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Court is correct in urging fiscal prudence and warning against subsidies. But is that the court's remit?
In an ostensible effort to promote reasonableness on subsidies, the Supreme Court appears to be again blurring the border between its domain and that of the executive and the legislature. The issue is the decontrol of diesel prices for bulk customers and the court's intervention is well-intentioned. The plaintiffs, state public transport corporations, have been told that the weakening rupee and a rising import bill is insupportable, and that instead of seeking subsidies, they should professionalise their operations. Entirely correct, but why should the Supreme Court have to pronounce on public sector management and the current account deficit?
The UPA's tenure has seen a steady devolution of the government's powers to unelected authorities. The court of law is one among many institutions that could be said to be assuming unintended roles. In recent times, courts have halted mining in the name of preventing environmental degradation, ruled that convicted legislators must relinquish their seats without waiting for a decision on appeals, and banned caste-based political rallies in Uttar Pradesh. The first order should have been preempted by the ministries looking after mines and the environment. The second also raises crucial questions, and fairer ways to contain criminality could have been discussed in the legislatures themselves. And banning caste-based rallies, though again well-intentioned, seems to be a case of zeal getting the better of a nuanced appreciation of the intertwining of caste and politics. The courts were actuated by the best possible motives, but are they the best authorities to address these issues? The sledgehammer bans they impose suggest that they draw from an arsenal of blunt instruments ill-suited to the issues at hand. These are questions of policy, politics and administration, rather than justice.
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