‘No intent to regulate social media, but can’t allow anybody to play havoc with peace’
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The outrage was a legitimate expression of anguish of an essentially civilised nation over the perceived failure of the law and order and justice delivery mechanism. The UPA government has responded with speed and we are waiting for the reports of the committees constituted. I believe the real challenge for the government and lawmakers is to ensure how laws that are effective and are also seen to be effective, and which can promote substantial justice for each individual without any discrimination, are implemented. The flaw lies not in the absence of laws but in the procedural inadequacies that have marred the implementation of some of the most well-meaning laws.
What have your priorities been in the three months since you took over as law and justice minister?
(There is a) need to reinvigorate the system of gram nyayalayas, aimed at taking justice to the doorstep of the needy. Since 2008, only seven states have managed to set up 161 gram nyayalayas. I have set a target of 5,000 in the next three, four years and our efforts have already started bearing fruit... I am also conscious that unless there are adequate funds, we can't bring justice to the doorstep of the people. We are working on a new financing mechanism to see how the Centre can take on itself a major share of the burden.
What about judicial reforms, with the Judicial (Standards and Accountability) Bill struck?
I have persuaded the cabinet to clear the amended bill, which is a major move in the direction of making the judiciary more accountable after some of the aberrations noticed from time to time. In addition, the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill has been cleared by me and sent to the Prime Minister's Office for discussion in the cabinet. On the assumption that the cabinet will approve it, it will be my endeavour to bring the bill before Parliament as soon as possible. I will also continue to move in the direction of making our regulatory mechanisms effective rather than being oppressive. The buzzword is how to make our legal processes benign, effective, politically-neutral and not oppressive. That is the final test for any good nation or a society.
How do you plan to fill vacancies in the higher judiciary when there are few takers for judgeship from among good lawyers?
That is why the National Judicial Appointments Commission is required, since it is believed in certain circles that our present system of making appointments to higher judiciary suffers from certain inadequacies. There are various reasons for the large number of vacancies in high courts, which are not at all justified. We need to consider measures that can hasten appointments to the higher judiciary... Unfortunately, it is true that not many fine lawyers are ready to join the bench. We have to convince them to take up this job as a service to the nation and with a sense of pride.
Electoral reforms are awaiting legislative or administrative action due to absence of a political consensus. Have you any plans on this?
There is overwhelming support in the public for the need to keep out or weed out undesirable elements, particularly those with criminal antecedents, from our legislatures. There is also a strong feeling that the use of money and muscle power needs to be minimised, if not altogether weeded out, from the political system so that deserving and clean candidates can enter public life. There have been various committees since Independence that have gone into this issue. I have recently written to the Law Commission, asking it to go through all suggestions and come up with the best suggestions within three months so that we can begin consultations with parties to build a broader consensus.
There has been criticism that the government is trying to censor the media and tap citizens' conversations. Would you agree?
I am of the view that the directions issued by the Supreme Court while interpreting Article 21 are not being observed at times. Otherwise how can, as one newspaper report says, there be 10,000 tappings in 90 days? And, if this is true, it means that such extensive tapping has become necessary, which may well be the case, then we have a lot of reason to be fearful and apprehensive... something is really wrong with the security apparatus. Having said that, let me emphasise that intrusion into the privacy domain must only (happen) when there is a strong, prima facie case. Otherwise, we will end up making a mockery of the citizens' right to privacy.
What are your views on regulating a citizen's right to criticise their government through media such as Twitter or Facebook?
As long as people don't hurt religious sentiments or grossly defame others, I am all for criticism by whichever way. We are a government of the people and the Constitution guarantees everybody the right to criticise their government. I don't think there is any intent in the government to regulate the social media. But, what is equally true is that the government is duty-bound to ensure that material that can cause hatred among sections of the society should not be put on the media. We can't allow anybody to play havoc with the peace of the country. Democracies are strengthened by positive, well-meaning criticism. But, there has to be limit to the tone and tenor of such criticism.
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