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Accessing Accountability: A Community Effort in Sundaram Nagar to push for Quality Public Education

Pranjal Dhaka worked with Public Systems Groups at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, in pursuance of the client led project component of the Master of Public Policy programme. His account on community efforts undertaken to ensure quality public education in Sundaram Nagar, during the course of the project, is quite illuminating.

Date: 18th February 2018

Time: 2200 hrs

Place: Paigaam-e-Insaaniyat Charitable trust office, Sundaram Nagar


Ahmedabad is rapidly transforming into a major urban centre with international and domestic investments flowing in, along with an evident endorsement from the central government to push for development and urbanization in the city. The process of this transformation poses serious challenges to ensure socio-economic equity in a highly diverse demographic that is divided along communal, caste and class lines. Social exclusion and economic inequality of minorities can be a direct consequence of an institutional bias that further pushes a minority social group to the periphery. Ahmedabad has a significant Muslim community that accounts for around 12.24 percent of the total city population (Census 2011). The community has been struggling to access basic public services like education, sanitation and drinking water, and have been spatially segregated to the western part of city in largely unregulated and compactly packed colonies. These families work as weavers, daily wage labourers, tailors, traders, shopkeepers, auto-rickshaw drivers and in other jobs and trades that put a ceiling over the socio-economic capital they can exert individually.

Agenda of the meeting

One of the major concerns of the community is with reference to the issues around access to quality education. There has been a subtle shift in the narrative characterizing development in Ahmedabad, portraying it to be an emerging business hub while neglecting fundamental issues around education and health. This context presses the need for community mobilization to claim and assert accountability from local government bodies to ensure collective mediation.

A glimpse of the meeting conducted by Ajaz Sheikh

Ajaz Sheikh is a  social activist and PhD scholar from Gujarat University who has extensively worked on the issues of education and drug addiction amongst adolescents. He is working towards collectivising parents to form community associations to claim a democratic space and push for better quality education facilities in government schools in the locality.

An individual is often not strong enough to challenge an entire institution like the government but an organization can collectively and coherently question, lobby and push for a positive change. We just need to ensure accountability, the government is bound by the Constitution to act upon people’s will.”

-Ajaz Sheikh, Social Activist

The government schools in the areas around Sundaram Nagar are often perceived as inadequate and inept in providing quality education causing a gradual shift in the parental choice in poor and lower middle income families to send their wards to low fee private schools. Most of these low fee private schools charge as low as Rs 250-500 a month and function without proper facilities or a regular and qualified teaching staff. This trend further absolves the government schools from taking responsibility, as parents themselves do not prefer enrolling their wards in government schools. There were, however, certain avenues created for larger engagement of parents to demand better facilities for their children studying in these schools. This was done through successful awareness drives by many non-governmental organizations and academic institutions for RTE in 2015-2016 and its various provisions including Section 21C mandating a 25 percent  reservation in all private schools for students belonging to Economically Backward Families.. But a general level of unawareness and hesitation to pursue a formalized process of mediating these concerns still continues to be a crucial constraint in compelling government authorities to address issues around education.

Community Outreach programme: Forming parents’ associations

Ajaz Sheik, working closely with a local charitable trust (Paigam-e-Insaaniyat Charitable Trust), is planning to start an extensive community outreach program that seeks to engage parents and other concerned members of the community in forming a parents’ association that can discuss, mediate and create a grievance redressal mechanism for parents to ensure accountability through a collective forum. The meeting held on 17th February witnessed attendance from parents and member of the trust that has worked on various local issues that affect the community on a day-to-day basis.

