Tushar Mehta | Facebook
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta | Facebook
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Two interesting but equally worrisome recent statements, which reflect the health of the judiciary in India, need our attention. While one involves the current Solicitor General, the other concerns a former one.

During a Supreme Court hearing on the plight of migrants in the aftermath of Covid-19 outbreak by a three-judge bench, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta made a foolish attempt at comparing journalists, covering the misery of lakhs of migrant labourers, to vultures. He also accused the high courts questioning the state governments for their inaction of “running parallel governments”.

He later made a rather unconvincing attempt to back down from his vulture comment, and claimed that he was not referring to journalists, but alluding to “speech warriors” such as NGOs and activists who were doing nothing to help migrant labourers except making statements against the Narendra Modi government’s ‘apathy’.


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Criticising the judiciary

The second instance concerns senior advocate and former Solicitor General Harish Salve, who dished out a suo motu advice on why somebody’s suggestion that ‘judiciary is subservient to the government’ didn’t fall in the category of “legitimate criticism” of courts. He also said that he felt, a lot of people who are not elected think that they can impose their will on the government through the courts.

I wonder if his observation that ‘the Supreme Court is responsible for India’s current economic slowdown’ qualifies as a legitimate criticism or not.

There is no denying the fact that some lawyers do try to browbeat the higher judiciary by carefully alluding motives or suggesting that the judges who chose not to give relief to them in sensitive cases were under pressure from the government.

But it is a bit rich coming from someone like Salve to define the boundaries of legitimate criticism.

Criticism of courts and their judgments, as long of one doesn’t impute motives to the courts, is fine. The Supreme Court itself has granted this right to the citizens, whose rights it has to protect.

Salve’s view that unelected people are using the courts to score political points raises many questions.

Is he alluding to the likes of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy, who has a long list of cases, many of them aimed at scoring political points, or BJP leader Ashwani Upadhyay, who regularly files PIL on various issues, many of them political in nature?

And, what about jurists like former Supreme Court judges V.R. Krishna Iyer or P.N. Bhagwati, who delivered landmark judgments in PIL matters.


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Why Mehta’s statements should worry the SC

As Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta has been very busy, rushing from court to court to defend, often seemingly arbitrary actions of the Modi government or its agencies.

Courts have often given the Solicitor General too wide a quarter, refusing relief to those bearing the brunt of the state machinery, which works at the behest of its political masters.

It is another matter that often his arguments have little or no legal basis.

But his categorisation of some courts as “running parallel governments” is a signal to the subordinate judiciary.

The Supreme Court bench should have asked him to withdraw his statement. Unfortunately, nothing of this sort happened.

The top court must ask itself: where to draw the line?

It was a brazen attack questioning the independence of judiciary by someone who has a history of making misleading statements in the court.

The court should have, like it does with every other lawyer, asked him to confine his statements to the legal issues related to the case. But, for some reason, the bench didn’t check him, allowing him the space to needlessly attack the opposing counsel by questioning the bonafide of those who are doing some good work to help the migrant labourers.

Whether Mehta likened journalists to vultures or not is immaterial. The Solicitor General of India badgers the opposing counsel, questions the motives of everyone except his political masters and cleverly side-steps the main issues germane to cases in which he represents.

Since he represents the government before the court, all such attacks can be viewed as attacks by the government on the institutional integrity of the court itself.


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Salve needs a lesson in law

Even a greenhorn lawyer knows that it is okay to criticise the courts and their judgments, the caveat being: don’t impute motive.

Several years ago, as a young reporter covering the Punjab and Haryana High Court, I was issued a suo motu contempt notice by the court. The contempt of court proceedings were initiated for my action of trying to verify information about a sitting judge.

In my reply, I told the court, very respectfully, that while I bowed before the majesty of court, I would not tender unconditional apology for I hadn’t done wrong, even if the court deemed it to be allegedly contemptuous.

After several hearings, the bench let me off. But the words of Lord Denning cited by Justice Rajive Bhalla who authored the judgment, have stuck with me ever since.

“Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction (contempt of court) as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations. Nor will we use it to suppress those who speak against us. We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more important at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself,” Lord Denning had said.

