Informed criticism of the judiciary is a welcome sign of a robust democracy, the entitlement of every citizen. It is wholly another matter when the political executive turns on the judicial branch with an angry intensity. Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister Arcot N. Veerasamy's recent remarks on the Madras High Court were intemperate, unwarranted, and devoid of factual basis. In advising the judges of the High Court not to "think it is they who rule Tamil Nadu," in asking who gave the Court "the right to usurp the powers of the Chief Minister," and in airing an apprehension that high courts may turn into "kangaroo courts," Mr. Veerasamy struck an ill-judged antagonistic note. The basis for this outburst was the court's decisions and observations in two sensitive cases. In the first case relating to the recent elections to the Chennai Corporation Council, one judge in a split verdict ordered a repoll in 99 wards on the ground that the polling in these was not free and fair. In the second instance that related to the death of a schoolgirl, the First Bench took strong exception to the State Government deciding to set up a commission of inquiry without consulting it and at a time when the court was seized of the matter. The judges seemed particularly annoyed by the sudden change in the position of the State Government, which even in the previous hearing had declared that it was not in favour of setting up a judicial commission.
Two things need to be borne in mind while judging Mr. Veerasamy's remarks against the High Court. First, they cannot be treated as mere public criticism; as a Minister of a State Government that is a party to the cases in question, he should have showed far more circumspection. Secondly, he went well beyond merely registering his disagreement with the specifics of the court's orders and observations in the two cases. The tenor of his remarks in the sweeping broadside seemed based on antagonism rather than reason. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who shared the public platform with the Electricity Minister when the offending remarks were made, would have done well to admonish him instead of commending him, even if obliquely. All this is symptomatic of an unhealthy resentment against the judiciary. A confrontation between the executive branch and the judiciary is the last thing a relatively well-governed State such as Tamil Nadu needs. The constitutional scheme envisages a delicate balance between these vital institutions providing for the independence of each but containing mechanisms to limit the powers of both. The cause of maintaining such a balance is hardly served by Ministers launching misguided broadsides against the judiciary.