It started out with every attendee introducing themselves and then a briefing by Ajaz Sheikh. The briefing started out with a detailed background of the legislations and policies around education and the current state of government schools. Ajaz was using a mix of rhetoric and facts to enunciate the need for addressing equal access to quality education as a primary step towards community development. The briefing was followed by an open discussion that witnessed parents and other attendees talking about the problems they face with reference to the way government schools operate. It was loosely moderated by Ajaz to focus the agenda of the meeting on discussing the strategy of enforcing accountability on the government schools and push for incremental institutional change. Amongst various issues that were put forward by the attendees the discussion focused upon the poor quality of school infrastructure, a general disinterest on the part of government school teachers and principals in ensuring good quality teaching and engaging the students, and the apathy of the government officials in addressing these issues. Through discussion and careful moderation, the meeting concluded with a general understanding that the formation of the parents’ association is a step forward in engaging the community and placing accountability over political, bureaucratic and school authorities towards a positive change.

A venue for the next meeting was decided and the attendees agreed to be volunteers to reach out to the community and gather with more parents from the community. It was also decided that there must be a ‘Right to Education Mela’ to engage and make people aware about the plan to form such an association through pamphlets and discussion.

The Way Forward

As an observation, it was interesting to witness the process of building a critical mass at grassroot levels to collectivize individuals towards a common cause. The effort is at a conceptual stage and requires two basic elements that need to be adhered to, that will consequentially determine successful mobilization. First, it must involve a large number of people, even if they are not directly affected by poor education in government schools as active participants to characterize education as a community level concern. Secondly, it must strive to moderate individual opinions to push for a focused collective approach to engage with the current democratic process as laid down by legislations to create and sustain a culture of institutional accountability. There is enough clarity amongst the trust members and Ajaz Sheikh about the actionable measures to follow while working on the issue. However, in order to engage a large number of people, the success of this novel project relies upon a continuous and discursive facilitation to enable an institutionalized forum that can push for strengthening accountability.


Census 2011.Ahmadabad District Religion Census 2011. (http://www.census2011.co.in/data/religion/district/188-ahmadabad.html) (accessed on 24 April 2018).

(Pranjal Dhaka is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached at pranjaldhaka@nls.ac.in)

Image Source:- Author


Policy Simulation Competition in Cairo: Interview with Participants

Aarushi Gupta, Ishita Jain, and Yogaraj Mudalgi, first year students of the Master of Public Policy Programme at NLSIU, participated in the 2018 edition regional rounds of the NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition held in Cairo, Egypt. Ishita’s team was declared winner in the regional round. They share their experiences in an interview with Lokiniti. Edited excerpts:

Yogaraj, Ishita and Aarushi with Vice Chancellor R. Venkata Rao

What were the requirements of the competition? What were you expected to do?

Ishita: NASPAA-Batten is an annual policy simulation competition organized by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, a Washington DC based international association of public affairs schools. This year, the theme of the competition was Pandemic Crisis Management and Global Health Security. It was held at sixteen sites across the world (eleven in the United States and five in other countries).The first round was the regional round, conducted at the sixteen sites. It involved a live simulation. Think of it like an online multiplayer game, where each participant has to play a specific role for a specific country and try to mitigate the disaster. This round also required us to prepare two policy briefs and a presentation apart from the simulation.The final round is the global round, in which our scores for the regional round will be compared to those of participants from other sites.

Aarushi: The competition was designed in a way that every team was allotted a certain hypothetical country in each round. The competition had a total of four different countries – each characterized by unique geographical, economic, and social factors. The idea was to ensure that each team experiences the simulation from the perspective of all the four countries, one by one. To this end, each team was allotted a new country every round. Each one of these rounds was about battling the looming epidemic, given your allotted country’s budget figures. Other factors relating to the country’s economy and trade relations formed a crucial part of this equation. The simulation interface required the participating team to respond to each development in the crisis by choosing one of the many policy alternatives available.

Yogaraj: Each team executed policy decisions in a real-time environment to minimize casualties, maintain the economy, keep up public approval ratings, and so on. In each round, each team member would take up different roles such as Prime Minister, Health Minister, Finance Minister, and so on. The Prime Minister was the final authority on executing a decision and each team member advised the Prime Minister based on information they were given specific to their function.

