Judiciary, keep off state policy affairs

The Madras High Court’s directive to the Tamil Nadu government to waive the loans of all farmers in the state is a clear case of judicial overreach. The state government had earlier decided to waive the loans of only small and marginal farmers. While the financial burden of the state’s existing waiver scheme was about Rs 5,780 crore, the court’s order would lead to an additional expenditure of Rs 2,000 crore. The court has not only issued the order to the state government but told the Centre that it should not be a bystander and should help the state to implement the order. It said that the classification of farmers as small and big is irrational and illogical and that it wanted to do justice to all farmers.

Grant of loans or any other relief to farmers is completely within the domain of the government, and courts have no power to sit in judgment on such matters. Whatever the reasons for the executive’s decision, the courts cannot interfere with them as long as there is no violation of the law. The government is accountable for its finances involving public expenditure and income. The Tamil Nadu government had taken a decision on the basis of the state’s financial position and the perceived level of distress of the farmers. The high court cannot dictate to the government what scheme it should implement, how it should be done and who should be the beneficiaries. The state’s finances are not very sound. It may not be able to find the resources to extend the scheme to all farmers. It is also wrong for the court to question the choosing of the beneficiaries of a scheme. By this logic, the format of any welfare scheme can be questioned. The criteria for eligibility for the public distribution system (PDS), jobs and scholarships can all be declared arbitrary by the courts.

The government had taken a policy decision. The judiciary cannot step into the realm of policy. It can only interpret laws or decide whether a particular government decision or action is in accordance with the law. It cannot arrogate to itself the government’s power to take policy decisions and the legislature’s power to make laws. It is surprising that the court even told the Centre to help the state government to implement its decision. Courts have recently given many decisions which they are not entitled and empowered to take, as in the case of the Supreme Court’s ban on liquor shops along highways. Sometimes, such orders cannot even be implemented. The courts should not consider themselves governments.

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