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Maximum State Instead of reaching out in all directions, institutions must focus on core capabilities

August 24, 2018 06:33 AM


Maximum State
Instead of reaching out in all directions, institutions must focus on core capabilities
A recent Supreme Court order directing all district judges to accept and examine grievances from devotees regarding the management of shrines opens a whole new front of litigation for the judiciary. The grievances could range from hygiene, protection of assets, utilisation of offerings to denial of entry into a shrine. District judges have to send reports to high courts which are expected to treat them as PILs if necessary and issue judicial directions. The sweeping order, applicable across India, was pronounced by Supreme Court in a specific petition relating to alleged irregularities at Puri Jagannath temple.

Judges getting entangled in the nitty-gritties of temple, mosque or church administration looks like judiciary stepping into the domain of the executive, when it is not clear that even the executive should get involved in such matters. No less important is judiciary’s struggle to cope with increasing litigation. Nearly 2.8 crore cases are pending in subordinate courts, one-fourth of this pending for over five years. Another 40 lakh cases are pending in high courts. Given this situation it is unclear how judges will do justice to their core responsibilities, let alone the new ones.

Democracy assumes the separation of powers, with judiciary, legislature and executive sticking to their own domains. Given limited state capacity in India, it would help enormously in terms of public service delivery if each arm of the state were to pick up some priority tasks within its domain and focus sharply on them. Instead the Indian state is protean, spreading itself everywhere, one arm getting in the way of the other. It tries to be everything to everyone – from guarding people’s morals to running industries, banks, mines and airlines, to taking over temple managements. No wonder that it lacks the Midas touch.

India’s diversity and complexity make centralised diktats hard to execute. India has lakhs of shrines of various denominations and disputes are frequent. Judicial monitoring or state takeover is impossible and uncalled for. Local communities are best suited to demanding accountability from shrine managements. Government or judicial involvement will be interpreted as state encroaching on religious freedoms – both majority and minorities will unite in opposition. This is where the unfinished agenda of decentralisation and empowering civic bodies as well as civil society can help. One can only regard wistfully one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pre-election slogans – “minimum government, maximum governance” – when today India’s judiciary, legislature and executive all appear to believe in maximum

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