If there is one institution that should feel good looking back at 2012, it has to be the Supreme Court of India.
At a time when the nation was looking for answers to vexing questions—whether it be on the alleged scam in the allocation of second-generation or 2G spectrum, the tax on Vodafone Group Plc., or the face-off between the Sahara group and stock market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi)—the apex court, risking allegations of overreach, did not disappoint; evolving as the conscience-keeper of the nation.
And this has partly to do with the leadership Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia demonstrated during his nearly two-and-a-half-year tenure at the helm—one of the longest (he retired on 29 September). The country got a glimpse of this streak of pragmatic leadership in his last hurrah as chief justice when the five-judge constitution bench headed by him delivered the seminal opinion, on 27 September, on the Presidential reference made by the government on the apex court’s earlier order on the allocation of 2G licences.
Not only did the bench rectify its remiss, wherein it had laid down that allocation of all natural resources, including telecom spectrum and natural gas, be carried out only through auctions, but also unequivocally set out the limits of judicial intervention.
This is significant, since one of the key concerns was that the apex court had overreached itself. The order, which specified that judiciary should limit its rulings to violations and leave it to the executive to define policy, has laid this controversy to rest.
But the other side of the alleged judicial overreach is the governance vacuum. Not only were policies of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance coming under increasing scrutiny for alleged infractions, its second tenure at the Centre was marked by amazing lack of policy response—inviting the charge of policy paralysis. In other words, the apex court was intervening to fill the vacuum.
It is clear that this will be a hard act for the Supreme Court to follow in 2013; not only has the war against graft peaked, even the inventory of pending controversial challenges is running thin. Of course things may turn out differently if the pending appeal against the verdict of the Allahabad high court in the Ram Janmabhoomi case is taken up by the apex court. That would definitely make it another benchmark year.