At the end of each round, we were scored on our performance. Judges evaluated us on criteria such as teamwork and policy memo. Finalists were required to make a presentation based on the fourth round. Each of the parameters had different weightage based on which the regional winners were declared. The entries of all regional winners would be judged by a separate group of  ‘super judges’ who then declare the final winner and runner-up.

How did the Public Policy course help you tackle the problems that were presented to you during the competition? Did you employ any of the skills that you picked up during the first two trimesters?

Aarushi: The domain of public policy is marked by an intricate union of politics, economics, finance, and a myriad factors relating to a country’s socio-economic milieu. The simulation interface and its design were an embodiment of all these factors combined – to create an experience that should be as close to the real world as possible. Having said that, the readings that we were assigned as part of the coursework for ‘Introduction to Public Policy’ (IPP) did play an instrumental role in making us aware of the aforesaid intricacies in the public policy space.

For instance, one of the metrics for measuring a team’s performance in the simulation was the impact its policy decisions had on the popularity of the (hypothetical) incumbent political leadership. Therefore, there were instances where the Health Minister would advocate for a seemingly unpopular (yet predictably effective) measure to combat the epidemic, whereas the PM would be hesitant to take that hit on the popularity of his/her government. I think IPP effectively familiarized us with such dynamics of “political will” and “policy windows”.

Also, the course on Economic Analysis for Development has proven to be indispensable, considering that we were required to be preemptive about the potentially devastating effects our policy decisions might have on the economic condition of the country we were representing in the competition.

Ishita: Apart from specific skills, like drafting policy briefs, which we picked up during the course of MPP, the political economy approach learnt during the course was very helpful. We had to manage the crisis while taking care of the economic position of the countries and ensuring popular support as well. Reflecting upon the health system and suggesting measures to prevent future crises formed a part of the competition, and different frameworks learnt during the course helped us in problematizing and analyzing the situation. Moreover, the number of presentations we have for our course has attuned us to prepare one in a short time!

Yogaraj: The biggest learning in the competition was the critical thinking that we had developed over the two trimesters in identifying and approaching problems. In addition to that, the sensitization towards ‘wicked problems’ was of great help. For example, any policy decision we took had ‘unintended consequences’ and we had to accordingly modify our policies in real-time to deal with the fallouts. And all this had to be in a short time so you had to think on your feet to respond to problems. Another useful skill picked up during the course was that of writing policy memos and presenting your arguments in a structured manner.

The competition had participants representing various institutions from across the globe. How was your experience interacting with these students? What kind of skills did they bring into the competition given their diverse backgrounds?

Aarushi: The competition site allocated to us by NASPAA was Egypt – which was the site location for participants from countries in the MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia) region. Accordingly, my three teammates belonged to UAE, Lebanon, and Egypt. This diversity enriched the entire experience, considering that each brought something unique to the table. While two of my teammates were pursuing Political Science and Public Administration respectively, the other was a former consultant in the UAE Health Ministry. The academic quotient did prove to be beneficial in rounds which required policy-memo writing, and professional experience came in handy while responding to tricky situations in the crisis. All in all, we did benefit as a team from our collective professional and academic backgrounds.

Yogaraj: My experience interacting with students from different backgrounds was very illuminating and more challenging than I had imagined it would be. The composition of the teams were multicultural, multilingual, and multi-disciplinary. Some of them were students of public administration, public health, and so on. There were often disagreements because students of different disciplines had a particular outlook towards how problems should be dealt with. The language barrier also posed a challenge in how well you can communicate with each other. Probably the most important challenge was to build a consensus regarding the actions that needed to be taken. And this must be done continuously as the situation within the game evolves continuously.

Ishita: The most striking thing about the Public Policy and Public Administration students whom we met was the diversity! It made us realize how intellectually rich the fraternity is, with each person having very different areas of expertise and interest, but all keen to experiment with new domains.What really helped our team during the competition was in fact the diversity of academic backgrounds and experiences. While someone was proficient with numbers and could set the finances straight, others were great with communications and diplomacy.   

