In present-day India, a public interest litigation filed by an individual — disgruntled or otherwise — can change national policy. That is how fickle governance has become. The courts have taken over the responsibility of the executive, and the lines separating their functions are getting blurred. Democracy and Parliament, the government and the bureaucracy, are all crossing the lines that separate their jurisdictions. Because of the confusion arising out of the fuzzy lines, the judiciary has entered areas that were never in its purview. It is dictating and changing policies, and, thereby, governance. The apex court is intervening on State policy as well as national policy by issuing new diktats. Is this how India should be governed? What then is the role of the executive vis-à-vis the judiciary? Does it make a mockery of what the elected representatives are supposed to deliver? What defines democracy and democratic mechanisms? These are dangerous developments.
Courts can refuse to accept PILs if they intrude upon the territory of executive jurisdiction. That fine line has to be traversed with care so as not to damage or even bruise the top skin of this nation’s democratic processes. The Parliament needs to take a serious look at the Constitution in an effort to amend some of its sections that may have become redundant with changing realities. It has to be a joint initiative. The courts have to ensure that rules and laws are enforced.
The banning of tourism in the forests and sanctuaries of India by an interim order of the court based on a PIL is a case in point. Nowhere in the world does an enforced ‘ban’ replace mismanagement and malpractice. Instead of making the forest departments and the individuals at their helm accountable for the horrific state of our sanctuaries — the result of careless administration — a ban is instituted that gives reprieve to faulty governance. It allows for false walls to encircle the brutalized spaces, thereby saving the culprits from censure. Bans save those officers who are guilty of bad governance, who have, in fact, wrought immense damage, and who are now running for cover by using their ‘contacts’. They are using the court’s intervention to save their skins, and they continue to operate systems that work consciously against the rights of the citizen to enjoy and appreciate a natural inheritance and legacy.
The court could have hauled up those individuals who held responsible administrative positions when poaching was rampant in Madhya Pradesh. Instead, the administration went into denial and began to attack those who defended the forest and its inmates. This is typical of cowardly men and women, who wield power and have failed to deliver. In contrast, any individual or group that does honest work or runs an enterprise based on integrity that generates goodwill and celebrates good practice is invariably attacked by those in authority. All this has, sadly, become a national trait. To pull down and denounce, blame and abuse, private entrepreneurs who are generating wealth and pride for India seem to be the single agenda of those who are in charge. Government officials are mediocre and, therefore, insecure on account of their intellectual and administrative weaknesses.
The great Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa, with its abundant wild life, is a fine example of how public-private-partnerships can manage and nurture the wilderness spaces. The number of tourists visiting the park are far higher than those who choose to visit India. That is the tragedy. Will we ban people from viewing our great monuments because they are badly conserved? Or will agencies in charge begin to do their job with honesty and integrity?