The highest court of the land has delivered another stinging rebuke to the Modi government and, by all accounts, it was again richly deserved. Justice is not being done in Gujarat and the state government is proactively responsible for this terrible breakdown. Last time the apex court looked, it found serious lapses in the appeal filed by the government in the High Court against the acquittal of all 23 accused in the Best Bakery case. Now, amicus curiae Harish Salve has pointed to similarly glaring evidence of bad faith on the part of the prosecution in other serious cases. Indeed, the apex courtís decision to stay the trial in 10 key cases and ask the Modi government to show cause why these should not be transferred out of Gujarat, is immensely reassuring.
It is also a little disquieting. The threatened transfer of cases from Gujarat to, possibly, Maharashtra comes just days after the apex court transferred two corruption cases against J. Jayalalithaa from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka. The reasoning in both cases is compelling: it does not look like justice can be done in either state. Both regimes, of Jayalalithaa and of Modi, have proved incapable of instilling confidence that the guilty will be punished. In both cases, therefore, the cause of justice will benefit from the decision to pluck the judicial proceedings from the malign soil of one regime and set them down in less hostile environs. But, at the same time, it is disturbing that such an extreme remedy should be called for. It is worrisome that institutions charged with acting in accordance with universal principles of justice should collapse so wholly and seemingly irretrievably under local pressures, first in one state and then another.
These columns have argued before that the decision to transfer cases from one state to another must only be the first step of a larger course correction. Steps must be taken to strengthen the independence of judiciary, the neutrality of state administrations and, yes, the watchfulness of civil society. Transfer is no solution in the long run. Justice calls for some intervention, some checks and balances, long before the state is pronounced dead for justice. Justice demands a return to Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.