Given your experience in the competition and the opportunity that was presented to you to solve a policy problem, how would you assess our classroom learning? Would you recommend some addition/change in the current course which could help in tackling the kind of problem you were posed at the competition?

Aarushi: Our classroom learning is currently skewed more towards the theoretical aspects of public policy. While I do realize the merits of this kind of pedagogy, we can nonetheless strive for a more balanced approach between theory and practice. Although we do have Sectoral Workshops as part of the coursework on Regulatory Governance and Policy Analysis & Clinic, the case-study approach needs to be followed in all other areas as well, especially in all the Economics courses.

Ishita: I think the frameworks and methods that we are taught are very useful for analysing policies. We can benefit from including a greater application component to the frameworks. One way of doing this could be in the form of case studies. Moreover, we can ourselves try to relate what we are taught to real life problems and try to analyse situations with existing frameworks, or may be even develop new ones! Peer learning can be very useful for this.

Yogaraj: I feel that our curriculum creates a fertile ground for us to become successful policy professionals. When we study in the classroom we might feel disconnected from the real world and might often feel that the theories are of limited value. However, more than the application of theories directly, it is the critical thinking developed through an understanding of these theories that is most useful. Direct transfer of classroom learning on to a professional setting rarely occurs in any field, anyway. I honestly feel that more than tweaking the curriculum, we will benefit more from changing our approach towards the existing curriculum. The knowledge and skills we need are all nearly there, we need to figure out better as to how we can piece them all together to derive the best value as policy professionals.

I can give you an example from the competition itself, a pandemic outbreak can be dealt with using different policy actions such as distribution of masks and vaccines, restricting movements of the population within and outside the countries, setting up quarantine zones, raising taxes too meet increased expenditures. Performing each of these actions does not ensure a successful result because one of them might lead to a consequence you had not imagined of. For example, if you restrict movement of people, it might reduce the infection rates but it will have a negative impact on the economy and will further impact the government’s ability to take up other measures that involve public expenditure. Or, some times raising taxes on eating out can not only bring in more revenue but also restrict unnecessary movement of people in public places. One of the best learning I gained from the simulation was that there is no singular ‘best possible outcome’ in any situation, rather there are ‘multiple outcomes’ that can occur based on different scenarios and different inputs. This is exactly what the ‘wicked problem’ I referred to earlier is all about. And, this is something that came up in nearly every interaction I had with people during the competition.

One thing that we could probably include in our curriculum is increased exposure to simulations as a supplemental means of learning. This is already happening around the world as more policy schools are adopting this hands-on, gamified approach. Although, I would caution against using this extensively as the success of a simulation is directly determinant on the model based on which it is created and subsequently, the research it is based on. The more solid the research, the more successfully can a simulation mirror the real world.

(Aarushi, Ishita, and Yogaraj can be reached at aarushigupta@nls.ac.in, ishitaj@nls.ac.in, and yogarajsmudalgi@nls.ac.in respectively)

Life in Katiki, Andhra Pradesh: An Awakening

Bhaskar Simha L N visited Katiki, Andhra Pradesh to work with SAMATA in pursuance of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy programme. He reflects on his experiences and what he carried back with him. 

Home to tribal communities for many years now, Eastern ghats are rich in  mineral resources. One such place which houses the tribal community is a village called ‘Katiki’.  Situated on top of a valley at a distance of seven kilometers from Borra caves, Katiki is accessible only through jeep, bike or a long walk.  The village comes under the jurisdiction of Borra Panchayat, Anantgri Manda in Vizag District. With a population of around 180 people and without any basic amenities such as roads, toilets, and drinking water, Katiki in itself is a case study. Not just Katiki, the villages around that are a reflection of Katiki.

