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Manipur: SC Shouldn't Bank on Govt, but Intervene To Prove Legal Remedy Exists

Isn’t it shameful that state governments are exhibiting a cavalier attitude to judgments of the Supreme Court?

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Law
6 min read
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A question often asked is: What can a citizen do if the law is misused or abused by those in authority? 

The answer is pretty simple. The citizen must go to a court and challenge the adverse order to the extent it affects him or her. For example, if a citizen is dismissed from service without an enquiry, the court will hear his petition and set aside the illegal order. Similarly, if a citizen is arbitrarily arrested, he has a right to petition the court for grant of bail. These are almost everyday situations that citizens face. 

But, what if those in authority do not implement a Parliamentary law? What is the remedy then available to a citizen? This question too has arisen before the Supreme Court on several occasions. 

For example, the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 requires every State government to establish a Welfare Board, but many State governments did not do so. Similarly, the National Food Security Act, 2013 requires every State government to constitute a State Food Commission for the purposes of monitoring implementation of the law. But again, many State governments did not establish any such Commission. 

Again, the remedy available to citizens was to approach the Supreme Court for implementation of the laws, which they did, and after hearing all sides, appropriate orders were passed for setting up a Welfare Board or a Commission, as the case may be. 

But should a citizen have to go through this avoidable litigation? These questions arise in the context of the situation prevailing in Manipur.
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An Inactive Government And a Horrific Video

There is little doubt that the rule of law has broken down and the state government is unable to implement the law, effectively or otherwise. That is the reason why about 150 citizens have been mercilessly killed.

There are also reports of about 300 citizens being injured and 50,000 rendered homeless, and having lost their life savings.

The mayhem did not ebb in a day or two but stretched on for almost two months. During the course of these two months, the rule of law did not prevail in the state. 

The citizens of the state approached the Supreme Court for the enforcement of their constitutional right of protection of life and liberty.

The Supreme Court, however, declined to interfere because it felt that the issue was really one of law and order, and which the State government could handle. This was outside the domain of the courts. 

In a sense, the Supreme Court was right, but it overlooked two crucial facts. First, it overlooked the fact that the issue was not one of law and order but one of public order which has almost a State-wide impact. Second, that the state government had not taken any effective steps to quell the mayhem. 

The very fact that 50,000 citizens had been rendered homeless is a clear indication of the inability of the State government to provide protection to its citizens and this ought to have been considered.

Isn’t it shameful that state governments are exhibiting a cavalier attitude to judgments of the Supreme Court?

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(Photo: The Quint)

Now, a horrific video has surfaced in which two women, completely naked, are being pulled, shoved and groped by a few savages leading a mob. While the horror is still unfolding, reports say that the father and brother of one of the women were killed by the mob. Some of the men apparently also told the women that they, too, would be killed unless they took off their clothes. The women were thus left with no option but to lose their dignity. 

Reports also say that one of the women was gang-raped. She is the same woman whose father and brother were killed. It has also been made known that prior to the incident, all these people were with the police, which was thereby compelled to hand them over to the mob — partly because the mob was about a thousand strong and partly because many in the mob were armed with lethal weapons.

But what is shocking is that even after this horror ensued, no action appeared to have been taken by the police or by the State government for over two months. 

It is only after that horrific video went viral on social media that some arrests were made. 

In a situation like this, where the rule of law has broken down and the law enforcement authorities do nothing to implement and enforce the law, what is a citizen to do? 
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Where the Courts Come In…

Once again, the Supreme Court was petitioned and the learned judges admonished the state government. It was told, in no uncertain terms that if the government doesn’t act, the court will. This led to the state government making a few arrests.

Frankly, if the police and the State government decide not to implement directions of the Supreme Court, there is little that the court can do. But it must, nevertheless, do whatever it can. 

We have been privy to the painful experience of the Supreme Court judgment in Shreya Singhal’s case not being implemented. A provision of the Information Technology Act was held to be unconstitutional, but despite this pronouncement, it has emerged that more than 1000 FIRs under that very section have been registered with the police in different parts of the country.

But apart from expressing shock, the Supreme Court did nothing. It should have taken the defaulting authorities to task for making a mockery of the judgment of the Supreme Court. 

Isn’t it shameful that state governments are exhibiting a cavalier attitude to judgments of the Supreme Court?

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(Photo: The Quint)

The Anuradha Bhasin case is another example of governments, particularly the government in Manipur, flouting the law. Internet shutdowns in the state are not only frequent but for prolonged periods. It is reported that as many as 18 shutdowns took place in Manipur, many of them contrary to the judgment of the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Manipur High Court has had to step in and direct the restoration of Internet facilities, at least to a limited extent. 

Under these circumstances, can the courts continue monitoring the implementation and enforcement of the laws? Isn’t it shameful that state governments are exhibiting a cavalier attitude to judgments of the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court is rendered virtually helpless?

Isn’t it shameful that state governments are exhibiting a cavalier attitude to judgments of the Supreme Court?

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(Photo: The Quint)

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What the SC Must Do Now

In my view, for what it is worth, the Supreme Court must come down hard on the State government and ensure that it is made aware that the State of Manipur must be governed in accordance with the Constitution of India and not in accordance with the whims and fancies of a few. 

Isn’t it shameful that state governments are exhibiting a cavalier attitude to judgments of the Supreme Court?

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(Photo: The Quint)

The State government is accountable and that must be made clear to them. 

Unless this message goes out loud and clear, the mayhem will continue endlessly, or until the occurrence of something worse than what has already occurred. Should that come to pass, it would be tragic. 

The State government seems to have lost credibility and inability to enforce the rule of law. The Supreme Court must appreciate this and step in to fill the vacuum created by a breakdown of constitutional governance. Similar situations have occurred in the not too distant past, though not at the scale and magnitude as the present, and the Supreme Court then did not let its citizens down. 

There is no reason why the Supreme Court should not be more proactive and enforce its writ to bring some constitutional sanity in the State of Manipur. The Supreme Court must now bat on the front foot.

(Justice Madan Lokur is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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