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A two-day International Judicial Conference was flagged off this morning at the Supreme Court auditorium, at an inaugural event which saw the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Law Minister RS Prasad, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, and other judges of the Supreme Court.
Also present in the audience were judges from 23 different jurisdictions, Chief Justices and judges of the High Court, former judges of the Supreme Court, and Vice-Chancellors of National Law Universities.
The welcome address at the event was rendered by Justice L Nageswara Rao, who said that the aim of the International Judicial Conference was “to facilitate cross fertilisation of ideas between judges of India and those from abroad.”
Justice Rao observed that the conference provided an opportunity for judges across the world in engage in informal discussions with each other for mutual benefit.
In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke extensively of India’s achievements, commenting on how India has challenged old beliefs and perceptions. He went on to speak on how the rule of law has been ingrained in Indian tradition. He said,
As for the continuance of this tradition in India, the Prime Minster said,
“In the recent times, there have been some critical judicial judgments and decisions which have been the subject of global discussion. Before these judgments were delivered, several apprehensions were being expressed about the consequences. But look what happened! 1.3 billion Indians wholeheartedly accepted the judicial verdicts."
PM Narendra Modi
Following Justice Rao’s address, Attorney General KK Venugopal focused on poverty vis-a-vis fundamental rights in his speech. He observed that poverty in India has drastically reduced over the years, when compared to the colonial era.
“When we got freedom and the Constitution was adopted, 70% Indians were living under poverty. This has been reduced today to 21%. That, I think, is through the effort of the government", he said.
He proceeded to observe how social justice lawyers and the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 continue to play a role in alleviating the suffering of the poor in India. He further commented that,
Rationalising why the Supreme Court often intervenes in this manner, into realms that also touch upon policy, the AG pointed out that India being a welfare state and a developing country, has its own unique challenges and priorities.
As he concluded his address, he expressed how that poverty will be eradicated from India in the coming years, with the efforts of the government and the Supreme Court.
Justice NV Ramana informed the gathering about the topics that will be deliberated upon during the conference i.e.
Role of judiciary in maintaining a gender just world
Role of judiciary against populism
Constitution and its interpretation
Role of judiciary in environmental protection and sustainable development
Role of Judiciary in protecting privacy of citizens in the internet age
While speaking on the first theme concerning gender equality, Justice Ramana also emphasised,
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad made critical note that,
“[there is a] sinister trend of late, developing globally, and also in our country, that some people start campaigning as to what kind of judgments they expect. [When] the judgment is not in accordance with that, then [they] unleash all the forces of criticism."
Law Minister, RS Prasad
He, however, emphasised that it is not as if dissent is not allowed. He commented that
“In a democracy we welcome dissent, we welcome populism too. We have a problem also, when populism infringes upon well settled Constitutional principles. Populism also becomes a problem when those who have been rejected in the popular mandate becomes the biggest flag bearers of populism.”
He further observed that,
"What is challenging is, now populism is seeking to have greater accountability as to what kind of judgments there should be. I’m a great supporter of social media, of freedom. I know it is empowering, but this is a dangerous trend. Judges must be left completely independent to give judgment as to what they think is correct…"
As he concluded his speech, the Law Minister remarked,
“What are we proud of? That we trust our democratic values. We trust our judiciary. And we trust the common instinct of ordinary Indians to select the leaders they want them to govern…"
Among the notable observations made by CJI SA Bobde in his address was how fundamental duties are not accorded the significance they deserve. He said,
“A feature often neglected is a chapter on fundamental duties imposing on every citizen the duties to abide by the constitution, the whole of it and respect its ideals and institution. Mahatma Gandhi once said “the exercise of right depends on ones sense of duty." This follows from what he had written in Hindi Swaraj, where he argued that ‘real rights are a result of performance of duty’“
CJI SA Bobde
He went on to express hope in the success of the conference, observing that,
“Conferences such as these in a sense celebrate this universality and seek a better expression through the challenges that the judiciaries of the world face. Undoubtedly, the success of the rule of law in our countries depends on how the judiciaries respond to such challenges and how they emerge.
I do hope that at the end of the Conference, all of us would be benefited by learning from each other and have a clearer definition of the roles of the judiciary in the changing world.”
As he rendered the vote of thanks, Justice Arun Mishra also observed that today, India is the “biggest, successful democracy in the world” and about how dignified human existence remains India’s prime concern. He went on to thank the dignitaries who spoke before him, including Prime Minister Modi.
He also made note to particularly thank CJI Bobde for having taken the initiative to convene the conference.
As he concluded his address, Justice Mishra also commented that there was a growing concern of masses being left out by globalisation. He noted that this issue has to be addressed by making a purposive interpretation of the Constitution in which we exist, before it becomes lethal like the Coronavirus.
[Watch the full video of the inaugural address]