Salve would do well to remember Lord Denning’s subsequent words: “It is the right of every man, in Parliament or out of it, in the Press or over the broadcast, to make fair comment, even outspoken comment, on matters of public interest. Those who comment can deal faithfully with all that is done in a Court of justice. They can say that we are mistaken, and our decisions erroneous, whether they are subject to appeal or not.”

In 1936, Lord Atkin said: “Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though out-spoken comments of ordinary men.”

Years later, in 1964, in Special Reference No. 1 of 1964 , the Supreme Court, while recalling Lord Atkin’s warning, said “…Wise Judges never forget that the best way to sustain the dignity and status of their office is to deserve respect from the public at large by the quality of their judgments, the fearlessness, fairness and objectivity of their approach, and by the restraint, dignity and decorum which they observe in their judicial conduct.”

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal. 

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30 Comments Share Your Views

30 COMMENTS

  1. mr chibber talks a third rate street politician; he has no valid points; its a pity that on behalf of his masters where his loyalty lies; he is crying and barking aloud to showcase his rotten talent against eminent jurists namely Tushar Mehta and Harish Salve; they need no tutorials or guides and especially from a novice a fully blown lunatic like CHIBBER to crib about. There is nothing in the statement made that some courts and judges are behaving in an unprecedented manner and in unconstitutional or ways not applicable to them. That’s the reason why many tainted judges are being exposed in the media time and again and judges were under extreme pressure in the last 65 years which is known to us all. Wherre was CHIBBER DURING EMERGENCY, BOFORS SCAM, AR ANTULAY SCAM, Thapar Brothers, Larkins Brothers, P C Alexander and Coomer Narain scams why he isn;t he quoting those scams and tainted cases which didn’t have a fair trial; where was he hiding behind the pallus of his wife. God forsaken fellows who are pseudo secularists and drop outs from JNU are hogging the foreign anti national sponsored media, channels and publications We know their motive and thiat is to divide, confuse, complicate and dig old graves to spoil the hard earned name and fame of this present government and nothing else and also to bring down the CREDIT RATINGS THROUGH THEIR BENAMIS AND STOOGES NAMELY STANDARD AND POOR, FITCH, MOODY’S AND WHO WILL RATE THESE CREDIT RATING AGENCIES : none: mR chibber enjoy your retimrement in your farmhouse; and don’t ever creep outside and get exposed ; we know you too well

  2. Chibbers deservesappreciation for it will enable the judges to dust off their conscience and render justice to the vulnerable and the marginalized Let them see the world around them with a merciful heart.

  3. Government advocates are within their right to say what they want in favor of Government they represent. Judicial and moral responsibility lies on the judiciary to listen to it or not. Specially when the case is suo moto. Again the judiciary has to prove that they were right in raising the issue and stick to it till objective is achieved. In the case of a single judge bench their could be a possible error but not in multiple judges otherwise the purpose of having multiple judge should be done away with.

  4. Writter is one of vulcher mentioned and print is the cabal of such the judge ment which suits to their community r the only acceptable results likes of sibal and Singhvi and kts do not want to get exposed more and critised turn to such ghost writting but they have list the credibility

  5. All the democratic insitutions like govt ,courts and govt offices are for the rich,by the rich and of the rich in the present India which is sad and unfortunate reality.

  6. This seems to the troll of IT Cell targeting Maneesh Chibber for calling a spade a spade ! Common sense is not the exclusive property of only the so-called eminent lawyers, it can be anybody’s.

  7. Harish salve definitely needs no lesson from this guy. This guy is trying to get his fame by criticizing the great harish salve who showed his worth in the international court of justice. Must be this guy is a mouth piece of the great clown prince

  8. This unemployed journalist after Tiranga TV went down post 2019 elections now wants to teach the best legal minds. These so call journalists think they can write any crap because of the so called freedom of speech and expression.This is what you call paid journalism sponsored by a few outfits.
    My views expressed above are personal.

  9. Definitely Mr. Salve needs a top up and a refresher course in law…… He’s grown old and has only outdated knowledge!!! 😂😂

    Surprised too that the author has only references from the west and quotes to quote him. What a country is he living in??? Not a single quote worth mentioning in the whole history of India!!!!!