Summary of 21 days trip to Vizag and Katiki

The journey began with a lot of expectations about learning new things which at the end of it, came out to be true. Since I went with zero presumptions about the place and the issues that people face, I was able to work well and understand the sensitive issues related to tribal people. The first three days of the trip were spent in Samata head office in Dabbanda village, Vizag. Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada and the admin team gave us crucial insights about the villages and the kind of work they have been doing. This made me better appreciate what it takes to build a strong NGO so deeply rooted in an area for three decades. Mr. Satis Kumar, the co-ordinator, helped me with providing documents and other reading materials relating to Katiki and Katiki Waterfalls. Upon reaching the village, these readings proved to be of great help as they gave me a better understanding about the situation in Katiki and I was able to  prepare myself better for the work. Post the session with Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada, I attended a meeting with the Sub-collector of Vizag to talk about pending title deeds for the tribes in Chintapalli village.his meeting was an evidence as to how a NGO goes about its day to day work by patiently lobbying with the state to ensure justice is served to the concerned stakeholders.

The next fifteen days of my experience in Katiki was an awakening of sorts for a policy student like me and would be worthy of lifetime experience to an individual. The villagers were so kind and generous while hosting me and treated me like family. The tribes have a deep sense of community unlike the new urban culture. While they work for self, they live for the community. It was an altogether different world in terms of culture and human relations.

I had three general meetings with the villagers during my stay. First meeting was a general introduction and an ice breaking session. Second meeting was regarding the village and its maintenance (cleanliness, plastic disposal, education for kids, overcoming dropouts, etc.). The third meeting was on the last night I stayed in the village when I spoke to them about my observations and immediately implementable suggestions. A training session for the members who work in KWDC (Katiki Waterfall Development Committee) was also conducted.

I visited around eight villages, Katiki Waterfall, and Borra Caves, along with 2 weekly markets (Santhe), a Ration Centre, Borra Panchayat, dilapidated buildings called as schools and Anganwadis. On 20th October 2017, I along with eight villagers met Mr. D Balaji, IAS, Sub-collector, Paderu, on grievance cell at Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), and submitted a written complaint about the plight of Katiki village and also made a request for initiating road construction as soon as possible. Sub-collector was quite responsive and gave assurance of giving personal attention to the issue.

In these fifteen days, I was introduced to tribal culture, food, dance (Dhimsa), and lifestyle, and I made friends and brother for life. After fifteen days of stay in Katiki, I came back to Samata head office. Here,  I sat with the team and discussed with them my findings and observations and took note of  their opinions. Additionally, we discussed the potential developmental activities that could be carried out in Katiki Waterfalls.

On completion of  twenty-one days of my trip, I came back to Bengaluru with a huge amount of learning- to organise my learnings and turn it into a presentable knowledge to motivate my fellow policy students to take up more of such trips.

Ignorant Constitutionalism?

“We are living in these mountains since ages. Yes, it is a tough life. But we were happy. But one day few foreign dressed people, who call themselves the government, came and told us that these land and we belong to the nation and asked us to ally with them to live better, and we did. Soon few others namely, Forest department, Revenue Department, Railway Department and now the Tourism Department came to us and said they all have share of these mountains. We understood all of them want to eat from our plate but for some strange reasons they don’t like us and are not allowing us to eat. What do we do!!??” said an old man in his eighties when I met him at his home. At first he was agitated on seeing me as he mistook me for a government official. Upon clarifying that I was an intern with Samata, he was happy, and spoke with enthusiasm.

Fifth Schedule of Constitution of India

The Fifth Schedule covers Tribal areas in nine states of India namely Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan. Essentially the Fifth Schedule is a historic guarantee to the indigenous people on the right over the land they live in.

But over these seventy years, has the spirit of Indian Constitution been forgotten or ignored!? Who is responsible for the prevailing ignorant constitutionalism? These are the questions one would ask after experiencing the ground realities in Katiki and the surrounding villages. Despite all the Constitutional provisions, laws, policies and programs, these tribes are to this day, struggling for basic amenities.This takes one by surprise about the type of governance and implementation we have adopted in these areas.

