17 FEBRUARY 2016
The curious case of Justice Karnan
In the chronicles of aberrant behaviour by judges, Justice C.S. Karnan of the Madras High Court would occupy one of the most prominent spots. Few judges have by their conduct within and outside the court damaged the standing of the judiciary to this degree or exposed the helplessness of the system in dealing with over-the-top functioning. The judge now appears to have crossed all bounds, and his understanding of the law is such that he takes up the case of his own transfer to the Calcutta High Court and “stays” the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India. This is just the latest instance of his ways that have included, even as a sitting judge, his going into the court when a Division Bench was hearing a petition on the selection of judges and seeking to file an affidavit opposing the list of appointees recommended by the Chief Justice. His interaction with other judges in the High Court was found to be so offensive that 21 of them signed a petition of complaint and a Chief Justice of the High Court was constrained to send a formal communication to the Chief Justice of India seeking his transfer. To top it all, the Madras High Court registry had to file a petition in the Supreme Court of India after he had passed a suo motu order “staying” the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India transferring him and get his order stayed. That he has frequently raised the issue of his caste status — complaining to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and even threatening to file criminal charges under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against chief justices and other judges — in justification of his conduct, has only served to trivialise the issue of caste discrimination and the genuine difficulties that Dalits face.
It is inconceivable that so long a rope would have been given to any judge in a well-ordered democracy functioning under the rule of law. It was almost two years ago that the Supreme Court condemned Justice Karnan’s conduct in seeking to argue in another court as “uncharitable and ungenerous, and … indecorous.” Yet, he was allowed to continue with his ways, each subsequent episode marking a new low. While his initial selection is itself testimony to the weakness of the collegium system of appointments, the Karnan episode has brought to light the inadequacies of the judicial system in keeping its own house in order. Impeachment is one option, but if a judge facing impeachment chooses to brazen it out rather than resign, it goes before Parliament where political considerations come into play. Short of impeachment, very few effective measures seem to be available. Even the remedy of transfer now being applied would only shift the problem to another high court, though by removing him out of his familiar circle of friends and supporters it may serve to mute it. The most that can be said of the transfer is that it is better than doing nothing.
Making cities clean and sustainable
A century ago, Mahatma Gandhi lamented that the Indian city was mostly a stinking den, and Indians as a people were not used to city life. The squalid urban landscapes of the 21st century, with mountains of garbage merely relocated to the suburbs to maintain “clean cities”, would seem to prove that not much has changed since then. The quest for clean cities has only grown more complicated, as steady urbanisation is putting pressure on a poorly prepared municipal administration system, and the more affluent consumers produce ever-higher volumes of trash. The neglect of social housing, sanitation and water supply has ensured that there is nothing like a truly clean, green and sustainable city. It would not be fair, of course, to dismiss the efforts of cities such as Mysuru, Chandigarh and Tiruchirapalli, which have scored the top three ranks in the competition organised by the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Ministry of Urban Development to choose the cleanest cities for 2015. In fact, with the high level of political will now being shown to address the problem of waste and filth, there has never been a better time for State governments to act. Beyond the cosmetic solution of removing waste to landfills or releasing untreated sewage into hidden waterways, however, the challenge is staggering — even with the 1.04 crore household toilets and five lakh community and public toilets to be built, the sewage treatment capacity in cities would have to be expanded by 63 per cent. The scenario is equally depressing for solid waste, since only 20 per cent of it can be treated scientifically at present.
The Centre’s decision, against this background, to ask fertilizer companies to sell municipal compost is among the more promising initiatives to stem the rising pile of trash. Cities can take a leaf out of international best practices, and encourage communities to create food gardens in every area possible using this resource. At the very least, reduction of garbage can be achieved if residents start segregating their waste at home, and municipalities acquire the systems to manage it. But there is a major policy disconnect here, since tonnage-based contracts issued by cities have created a vested interest in transporting waste to landfills, rather than to reduce it through rules that require segregation, composting and recycling. The imagery of the Swachh Bharat Mission, which currently dwells on citizen behaviour and the visual appeal of clean cities, needs to extend to waste reduction and recycling. Building the necessary infrastructure is easier today, since a variety of financial instruments are available, including Central funds, corporate sponsorship and the Swachh Bharat cess on services that alone will garner an estimated Rs.3,700 crore during 2015-16. Achieving sustainable clean cities will ultimately depend on the attention devoted to human development and environmental governance. Without inclusive city planning, affordable housing, water and sanitation, the trend of urbanisation can only add to the squalor that depressed Gandhiji in Varanasi. This is the bulwark on which cities can achieve cleanliness and good health.