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‘Suo Motu’ the Conscience of Governance!

Dr M. D. Thomas

The first week of October 2021 of the 21st century has invited the ardent attention of the entire country, and even much beyond, towards the district town of ‘Lakhimpur Kheri’ of Uttar Pradesh. All eyes, ears and minds are deeply focused on the ‘eight deaths’, especially the four among them that were mowed down by a vehicle.

The disreputable ‘vehicle’ was part of the convoy of the Union Minister for Home affairs and MP, Ajay Kumar Mishra, of Bharatiya Janta Party, the ruling dispensation in both Uttar Pradesh and the Centre. Evidently, as the news is indeed shocking, so is the instance brutal, fierce and horrible.

It may be recalled that a nearly year-long protest campaign by various bodies of farmers has been in force against the ‘unsustainable farm’ laws passed by the Legislative Assembly of the Government of India last year. The tragic incident of Lakhimpur Kheri is an aftermath of the sad state of affairs following the laws and the protest, along with the insensitive attitude of the government, highly callously so.

Having observed the confusion around and the delay in taking instant action from the part of the police and governmental quarters, the Supreme Court of India took ‘suo motu’ cognizance of the ‘violence and deaths’ in Lakhimpur. The three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, flanked by Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, deserves to be appreciated profusely for its instant and timely action.

The significant move of the Supreme Court listed the ‘hearing in 24 hours’, ‘ordered the Uttar Pradesh Government to file a status report identifying the accused in the First Information Report (FIR) registered on the Lakhimpur Kheri violence’ and to ‘inform the court whether they have been arrested or not’.

Dissatisfied over the status report presented by the Uttar Pradesh government and the ethical discrepancy therein, the apex court accused it saying “your seriousness is only in words and not in your action”. The State was reminded by Justice Hima Kohli that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. “It is a case of brutal murder of eight persons; law must take its course against all the accused”, Justice Surya Kant reminded.

Prior to the above verdict, the Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, had already regretfully observed on 04 October that “when such incidents happen, causing deaths, loss to property and damage, nobody takes responsibility’’. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had described the Lakhimpur Kheri violence an “unfortunate incident”, as well.

The top court expressed also strong discontent over the improper investigation done by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the government of Uttar Pradesh. The court ordered the State to ensure immediate medical care for the mother of one of victims of the incident, who died out of shock. The court cautioned the government that ‘such incidents should not take place again’, as well.

It may be noted that it is indeed rare that the apex court takes up issues and incidents on its own motion. That refers to the seriousness of the case, in terms of public interest and human rights. Over and above, taking up the case ‘suo motu’, along with pursuing it on consecutive days, is a proof positive of the awakened conscience and strong sense of ethics displayed by the Supreme Court.

Coming to the phrase ‘suo motu’, it means ‘on its own motion’. It refers to situations where a ‘government or court official acts on its own initiative’, without being requested or petitioned. ‘Cognizance’ is ‘awareness, realization, knowledge, notice, perception, etc, too. Undertaking cognizance of a certain matter, pronouncing a decision and making those concerned act on the same comprise the process of the ‘suo motu’ provision of law.

The ‘suo motu’ stipulation of law is beached in Article 131 of the Constitution of India. The provision implies that when a court feels that a matter requires serious and immediate legal intervention and the Executive designated thus is bound to comply with the order. In the above case, the Uttar Pradesh government is shouldered with the execution of the order with immediate effect.

As it is too obvious, the normal procedure of the court is that it pronounces a verdict on a case after having scrutinized it when presented in the court through a petition. Considering the large number of cases coming into the courts, it is next to impossible for the court or courts to undertake ‘suo motu’ cases on its own initiative. It is quite reasonable and understandable.

The fact that the Supreme Court, on its own motion, took up the case, although in consideration of the gravity of the case, gives enormous credit to it. It is a testimony to the highly awakened status of the ‘conscience’ of the judges of the court concerned. It is an indication of the deep sense of commitment to the Constitutional ethos the Supreme Court abides by.

It does not require a mention that the Supreme Court, under the leadership of the Chief Justice N. V. Ramana, has been making significant strides in measuring out justice to the citizens of India, through different verdicts, along with putting the house/s in order with the pending appointments. The current ‘suo motu’ initiative has to be understood along the lines of the deep sense of responsibility put on show by him and his team towards the ‘wellbeing of the citizens’, and in meting out law and justice to one and all.

Without doubt, the ‘suo motu’ initiative is oriented to ‘governance’ and ‘good governance’ on behalf of the Judiciary. More often than not, governance is understood to be the sole business of the Executive. It is not so. While the ruling dispensation is entrusted with the principal share of governing, the Judiciary as well as the Legislature comprised of all parties, have its respective role to play in it, too. The ultimate responsibility of the Judiciary in striking a balance in the system of governance is beyond dispute, as well.

The current times of our country are characterized by a high dose of party politics and partisan behaviour, along with communal hostility in the areas of politics, religion, caste, ideology, and the like. The notorious triangular blend of ‘power, money and belief’ seems to take our country to a major social and national catastrophe. The ruling dispensation many a time becoming an accomplice with the criminal elements, along with ignoring the citizens or failing to safeguard their rights and welfare is a frequent instance.

Given the prickly pickle the country is plunged into, the ‘suo motu’ initiative of the Supreme Court is vital, in view of delivering justice to the victims and of maintaining justice and good sense in the country, well, in line with the Constitutional provisions of India. The Supreme Court of India deserves to be complimented in lofty words for its ‘suo motu’ cognizance in the Lakhimpur Kheri case. The ‘supreme model’ of the Supreme Court, ‘court with a conscience for good governance’, I am sure, will contribute immensely to maintaining the country on its track towards a brighter future, as well.

*The author is Director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of TheAsiaLive.

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