Q. The Supreme Court’s use of powers under the Article 142 needs checks and balances. Discuss.
A. Article 142 provides that “the Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing in any cause or matter pending before it…”
Constructive Application of article 142:
1. The cleansing of the Taj Mahal, whose marble was yellowing on account of sulphur fumes from the surrounding industries. Today, on account of the court’s efforts over a period of years, we have had our heritage restored to its original beauty.
2. Undertrials were rotting injails for greater periods than the maximum punishment which could have been inflicted on them, as their very existence was forgotten by the criminal justice system. With a single stroke of the pen, thousands of them were released.
3. The Union Carbide case — The Court felt a need to deviate from existing law to bring relief to the thousands of persons affected by the gas leak. The SC, while awarding $ 470 million as compensation, even stated that to do complete justice, it could even override the laws made by Parliament.
However in its anxiety to do justice in a particular case or matter, the Judiciary has failed to account for the far-reaching effects of its judgments, which may result in the deprivation of the rights of a multitude of individuals who are not before the court at that time
1. The coal block allocation case: Allocation of coal blocks granted from 1993 onwards was cancelled in 2014 without even a single finding that the grantees were guilty of any wrongdoing. The cancellation carried with it a penalty. The individuals were not heard on their particular facts, but only their associations were heard.
2. The ban on the sale of alcohol along national and State highways: Thousands of hotels, restaurants, bars and liquor stores were forced to close down or discontinue the sale of liquor, resulting in lakhs of employees being thrown out of employment. It may be noted that the total percentage of accidental deaths caused due to drunken driving, as found by the court from the statistics of 2015, was only 4.2% as against the 44.2% caused by over-speeding.
3. The transfer of cases filed against persons accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case: Despite the decision of the larger bench, the court was prepared to hold, while invoking Article 142, that in view of the long pendency of the case for 25 years, it would direct that the trial would now stand transferred from Rae Bareli to Lucknow. The judgment did not merely supplement the law but supplanted it by reason of the binding nature of the 3 judges bench decision, which was res judicata between the parties.
1. All cases invoking Article 142 should be referred to a Constitution Bench of at least five judges so that this exercise of discretion may be the outcome of five independent judicial minds operating on matters having such far-reaching impact on the lives of people.
2. In all cases where the court invokes Article 142, the government must bring out a white paper to study the beneficial as well as the negative effects of the judgment after a period of six months or so from its date.
Conclusion: It is true that Article 142 has been invoked for the purpose of doing tremendous good to large sections of the population and indeed to the nation as a whole. The Supreme Court has perceived its role as one which would require it to ‘wipe away every tear from every eye’, but perhaps it is time that the use of this vast, unlimited power included checks and balances.