Thanks to Singhvi’s activism, all the states and union territories, which have been dragging their feet for years, suddenly find themselves accountable at the same time to two different benches.
Singhvi’s bench is also pushing them harder as it has already held three hearings this month, since it had ordered the states and UTs on March 11 to file affidavits within two weeks on the implementation of the six directions in the 2006 verdict. The next hearing before it is on April 25, when the petitioner in the original police reforms case, former DGP of UP and BSF Prakash Singh, is due to give his assessment on the glitches in the implementation of the first direction, namely, the creation of the state security commission to insulate the police from political interference.
In contrast, Kabir’s bench has heard the case only once ever since he had assumed office as CJI in September 2012. In that solitary hearing which took place in October, Kabir, however, steered clear of the contempt proceedings which had been initiated against four major states by his predecessor, Justice S H Kapadia. Rather than building on the progress made in the case by earlier CJIs, Kabir’s bench issued fresh notices to all the states and UTs for their status reports. The matter has since been listed thrice (the last time being on April 16) but Kabir’s bench never got around to hearing it on any of those occasions.
Meanwhile, the provocation for the entry of Singhvi’s bench into this case was a couple of police excesses in March on successive days: Punjab police beat up a woman in public in Taran Taran while their Bihar counterparts lathi-charged a procession of contractual teachers. On March 6, Singhvi’s bench took cognizance of the press reports on those two incidents and appointed senior advocates Harish Salve and U U Lalit as amicus curiae. Five days later, this suo motu intervention into two specific instances of police highhandedness enlarged into parallel proceedings on police reforms. Besides giving notices to all the states and UTs, the bench comprising Justices Singhvi and Kurian Joseph appointed two more amicus curiae: Prakash Singh and attorney general G E Vahanvati.
This unforeseen development has raised expectations that the Supreme Court would at last pursue the police reforms implementation with the seriousness it deserved. Given the difference individual judges could make, civil society activists hope that Singhvi would help break the deadlock on police reforms before his retirement by this year-end. Since Kabir himself is due to retire in July shortly after the summer break, it remains to be seen if he would formally transfer the police reforms case to Singhvi’s bench, to end the anomaly of parallel proceedings.
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