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

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan: Road to Reform

Sumit Jain was part of the University contingent that visited Bhim, Rajasthan in October 2017 to work with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan as part of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy course. He reflects on the concerns with the social security mechanisms in the country.

Flaws in the PDS

Government of India operates Public Distribution System (PDS) in synchrony with state governments in order to provide food security to the people of India. Making Aadhaar mandatory or availing subsidized ration has augmented corruption even further. Point of Sale (POS) machines at fair price shops (FPS) have started failing terribly. Though the government claims the biometric machines will help in eliminating corruption, the exact opposite scenario has taken place on ground. While previously the dealer was apprehensive of getting caught in case an investigation took place, now he/she can conveniently deny ration to a family under the garb of the POS machine not recognizing his or her fingerprint (there exists a parallel mechanism where the dealer can still provide a family with ration, if his/her fingerprint failed to match). In a FPS in Sangarwas panchayat of Beawar, the Sarpanch was openly defending the dealer who had denied ration to a family for last five months. When we tried to contact the panchayat sahayak regarding the same, he was dismissive of villagers and blamed them for their condition. Sarpanch, babu, dealer and Aadhaar –these entities which were entrusted upon to make the system work – have become the very reason for its failing.

Loopholes in MNREGA

Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.

While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) looks good on paper, situation on ground is appalling. Bureaucracy has found ways to block the implementation of this scheme at various junctures. For example, construction sites tend to deploy a large number of NREGA workers. Given the kind of work, labourers are expected to work in a group of five. The Government servants take advantage of this loophole by denying work to people who approach them in the individual capacity. If that was countered by any chance, the payment of the wage is done on the basis of task and not on the number of hours worked. This has again led to a peculiar condition where the officer present at the construction site would find some or the other fault in the work done and deduct the already meagre wage. This has led to massive frustration among the workers who are willing to work hard but even then not given their own share of the wage.

National Social Assistance Scheme and its impact

Pension amounts in various states are mentioned below –

Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.

For a lot of families who have no one to support them, this pension is the only source of income. However, all is not green in such schemes as well. Take the case of old age pension scheme, a person is entitled to increased pension of 750/- INR (previously 500/- INR) as he/she attains the age of 65. But due to lack of awareness, people involved in disbursing and delivering the pension try to pocket that extra 250/- INR. We found a lot of cases where people had attained the age of 74-75 and were still receiving 500/- INR as pension.

Talk with Aruna Roy

The NLS group of interns also got an opportunity to interact with MKSS pioneer Ms. Aruna Roy. Through her conversation she shed light on her experience in civil services and the rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. Service rules are framed in such a manner that only conformists can survive. Any attempt to reform the system is not taken well by the political establishment and every attempt is made to nullify that step.

She also discussed various aspects of public policy, her stint as a ‘professor of practice’ at McGill University, Canada and how the domain is evolving in various parts of the world. She paid focus on how the civil society plays an important role in the Indian context keeping the democratic values alive and acts as a pressure group on the government. She also laid emphasis on the importance of protests and described taking part in them as imperative for policy students.

NLS interns with Aruna Roy

As mentioned at various places in the report, it is the information gap and lack of awareness which is the root of all problems. While the government legislation has empowered the people with legal rights, the ones who are empowered are unaware of it. It also seems that government has intentionally left this information gap so that they can alter the public opinion as and when required. It is this information gap which the civil society needs to fill. One way to go through this is by organizing meetings and taking the public in confidence. MKSS is doing a great job in this manner and more such groups should come up. Another possible way to curb this problem is by providing consultancy to the government in such a manner that they see their benefit in informing people about their rights. How that would be done in a convincing manner is something all of us have to find out.

(Sumit Jain is a participant of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached sumitjain@nls.ac.in)

When Judges took to the Press: Looming Public Policy Questions


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