    And as always those who speak some sense always need tutoring and refresher courses.

  10. Very sad. People like Harish Salve ignoring their conscience as to right and wrong. Almighty will never be convinced with articulated arguments

  11. It’s you uncouth so called journalists who require refresher course in ethical and apt journalism. Shame on you for stooping to this level of lowest ebb.

  12. Indian judiciary is sick and hopeless, there’s no access for common masses. Hospitals are sick, no health infrastructure built since last 65 yrs. Our administrative and political systems are most bogus mostly run by goons and mafias, Unimaginably corrupt politicians have eaten away this country. Even God will not be able to help, and above all we the people of India most laziest and higly selfish sees nothing beyond self. Under these circumstances, our country is heading to the hell…!

  13. Mr.Chhibber may start Coaching Classes where some judges along with Tushar Mehta, Harish Salve may attend ? His Topic may be How to commit Contempt and Escape ?

  14. Both are imminent lawyers and they know what they are saying. If any court had a problem with what they said it would have expressed its displeasure.
    moreover the criticism does not look unwarranted. Is the writer a eminent lawyer to teach law to such stalwarts?

    • Very aptly said.
      In this age of virtual Media, many dwarfs want outshine unfaltering stalwarts.
      Primary reason is unread uniformed masses

    • Very aptly said.
      In this age of virtual Media, many dwarfs want outshine unfaltering stalwarts.
      Primary reason is unread uniformed masses

  15. Well. The writer is carrying coal to New Castle! Teaching law to veterans on the basis of his solitary experience as a contemnor. If Tushar Mehta’s arguments have little or no legal basis, does he thinkt that the judges listening to the arguments are so ignoramous? Freedom of speech includes not only that of journalists, but also that of lawyers!

  16. Quite early in life, I began to see through senior lawyers, some of whom earn more in a day than a Judge does in a year. Give them the opposing briefs for the same case and they will argue either with felicity. Some things are right, others are dead wrong. That does not change simply because of what Harish Salve says or argues. Even so, one is truly disappointed by both the gentlemen discussed in the column.

    • Stupid. Right and wrong are not absolute facts. Every individual decides what’s wrong and what’s right. For example idol worship is right for Hindus but wrong for Muslims. Similarly for sexual behaviors are right or wrong to different people.

  17. A journalist never needs a refreshers course because having taken over the resposibility of questioning evryone, on behalf of the people the language and the expressions used also come from the highest to the lowest levels, that is why a lot of them are not getting the access they were used to.
    The measure of effectiveness today is undignified, harsh even abusive language to address someone who cannot or will not respond in equal measure. This is no different than how we have allowed ourselves to detoriorate into an indisiplined, irresposible society of free booters with a few thriving on connections at the cost of the rest. The pain of the new rule since 2014 is understandable, good or bad only time will tell, but it is different.
    Vultures thrive on dead meat, this would have been a different society and country if some of us were not vultures.

  18. Chhibber, when you are done with your blabber take note of courts dictating the “appropriate” size of school bags and “appropriate” height of dahi handis. Not to mention the number of potholes in a city’s roads. Parallel govt? Think not?
    Garnering eyeballs by mentioning two top counsel in the headline. Cheap, cheap clickbait, as cheap as CEO of this site, Guptaji.
    What more can be expected from a “senior pressitute”. Frustrated…no custom for you during the pandemic??

  19. What does one has to do be anointed as a “senior journalist”? Is it the ability to see only one side of the picture?

  20. Surprised that all the intelligentsia have only foreigners to quote!!!! Sad there is nothing in this country that is worth mentioning or being flattered about!!!!

    The author to I guess needs a lot of reading of local history!!! And all views are personal.

  21. Under educated jhollawallas and congrass media along with proselytizers are facing a tough time to stop consolidation of HINDUS who are interested in education and well being. Also HINDUS now want fake historical narratives to be replaced by genuine history thus leading congrass historians into a frenzy . This so called freedom of speech SUPPORTERS are so intolerant of others view.

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