Time to Pause and Ponder, Fifty Years of the Supreme Court of India

Half a century of the justice system erected in independent India is a fit occasion to review its achievements. Without undertaking a detailed social audit, it is useful to see how the common person is being dealt with. Is the Court successfully acting as the guardian of the rights and freedoms of the person on the street - the common Indian who does not understand the intricacies of law, who does not have a battery of lawyers at his/her disposal?

Two cases come to our notice in this regard. Such cases have to be kept in mind when we read the speeches of the President of India and the Chief Justice of India delivered to mark the jubilee of the Court.

One relates to one Ajay Ghosh. The Supreme Court ordered that India's longest undertrial be set free. When Ajay Ghosh was arrested for allegedly murdering his brother, Jawahar Lal Nehru was still Prime Minister of India. A medical team had found him to be of unsound mind and his trial was indefinitely deferred the year President Kennedy was assassinated. Ranjit Kumar, amicus curiae, brought up Ghosh's plight last December when the Bench was hearing a PIL by RP Upadhyay on the state of undertrials. The Supreme Court ordered his release and decreed that the West Bengal Government must pay for his subsequent upkeep at an old age home or a Missionaries of Charity Centre, including his clothing, the services of a psychiatrist and an attendant.

But will that - or any amount of cash awards - compensate Ajay Ghosh who, without ever having been proved guilty, spent 38 years of his life languishing in a Howrah mental asylum as a virtual prisoner?

According to the PUCL records, Shivdan Ganju is languishing in Ranchi remand home for more than five years, according to a petition from the Jamshedpur, Bihar PUCL pending with the National Human Rights Commission.

Ghosh and Ganju are definitely not the only persons suffering like this. So many more like them, wasting away some where, illiterate perhaps, destitute and unaware of their fundamental rights as full fledged citizens of the Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India, do not seem to be anyone's concern. Who cares for Ghosh and Ganju and their ilk? Not the vast bureaucracy and other arms of the state, evidently. But, the system should. Structures should be in place to automatically care for such cases.

This highlights the need for the State to concentrate on its main brief --safeguarding the rights of its citizens. When a citizen can get that much from the state, we will really have some cause to celebrate.

-- By N. Vijaylakshmi, Imphal

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