The run-up to the 2022 Punjab assembly elections has seen a number of controversies and resignations in the political and legal arenas. Amidst the chaos, the new Advocate General Deepinder Singh Patwalia says that no political directive can colour his opinion on a topic.
Patwalia, the son of retired Supreme Court judge Justice Kuldip Singh, and brother of Supreme Court senior lawyer Paramjit Singh Patwalia, stated that he agrees that "nepotism exists" in the judiciary, but not to the extent that it prejudices or colours someone's mind to alter their decisions.
In this interview, AG and Senior Advocate Patwalia speaks on various issues from the current controversy over stubble burning to the recently challenged senior designation procedure of the Punjab & Haryana High Court.
Edited excerpts from the interview follow.
What is your take on the recent debate on nepotism in the judiciary? Does it exist?
I don't think it is nepotism. Every professional line or practice has some kind of nepotism. To say that it affects someone's rationale or thinking process is another thing. But I think it does exist to some extent, but not to the extent that it it prejudices or colours someone's mind to alter their decisions. I don't think that's the case at all.
As an AG, you are often expected to espouse the cause of the State government. How difficult is it to maintain the line between what you think is correct and what is the political diktat?
That is an interesting question. I answer this question at a time when political turmoil is at its peak with elections round the corner and there is a lot to be done and a lot to be desired. But I don't think any political directive can colour my decision to give a correct and subjective opinion.
When I took this post, what I was taught all through my life was that there is no option but to be integral to the post and be honest about it. So I am going to give an opinion which is correct in law and if it goes against the political will of somebody, then so be it. I have to be honest with my profession and to the system to which I belong.
On the farmers' protests, the Supreme Court recently observed that if a law is challenged before the Court, people should refrain from protesting against it on the streets. Do you agree?
The right to protest is a democratically protected right as long as the protest is peaceful and does not cause harm to public life or cause damage to public property. I don't think then there is any problem with protesting, and whether you challenge it in court is a separate issue.
Coming to the recent debate on stubble burning as a cause of air pollution in the Delhi NCR region, do you think as a State, Punjab often bears the brunt of this issue? Is enough being done on the ground?
I have been privy to the litigation since I have been appearing for the State of Punjab. The affidavits filed show that only four to five percent of environmental degradation is caused by stubble burning. But is it an issue? It's a huge issue. Should it be stopped? It must be stopped.
But the fundamental problem is the financial aspect. We need resources to alternatively use paddy, and Punjab is starved (of paddy). The next issue is the mindset and awareness and to change the mindset of farmers. Its a fundamental challenge and we are on this. It is an ongoing process. To say that next year there will be no stubble burning would be an incorrect statement, but will it reduce compared to last year, for sure it will.