Two weeks ago, I watched from the second row as Mr.Colin Gonsalves rose to make a submission to the Chief Justice’s court. The Disabilities Act had now turned 21, he said, and although it provided for many steps to be taken by the respective Governments to provide access and assistance to those who were differently abled (ramps, Braille signage, slopes on pavements, warning sounds and signals, etc.), nothing had been done. Aware of the normal sticky tape that weaves its way through administration, Gonsalves merely sought as a first step, that over the next 18 months, Central Government buildings arrange ramp access to the public. As the Bench began to leaf through the suggestions proffered, the Government’s counsel slowly rose to his feet.
“If you may please...”, he began.
Justices Thakur, Chandrachud and Rao regarded him carefully. This was the moment when the Court would be shown charts and photographs displaying how our less fortunate brethren had been fully taken care of. There would be sworn statements by top bureaucrats detailing how the law was well in compliant motion. Holes would be punched in this overenthusiastic Petitioner’s arguments, and as Gonsalves would struggle to respond, the mighty Government would demand costs for having wasted the court’s time.
“We are repealing this Act”, he said, his moustache twitching.
I picked myself off the ground. I must have overbalanced.
Aware of the Chief Justice’s perplexed eyebrow, he decided to elucidate. “There is a new Bill, which was introduced in 2014. It has been referred to a Standing Committee of Parliament. It will repeal the old one.” When requested for a copy of this new Bill, he came up with what is now standard format law officer speak – “We will file it. Give us 6 weeks.” I admired this astute move, of not being armed with the single document on which he was relying.
The Government had carefully ensured that it had no obligations even under the existing law until the new one came into force. And the journey from Standing Committee to notified law could well take us to the next general elections. What is amusing is that the proposed Bill makes no dent in the buffet of Government obligations.
The net result? Messrs Gonsalves & Co., returning after 3 years to renew their request, during which time many of the differently abled would have left to meet their maker, having been told till their last breath that they had lived in a heaven of freedom.
A few matters later (by which time I had sidled into the front row), a nervous court master announced Item 110. Sprung I to the fore, righteously clutching the last Order from 2 years ago in my eager paws. “Wetlands”, I cried.
There were a few titters.
I hastened to clarify. “The Ramsar Convention obligations – a 15 year old PIL to direct the Governments to protect water bodies – the Government was to respond on whether the nodal body under the Regulations had been set up.”
The triumvirate looked balefully across the aisle.
“I am new” said the greying 53 year old gent. I found this strange. Even his mother would have contested the claim.
“I don’t have the papers. I don’t have instructions”, he said. Before adding 2 gems:
And then a third:
The next date of hearing is in the middle of January, 2017.
A few days on, and I was back. Same court. Same row. Same adversary.
“Months of struggle with the Anna Andolan, and now the Government does not want to implement the Lok Pal”, led General Shanti Bhushan from the front. Several minutes worth of righteous indignation were heaped on the opposing ranks, and I would have sat back and smiled, but for the phlegmatic countenance of the Attorney General.
He waited till the Bench sought a response.
“The Act is unworkable”, he announced, his thumbs crooked into his waistcoat pockets. “We don’t want a sham of a Lok Pal, and so we have a comprehensive amendment that is pending before a Standing Committee.” I hearkened heavenward, where the dark clouds of déjà vu were gathering.
It looks like an easy job, I thought.
I must get my hands on a copy of that Booklet.
THE CENTRAL AGENCY BOOKLET
[To be circulated to all Government lawyers]
Lesson One: Appropriate Responses
“This will open the floodgates” [Service, Tax and Excise]
Lesson Two: Elbow room arguments
Lesson Three: Emotion
“We are the Government.”
Lesson Four: Brownie Points
Lesson Five: The Prayer
[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]
This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.