When Judges took to the Press: Looming Public Policy Questions

By Shreeja Sen

Supreme Court of India.

In the history of the Indian judiciary, there have been several landmark moments. Some have been marked by sheer judicial brilliance, while others have blotted its history, often coming back to haunt the institution. The events of 12 January 2018 are likely to go down as  one such landmark moment, although time will tell what the impact of this would be.

On Friday, 12 January, four senior judges of the Supreme Court – Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M. B. Lokur, and Kurian Joseph – called a press conference to express their discontent with some of the internal functioning of the highest judiciary. Listing and allocating cases to benches of preference was one of the issues mentioned, bringing into question the role of the chief justice who is responsible for the same. The judges sent a letter to Chief Justice Dipak Misra highlighting this issue as well as other concerns regarding the manner of deciding certain matters of grave importance.

Judges holding a press conference, especially to discuss the functioning of the judiciary, is not a common phenomenon. This is a break from convention, an unsaid rule that judges only speak through their judgments. This is not the first time Justice Chelameswar has spoken out against the internal workings of the Supreme Court. In the time since the National Judicial Appointments Commission was set aside, and the collegium system sought to be made more transparent, Justice Chelameswar has raised his voice whenever he believed there was a problem. Internal functioning of the judiciary has seldom been public, although in recent times, collegium resolutions have been made public (although Justices Lokur and Joseph were against this).

Public Policy Concerns

The judiciary of the present is not only an institution that implements policies. It has taken on a role of also laying down norms and laws. A few recent examples can be the Court’s judgment on right to privacy, police reforms, and recognition of rights of transgenders. Senior judges speaking directly to the press and in essence, to the country, should be a signal about where the judiciary is headed. When matters of public importance are brought to the Supreme Court for decision making, what role does the chief justice have? It is often said that India does not have one Supreme Court, it has thirty-one Supreme Courts owing to the number of judges and the benches they sit on to decide cases. In saying that the chief justice is first among equals, the four judges have brought the issue of the role of the chief justice back to the forefront.

This should, ideally, bring more focus on the functioning of the Chief Justice of India, in his/her administrative capacity. While the Supreme Court Rules mention the role of the Chief Justice as the one who makes the decisions regarding allocation of cases to particular benches, the rest is left to his/her discretion. There needs to be a standard set of rules of procedure for the role of chief justices of the high courts and the Supreme Court. As of now, owing to the nature of the tenure of the chief justice (seniormost judge becomes the chief justice), there is no such standardised manner of functioning, other than those developed by unsaid norms of practice.

Concerns regarding transparency and accountability of the judiciary are also ones that still need to be addressed. While some judges of the Supreme Court themselves agreed that court proceedings ought to have audio and video recording, there has been no such decision to enable implementation of the same.

Last, and certainly not the least, this break from tradition along with other recent events like the case of a seven-judge bench hearing a contempt case against Justice C.K. Karnan, the question of the Memorandum of Procedure of judicial appointments, and the general lack of both transparency and inclusivity in the judiciary, must force the institution to introspect. Finally, as one of the pillars of democracy, the judiciary, with the Supreme Court in the lead, ought to find its moral compass arising out of the Constitution and as an institution of justice.

(Shreeja Sen is is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at shreejasen@nls.ac.in)

Image source – http://ecourts.gov.in/koraput/supreme-court-india

Marianad: A Tryst with History

Noel Benno Joseph, Linitha Mathew, and Srilakshmi Nambiar visited Marianad, a fishing village in Kerala in October 2017 as part of the fieldwork component of the Master of Public Policy course. They chart out the history of the village and how it took its modern shape.

A still from the Marianad beach.

‘Everytime we come back from the sea, we bring back not just fish but our lives too’ says Anish, a 37 year old fisherman. Our 21 day fieldwork at Marianad showed us that the lives of the people in this quaint village in Thiruvananthapuram revolved around fishing. The fisherfolk fondly refer to the sea as ‘Kadalamma’ which when translated in English means ‘Sea Mother’. Most of the households in Marianad wake up at 3 am. The womenfolk pack rice porridge and if available, some slices of dry fish for their men. Men sip a cup of black coffee to shake off the looming cold weather and head out to sea. They return with the catch in the afternoon.

