“If we fail to heed the Constitution, our hubris will result in descent to chaos”, CJI Gogoi on Constitution Day

“If we fail to heed the Constitution, our hubris will result in descent to chaos”, CJI Gogoi on Constitution Day

Bar & Bench

Supreme Court judges, law officers and government functionaries today convened at the Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi as part of the Constitution Day celebrations to commemorate the adoption of the Indian Constitution on November 26, 1949.

Until 2014, the event was celebrated as Law Day. The practice of celebrating National Law Day began in 1979, when the Supreme Court Bar Association, under the leadership of Dr LM Singhvi, declared November 26 as the National Law Day.

However, in 2015, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment decided that November 26 would henceforth be celebrated as Constitution Day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the declaration in October 2015, while laying down the foundation stone for a memorial in honour of the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar, whose 125th birth anniversary was being celebrated that year.

Today’s Constitution Day celebrations kicked off with a welcome address by Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B Lokur, who spoke of the significance of the institutions created by the Constitution.

The Constitution of India has helped us protect, preserve and defend our Sovereign RepublicThe integrity of our country must be of foremost importance to each one of us”, said Justice Lokur.

Attorney General KK Venugopal spoke of the significance of the Indian Constitution by recalling quotes by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Vivian Bose. He also made note to appreciate the presence of President Ram Nath Kovind at the event, noting that as a lawyer with 22 years standing at the Bar and an AoR at Supreme Court, President Kovind never turns down any invite by the Bar.

Today also marks the tenth anniversary of the Mumbai Terror attacks, which left over 160 people dead and around 300 injured. This aspect was not missed during today’s celebrations. References to the dastardly attack of November 26, 2008 found a place in the speeches made today.

Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Vikas Singh commenced his address by recalling that the idea to commemorate the adoption of the Indian Constitution was conceived by SCBA presidents. However, as his speech progressed, Singh also proposed that media reportage be restricted to safeguard national security interests. To this end, he batted for a law aw to regulate media from reporting details of terrorist attacks.

Union Law Minister RS Prasad queried whether the human rights of victims of terror attacks are given sufficient priority over the human rights claimed by terrorists. He observed,

Terrorists claim human rights…which we must give – that is what our Constitution ethos is about.. But what about the human rights of victims of terror? How do we balance the two? That is an issue that I think we need to discuss, debate and ponder about.

He also emphasised on the need to trust in Constitutional Democracy. He went on to note that the concept of Constitutional morality should be defined so that it does not get repeatedly redefined from judge to judge. He said,

We hear a lot about Constitutional morality…The only respectful submission I would make is, [that] the nuances of Constitutional morality should be outlined with greater clarity, and it should not differ from judge to judge, but there must be a consensus.

In his inaugural address, President of India Ram Nath Kovind observed,

November 26 is a sacred day in our Constitutional history. Tragically, it also saw an assault on the democratic values and freedoms that our Constitution grants us. I refer to the terror attacks in Mumbai, on this day, ten years ago. Those horrific images still remain in India’s collective memory. As a nation and a people we are honour bound to get justice for the individuals and the families that suffered. The Constitution and its underlying principles commit us to this resolve.

He also noted that these Constitutional principles have to be constructively applied to suit the changing times. While acknowledging the large-heartedness of the Constituent Assembly in endowing the Constitution with sufficient flexibility, President Kovind remarked,

Above all, they [the Constituent Assembly] trusted in the wisdom of future generations to expand the frontiers of freedom and liberty, justice and fraternity, fairness and equality. It trusted future generations to not just amend the Constitution’s text, but to constructively reimagine and reinterpret it for changing times. If we continue to be true to this spirit, the Constitution can serve India for all times to come.

As his speech progressed, President Kovind also emphasised on justice being both the means and the goal of the Indian Constitution and the nation-building process. He spoke of the need to use innovative means, including technology, to bring about justice in more meaningful ways. In this backdrop, he also commented that,

Innovation has also worked for the benefit of disadvantaged sections of society. A case in point is India’s experience with technology enabled, Aadhaar linked benefit transfers. These have plugged corruption, leakages and exclusion from India’s welfare programmes.

However, he acknowledged that along with the gains brought by technology, are questions of access and privacy. He observed that concerns of data privacy and the often competing interest of using data for the greater good are likely to remain through the 21st century.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi noted that while the Constitution of India was initially criticised for its length and for having borrowed features from foreign jurisdictions, time has proved its detractors wrong.

Sir Ivor Jennings said, ‘Far too large, and therefore far too rigid.’ Time has weakened the criticism. And it is a matter of great pride that our Constitution has lived with great vigour in the last seven decades. 

Critics also said that our Constitution was too foreign, that it was unsuited to the Indian context. A member of the Constituent Assembly is quoted to have said that, ‘what was needed was the music of the Veena or the sitar. But they had got an English band instead.’

Once again, time has proven him wrong. The constitution has become an integral part of the life of the Indian people.

Watch the video of CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s speech (Courtesy DD News):

CJI Gogoi proceeded to caution against straying away from the Constitutional principles, observing that such violation is likely to usher a descent into chaos.

Our Constitution is the voice of the marginalised as well as the prudence of the majority. Its wisdom continues to guide us in moments of crisis and uncertainty. It is in our best interest to heed the advice under the Constitution. If we do not, our hubris will result in sharp descent into chaos.

As he concluded his address, CJI Gogoi opined that it is appropriate that the nation ponders on ways to achieve the high promises of the Constitution in future.

Undoubtedly, great advances have been made. But there is a lot left to be done”, he observed.

Today is not an occasion to celebrate, but is a day to test the Constitutional promises. The Constitution is not a document frozen in time. Every generation inherits the Constitution of its predecessors and in turn leaves an imprint. How far we have come since 1947. Does justice inform the institutions of political, social and economic life? Are Indians existing in conditions of freedom, equality and dignity? These are questions that I ask myself…

…. Today we meet, not just for a celebration but also to chalk out a roadmap for the future. Our discussions must lend towards finding new solutions and generating newer paths of achieving the constitutional promise.

Justice Kurian Joseph rendered the vote of thanks for the event, He reminded the audience of their duty to adhere to the Constitution. He said,

Abiding by the Constitution is one of the greatest challenges faced by our country now, let us take a pledge that we will be law abiding citizens. We are duty holders in addition to being stakeholders.”

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