Bad precedent

The supreme court’s deferral order on the Allahabad high court’s verdict on the Ayodhya title suits, which was to be delivered on Friday, is uncalled for and unprecedented. Is a higher court competent to stop a lower court from pronouncing a judgment? That amounts to exceeding its powers and interfering in the working of the lower court. The issue before the court was not an appeal on the merit of a judgment, which it has the power to entertain or reject, but the timing of the judgment. If it is taken as a precedent, the courts in future will have to accept requests to keep in cold storage judgments inconvenient to parties on some ground or the other. The normal judicial process, which is as it is tortuous and slow, will suffer more if the power to give a judgment is suspended for any reason.

The plea before the high court to postpone the judgment had been rightly rejected by a majority bench on the ground that the petitioner had no locus standi in the matter. He was also fined for his attempt to interfere in the court’s working. The supreme court could have at best reviewed the quantum of his punishment but not the reiterated decision of the court to deliver its judgment on schedule. The plea for postponement was based on the argument that the security forces, which are overstretched for various reasons, might not be able to deal effectively with any communal disturbance in the wake of the judgment and the parties to the Babri Masjid dispute should be given another chance for an out-of-court judgment. But the governments at the Centre and the states had said they had made adequate security arrangements. That is the responsibility of the executive and why should the court doubt its ability? The high court also had given a last opportunity for a negotiated settlement between the parties but there was no result. Does the supreme court think that a negotiated solution which was not possible for many decades will be found in the next few days?

As part of the security preparations, governments had made deployments of personnel, declared holidays and made other precautionary arrangements. The supreme court has probably unsettled those plans by introducing an element of uncertainty into them. The court should have allowed the legal process to take its course, leaving other considerations to those whose duty it is to handle them.

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