Fishermen believe that the place is blessed with good fortune and wealth, with varieties of squid, crab, and fish being shipped to different parts of the state. However, the days of glory did not come without a struggle. Known earlier as ‘Alilathura’, meaning an uninhabited place, the village’s history is enmeshed with religious conflicts and social transition. With a vision for transforming this barren land into a habitable space, a Catholic Bishop named Bernard Perera made concerted efforts to resettle the fisherfolk in this village. Since they were primarily Latin Catholics and religious faith was an intrinsic part of their existence, fishermen found their spiritual abode in a church in a nearby village called ‘Puthukurichy’. The villagers here did not take kindly to the new neighbours, more so because of the advanced fishing techniques they employed. It was widely believed that hook and line fishing technique which was advanced would result in smaller catch for these traditional fishermen who used the shoreseine technique. The political economy of resource ownership resulted in the burning of nets and boats and there existed a fear among the migrant fishermen.

In 1961, with the establishment of the Thiruvananthapuram Social Service Society (TSSS),  Marianad Community Development Project was introduced in the village. The Program for Community Organisation (PCO) played a key role in building the village and the fishermen cooperatives. The cooperatives incentivised the fishermen by providing them with credit and protection from exploitation by big merchants. The setting up of M.U.C.S, the first cooperative in the village was a revolutionary step in terms of the upliftment it brought to the marginal fishermen. Today, Mariyanad hosts four fishermen collectives, two of which are registered as cooperatives and the other two as charitable societies. The co-operatives are enrolled under Matsyafed, which is the fishing cooperative established by the Government of Kerala. This makes them eligible for subsidies and loans from government agencies. The cooperatives which are not enrolled under Matsyafed, organise themselves under the umbrella of SIFFS (South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies).

The history and social movements of the village is closely tied with the empowerment of its womenfolk as well, who found strength in these movements to form a collective by the name ‘Mahilasamajam’. This forum opened up employment opportunities for women, while also providing them with a platform to raise and discuss their issues. Nursery, sewing classes, net-knitting, and other vocational activities became a hobby and a leisure activity for the women while the husbands were away at sea. Today, fisherwomen make small purchases to sell fish  in the city, they bargain effectively, and are an epitome of strength in the male dominated markets. However, subtle signs of patriarchy crop up when it comes to matters of womenfolk going into the sea for fishing. They are strictly prohibited from getting on boats and going out into the sea at all times. But Christmas and New Year are occasions on which women and children are also taken for a ride into the sea in a festive mood.

Following is a video montage of memories from Marianad shot and edited by Noel.

(Noel, Linitha, and Srilakshmi are participants of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at noelbennojoseph@nls.ac.in, linithamathew@nls.ac.in, and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively.)

Melghat: From Crisis to Cure

Nissy Solomon was a part of the group that visited Melghat, Maharashtra in the month of October, 2017 to work with KHOJ in pursuance of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy programme. She highlights the issue of malnutrition and its impact in the region based on her interactions with the local community and other stakeholders.

Students meeting community leaders at Payvihir village, Melghat, Maharashtra.

In the southern offshoot of Satpura hills, nestled amidst forested mountains is situated the region of Melghat. While it is known for its pristine mountains, it has also been infamous for a high number of deaths due to malnutrition. The severity of it has been under the scanner since 1993, following a Public Interest Litigation filed by activist Sheela Barse in the Bombay High Court. Despite steps undertaken by the government and initiatives by voluntary organisations, the problem of malnutrition continues to persist.

The sustainable development goals that aim to end poverty by 2030 highlight the element of nutrition being central to holistic development. Concerns of nutrition arise not just from sufficient dietary intake but from a host of interconnected processes like education, health care, employment, sanitation, connectivity, and more. In other words, there exists a complex interplay of factors which is poorly understood. In the context of Melghat, a detailed study exhibits that malnutrition is multifaceted and it is both a cause and an outcome of other problems plaguing the region.

According to official government figures, child mortality in two blocks of Melghat – Chikhaldara and Dharni – was 206 in 2016 and maternal mortality was 7 in the year 2016 which shot up to 15 in 2017. On an average, every year 400-500 children between age 0-6 die in this region. The reasons are multi-causal and intricately connected. Eighty-four per cent of women in this region suffer from anaemia, the cause of which is nutritional deficiency. Lower haemoglobin weakens women’s ability to survive child birth.  Surviving a high risk pregnancy causes greater risk to child’s health.

