With policy paralysis plaguing the nation, governments are suddenly finding it increasingly difficult to take basic policy decisions, leave aside implementing them. And, even after initiating implementation in some, legal challenges often delay or bring an end to them. The SC’s cancellation of a mammoth 122 2G licenses and de-allocation of some coal blocks are classic examples.
When, however, the judiciary rejects legal challenges brought against sound and rational decisions taken by governments, it goes a long way in giving governments and the politicians running them, the confidence that governance with conviction need not fear the scrutiny of law.
2012 has been a good year for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in so far as the judicial scrutiny of programs and decisions taken by his government is concerned. At a time when electoral stakes are extremely high, these judicial endorsements make his re-election bid that much stronger.
For even though these legal victories have not obtained the kind of media attention that otherwise accompanies Gujarat and Modi, these victories concern critical issues that affect the Gujarati voter when she decides how to exercise his most important democratic right come December.
With the magnitude of corruption affecting the nation, the biggest victory for GoG has been the MB Shah Commission of Inquiry rejecting all allegations of corruption and illegality in land allotments to industries. What’s worse for the Congress, the Commission has reportedly pointed out that some instances of corruption pointed out by the Gujarat Congress against the BJP government actually pertain to actions taken by Congress government in Gujarat in the 1980s!
Further, attempts by activists to drag GoG to court for two of its crucial programs — the Sadbhavna Mission and the Garib Kalyan Melas — have been nipped in the bud by Gujarat HC. Under Sadbhavana, a goodwill mission, Modi visited different places apprising people at large of the work undertaken by his government and what it intends to do in the future. Under GKM, the government reached directly to people from the lower strata of society and conferred benefits under governmental schemes.
Rejecting allegations that Modi’s Sadbhavna Mission was a ‘politically motivated program’ which had nothing to do with the functioning of the government or for the welfare of its people, the HC held that the proper forum to take these criticisms was the court of public opinion and not the court of law.
It declined to entertain this plea, which it found to be based on mere newspaper reports and unsatisfactory information, even if, according to the complainant, “the people of Gujarat want to know as to where the truth lies”.
The complaint against GKM, that expenses could not be incurred from the state exchequer and that the ST buses utilised for the same created difficulties for local commuters, met a similar fate. In fact, the arguments were so devoid of merits that the HC did not even desire to issue a notice to the GoG! That the manner in which the Sonia Gandhi led UPA implements welfare programs such as MNREGA is rarely questioned is another matter.
Further, when Modi recently raised the ‘injustice to Gujarat by UPA’ plank, the media saw it as a battle of personalities than a genuine grievance on the actual injustices. As it turned out, Modi’s grievance found resonance in what the HC ruled on one of the injustices before it.
Hearing a petition to direct the UPA Government to supply CNG for domestic and vehicular usage to Gujarat at the same rate it was supplied to Delhi and Mumbai, the HC held, in no uncertain terms, that this difference in treatment was a clear case of discrimination to Gujarat without any rational reason and was causing a deep burden on citizens of Gujarat.
Moreover, upon observing that the UPA was actually supplying CNG to industries at a much lower rate, the HC held that enabling industries to cut off their losses and make more profit at the cost of public health was “not a sign of good governance”.
Additionally, the substantive success enjoyed by the Modi government in the next three matters stand as a testament to the conviction shown by it in the decision-making process, notwithstanding that it swam against the politically correct tide.
The UPA had asked all States to implement a minority scholarship scheme which benefitted students belonging to specified minority religions. Refusing to implement the scheme on the ground that it discriminated on the basis of religion alone, something forbidden in the Constitution, the Modi Government was taken to court.
Holding in GoG’s favour, the HC held that this unconstitutional scheme exposed the UPA’s idea that “there is no necessity of socio-economic upliftment of persons of even the poorer and socially backward strata with the help of Government sponsorship unless they belong to the five minority religions”.
Next success was in the challenge brought against lands allotted without auction pursuant to the MOUs signed during the Vibrant Gujarat summits. Validating the GoG’s decisions, the HC held that Vibrant Gujarat summits were an invitation to the world at large to come and invest in Gujarat. In a way, therefore, this mechanism of land allotment was held as a fair, rational and equitable and, thereby, constitutionally valid alternative to public auctions in so far as allotment of a resource such as land was concerned.
Next, the HC rejected a challenge to a courageous law re-introduced by the Modi government regularising certain eligible unauthorised structures upon satisfaction of the stipulated conditions and payment of an ‘impact fee’.
The HC held that as long as the law did not compromise with fire-safety requirements and structural stability norms, the law, which was aimed at preventing the hardship and homelessness that could have resulted to a large number of people residing in unauthorized structures, was valid.
These legal victories of the Modi government contain a lesson that, between the “appalling brazenness” in decision-making on one hand and the complete policy paralysis resulting from serious legal setbacks, lies an opportunity to take legally valid and sound decisions with conviction. When so taken, these decisions can withstand a Subramanian Swamy, Arvind Kejriwal, or even the alert eyes of the judiciary.