From the Viewsroom

Supreme contempt

Venky Vembu | Updated on December 24, 2018

The apex court’s authority stands diminished in the Diwali haze

So vastly diminished was the territorial authority of the 18th-century Mughal ruler Shah Alam II that it was derisively said that his sultanate stretched all the way from ‘Dilli’ to Palam, a proximate suburb. Much the same may be said of the recent Supreme Court ruling specifying the time-slots during which crackers may be set off as part of Diwali festival celebrations. Across the country, the ruling was honoured more in the breach than in the observance. In fact, even in neighbourhoods in the same postal district as the Supreme Court — encompassing an area smaller than Shah Alam’s ‘empire’ — the roar of crackers and the whizz of aerial fireworks resonated even past midnight on Wednesday, well past the court-ordained 10 pm deadline. In city after city, there was a marked pick-up in cracker-burst decibel levels after the expiry of the deadline, with revellers delighting in brazen violations of the ruling — and posting videos of such transgressions on social media platforms.

At the first level, the widespread contempt for a ruling from the highest court in the land should occasion immense disquiet in anyone who cares for the supremacy of the rule of law in society. Such a naked celebration of the diminution of the apex court’s authority bodes ill over the long run.

However, the episode also gives reasons to reflect on how matters came to such a pass. Evidently, the Diwali revellers resented the judicial intervention and micro-management of faith-based practices associated with the festival. Taken along with the recent ruling on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, the perception that this amounts to judicial overreach has gained traction — even beyond the sections that customarily peddle a ‘Hindu victimhood’ narrative. The latest ruling may have come in response to concerns about pollution levels, particularly in Delhi, but the limits on bursting of crackers merely scratches the surface of the problem. Addressing that larger problem without losing the overall narrative may require a more earnest application of judicial minds than has been manifest so far.

Venky Vembu Associate Editor

Published on November 08, 2018

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