Maternal mortality and child deaths due to malnutrition are a result of systemic failures. Factors like limited Public Health Centres (PHCs), dearth of paediatricians and gynaecologists, high unemployment, poor infrastructure and connectivity, reliance on traditional medicines, and lack of awareness among the tribal population contribute to this failure.  For instance, at Chunkadi village, a remote village in Chikhaldara, there was no PHC functioning. Absenteeism of medical practitioners is common to most villages in Melghat. Complicated cases do not get due attention as a result of which maternal and child health deteriorates. This appalling situation is representative of what confronts the region.

In response to the humanitarian crisis in Melghat, many civil society organisations emerged to maintain and build strong capacities aimed at assuaging the plight of the people. Advocate Bandu Sane, director of one such organisation KHOJ, asserts that there has been a long term presence of government and civil society organisations, each working in their own capacity to improve and mobilise resources for action. However, lack of coordination among the institutional actors has been impeding the desired progress in the region.

When considerable attention was drawn to this region, the state government appointed committees and initiated schemes to fight the issue of malnutrition. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were set up, each with their strategies for the region’s development. Currently, there are over 300 registered NGOs operational in 320 villages. Despite their presence, the problem of malnutrition continues to grip Melghat. This is reflective of a lack of synthesis among the institutional actors.

Understanding the importance of collaborative efforts, KHOJ organised a convergence workshop on October 28, 2017 where prominent stakeholders took part to collectively envision a better future for the tribal population in Melghat.

Convergence Meeting held on October 28th, 2017 in Amravati, Maharashtra.

Given the interrelationships among the range of causal factors underlying malnutrition, efforts to address these problems from individual capacities have resulted in limited success. In order to achieve these strategies of development, a coordinated action that encourages dialogue among institutional actors is imperative to avoid policy discrepancies. Part of the solution in managing complex problems includes successfully partnering across permeable boundaries and engaging citizens and stakeholders in policy making.

At a point when considerable effort has been invested in this area, the time has come to examine whether convergence could be an effective means of governance, since the future demands a collective rethinking of common issues.

(Nissy Solomon is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at nissysolomon@nls.ac.in)


Jyotsna Sripada is a student of Masters Programme in Public Policy from the batch of 2014-16  at the National Law School of India University.

Jyotsna works as a Research Assistant for the Right to Food Team at the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of Indian University, Bengaluru. She recently  started pursuing PH.D in Public Policy at National Law School of India University.

Through Lokniti, Jyotsna converses to aspiring and current students of Public Policy at the Law School on her journey. 

Tell us about your life before NLSIU. Why did you choose to pursue Public Policy?

I was pursuing my triple major bachelor degree (B.Sc in Economics, Mathematics and Statistics) in Mount Carmel College, and was very keen to pursue my higher education in the field of Public Policy. However, I wanted to take a year’s break before plunging into anything concrete. I started teaching at Friendship Foundation, a non-profit organization working towards the upliftment of intellectually challenged and underprivileged children. This one year gave me a lot of time to introspect about my field of interest, and I had developed a key passion for Food and Nutrition policy. That is when I came across the call for Masters of Public Policy at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. I decided to apply for it and there has been no turning back ever since.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two years here!

How did your experience at NLSIU help you find the career of your choice after Masters in Public Policy?

One of the key advantages in doing a Masters in Public Policy Course in Law School is the inter-disciplinary approach. The interface between Law and Policy is extremely important for a Public Policy Professional and I strongly believe that Law School has contributed significantly to the same.

That apart, the course gave us ample opportunities to explore our fields of interest through client-related projects and internships. I got an opportunity to work at the International Secretariat of Food Information and Action Network (FIAN), Heidelberg, Germany. This experience proved very important for me in terms of interacting with professionals across different countries and understanding Right to Food and policy from a global perspective.

Further, I had the opportunity to work as part of the World Bank for a project with the Karnataka Nutrition Mission, as a Documentation Consultant. This experience was extremely useful as it helped me understand the nuances in policy making, challenges involved in implementation at the field level, as well as the importance of constant monitoring and evaluation of policies.

Present nature of work at the current organization?

I am currently working as a Research Assistant for the Right to Food Team at the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of Indian University, Bengaluru. My work profile involves planning and designing the research framework, evaluation of legal and policy frameworks, designing of tools for data collection, as well as monitoring and evaluation.

What would you look for if you were in the position to hire new MPP graduate(s) from NLSIU to this organization?

I would certainly look for graduates who are passionate about working on the different aspects and challenges of public policy. The candidates must keep themselves updated about the field and it’s developments. It is imperative to have a strong foothold in research methodology. Knowledge of statistical tools is a huge plus point.

