acknowledgement that there were deficiencies in it.
He made several administrative reforms to ensure that PILs received due attention. Among other things, he broke from the past practice of the CJI’s bench monopolising PIL cases. Kapadia shared major PIL cases with other benches, including one headed by a judge who is 11th in the order of seniority, Justice G S Singhvi. It is the bench consisting of Singhvi and Justice A K Ganguly that has been relentlessly pushing the CBI to probe all the culprits in the 2G scam, from among politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists.
Since the Radia tapes were connected with the 2G scam, Kapadia’s administration ensured that Ratan Tata’s petition raising concerns of privacy and other such related matters were all placed before the already charged-up Singhvi bench. In much the same spirit of optimizing judicial resources, Kapadia transferred to Singhvi’s bench a long-pending petition of Amar Singh because of the phone tapping link.
It is not just the freshly-filed PIL cases that have been taken up aggressively. The Kapadia bench, for instance, revived the police reforms case which had seen little action during the Balakrishnan years. In a bid to implement the radical verdict delivered five years ago by the then CJI Y K Sabharwal, the current bench for the first time fixed a time frame for states to report compliance of the reforms aimed at reducing political abuse of the police forces.