New Delhi, Aug. 23: Close down all the courts in the country and do whatever you want, the chief justice told the government today in a stunning outburst.
The tongue-lashing, which caps a string of face-offs starting with the Jharkhand trust vote, came during the hearing of a petition on reservation for Dalit Christians.
“Why are we told time and again by the government that it is not taking a confrontationist attitude' Who is taking a confrontationist attitude'” chief justice R.C. Lahoti demanded to know.
The immediate provocation was attorney-general Milon Banerjee’s “thank you” after the court granted him six weeks to reply to the PIL. Banerjee, who had asked for four months, said he was “grateful” the court did not “precipitate” this matter.
The court, at the receiving end of much criticism over its recent order that private unaided colleges need not reserve seats for SC/STs, erupted. Stopping short of saying the government had not understood the order, the bench that included Justices G.P. Mathur and P.K. Balasubramanyan said: “When we said, ‘please come with a legislation,’ you are talking about confrontation.”
The judiciary and the legislature have been locked in a turf war on other occasions too. The court’s order in March advancing the Jharkhand trust vote had drawn angry cries for a debate on separation of powers, but the government said it wanted to avoid a “confrontation”.
Since the PIL seeking quotas for Dalit Christians was taken up, the Centre has held that this is a policy matter in which the judiciary should not interfere. The PIL should be thrown out, it said.
“It is purely a policy and legislative matter for the government to consider and the court should keep out of it,” Banerjee argued.
But the Supreme Court, which settles all constitutional issues, insisted that it has the mandate to examine the legality and constitutionality of granting reservation to Dalit Christians. In April, it asked the Centre to reply and fixed August 23 for final hearings.
The PIL had sought quotas in jobs and education for Dalit Christians on the ground that such reservation existed for Dalits among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.
Banerjee’s argument was that “any amendment to the Presidential order of 1950 including communities within the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes category was not justiciable in the court, which cannot add or subtract communities to the list through any order or decision or judgment or direction”.
The attorney-general had earlier told the court that the BJP-led NDA government in 2002 had refused to grant SC category to Dalit Christians. He recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the courts could not alter the list of entries in the SC/ST category.
But the judges said: “It is a crucial issue and we would examine the legal side of the issue on the basis of the rulings cited by the petitioner and the attorney-general.”