What role does internship and dissertation have in securing the career of your choice?

Internships are extremely important in terms of networking and engaging with individuals who have the experience in a particular field. That apart, they play a huge role in orienting ourselves about the several components of policies-formulation, implementation, evaluation etc. These opportunities are gateways to understanding how these policies really pan out in the field level. That apart, internships aid in firming up our topics for dissertation as well.

The dissertation was an excellent experience to know further about the field of interest. I did it on the “Role of Anganwadi Centres in Preventing, Reducing and Addressing the problem of Malnutrition in Children below three-A Study in Urban and Rural Anganwadis in Bengaluru”. The study was primarily qualitative and involved a field component as well. The whole experience was significant as it brought to fore challenges associated with policy implementation. These field level insights are important to re-design policies at a formulation stage, factoring in the array of components that influence the same.

I am delighted that I am continuing my career in the same field and my dissertation helped me pursue the same.

Any concluding thoughts?

I am absolutely delighted to see how the course has developed and has engaged with students from different backgrounds. Wishing students of the future batches the very best of luck!

Jyotsna can be reached at jyotsnas@nls.ac.in


Siddharth Sekhar Barpanda is a student of Masters Programme in Public Policy from the batch of 2014-16  at the National Law School of India University.

Siddharth is a former editor member of Lokniti. Here, he talks about his background, public policy relevance and his career.

Tell us more about your life before NLSIU. Why did you choose to pursue Public Policy?

I hail from Rourkela, an industrial city in Odisha where I also did my engineering. During this time, I used to volunteer to teach underprivileged children living in the outskirts of the city which shaped my inclination towards public policy. The poor quality of education being provided to the marginalised children in the neighbourhood government schools infuriated me. I realised there is a need to address the structural issues associated with primary education sector in India and this inspired me to join a think-tank, Foundation for Democratic Reforms in Hyderabad. Under the guidance of Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, former IAS officer and an MLA, I contributed to the organisation’s proposal to amend the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Also, I became interested in Indian polity and governance during my one year association with the foundation. To acquire a strong background in the subjects of law and economics, I decided to pursue an advance degree in Public Policy and that brought me to NLSIU.

How did your experience at NLSIU help you find the career of your choice after Masters in Public Policy?

The strong pedagogy of the MPP course at NLS was exhausting at times but nonetheless stimulating. There is a perfect combination of classroom lectures with out-of-classroom engagements which allows the participants to identify their interest areas and learn about ground realities. The peers coming from diverse backgrounds adds to the learning experience, especially on how to negotiate with stakeholders maintaining different opinions and reach to a common agreement. The MPP course improved my research and writing skills and sharpened my analytical abilities.

Present nature of work at the current organization?

I am presently working as a Policy Analyst in the Office of Member of Parliament, Mr. Rajeev Chandrasekhar. My job entails providing background research to the lawmaker in the form of policy briefs and undertaking stakeholder engagements to advocate reforms.

What would you look for if you were in the position to hire new MPP graduate(s) from NLSIU to this organization?

An aptitude for wide choice of reading, analyzing and writing on policy matters is essential in this industry. Along with that, knowledge of data analysis, strong verbal communication and a knack for identifying issues that requires lawmakers’ attention will make you an ideal candidate.

What role does internship and dissertation have in securing the career of your choice?

Internships are the best way of finding your career interests. Public Policy graduates are hired by government bodies, private corporations, non-governmental organisations and research institutes. Based on the policy subject, your work profile and other considerations, such as remuneration, location, etc., one should aim for internship at the set-up where you want to work post MPP. Dissertation will strengthen your research and writing skills and will be of much help in getting the preferred internship/job as well.

Any concluding thoughts?

All work and no play makes one dull. So, along with fulfilling all the course requirements and pursuing career objectives, make some time for extracurricular activities. Play sport, watch movies, go out and explore new places, participate in group activities. Cultivating leadership qualities is a necessity in the modern world and for that, one needs to take initiative and engage in social clubs and associations. Serving in the edit board of Lokniti and representing the course in a dialogue with the UGC and MHRD were valuable experiences for me both professionally and personally. Understanding policy is important but so is understanding the public, for whom the policy is intended. I wish you enjoy your time with MPP@NLS!  

Siddharth can be reached at ssbarpanda@nls.ac.in

Public Policy Blog, NLSIU, Bangalore