How depressing is it that the Executive’s chronic reluctance to ever promptly attend to the public’s grievances is likely the biggest contributor to the tragic death toll in the Jawahar Bagh riot?
A common refrain among litigants, one that lawyers regularly hear, is that the bureaucrat or officer they went to for help told them “Court order lao (bring a court order).” The fact is, in a great number of situations, the official on the ground doesn’t lift his finger to correct violations of law or help the public without a court order. In cases where the law on a given subject is already clear, or where the law leaves things to the sole discretion of the officer at the table, “Court order lao” is usually shorthand for the famous line from Goodfellas: “F*** you, pay me.”
For those of you who don’t want to pay the bureaucrats, pay the lawyers. Such unhelpful obstinacy on part of the Executive necessitates the filing of writ petitions for mandamus: directing the officer to do what the law required him to do anyway. Ironically, this approach often ends up hurting bureaucrats themselves: in rare cases, courts order compensation to be recovered from the personal salaries of uncooperative officials.
At the risk of offending the few bureaucrats who honestly try to help the public, let’s break the chain of events in an Indian citizen’s typical dealings with the State down to a now-familiar routine: Citizen has a grievance. He visits the office of the relevant public authority where he is reluctantly assured something will be done. Nothing is done. Citizen makes a representation, and after a month, he gets a reply, if he’s lucky.
The reply either assures him that the problem will be dealt with, or is not the Authority’s responsibility. Either way, nothing is done. Citizen approaches court. If he’s lucky, he leaves with a court order. But not before being made to wait for years, or even decades, and being forced to contest several rounds of litigations through our judicial hierarchy. Nothing is done. Citizen files Contempt Petition. If he’s lucky, something is finally done – or we see another round of frustrating and frivolous litigation before the Supreme Court.
Let us apply this framework to what has transpired in Jawahar Bagh, Mathura. From the court order that was the genesis of the riots, it seems that the petitioner (himself a lawyer named Vijay Pal Singh Tomar) submitted numerous representations regarding the illegal encroachments in the park in the last months of 2014. One of these representations was to the District Magistrate, who in turn wrote to the Chief Secretary of the State Government on 15 August, 2014. The District Horticulture Officer also wrote to the SSP, Mathura that over 2,400 trees had been illegally burnt by the Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena. The court ordered that a public park shouldn’t be encroached upon in such a manner and orders action, saying that the “rule of law should be preserved”, on 20 May, 2015.
Now at least as on 20 May, 2015, the authorities were aware that they had to clear the squatters. The squatters too, would know by this time that the JCBs were coming, sooner or later. Obviously, nothing happened for over a year. It isn’t clear yet what the state government was waiting for, but their reluctance certainly assured the Sena plenty of time to stockpile ammunition and foment resentment, leading to Thursday’s tragedy.
Recall Arun Jaitley’s comments last month about the now common complaint of ‘judicial overreach’ by our Courts. When the Executive raises its hands in the manner described above, what alternative except overreach is left?
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