Over the past several weeks, a lot has been written about the farm laws, the concerns of farmers of a few States and the Central Government’s position. Predictably, the matter reached the Supreme Court, and instead of examining the challenge to the farm laws on legal/Constitutional anvils, the Apex Court chose to wade into extra-legal issues which were clearly outside the scope of its purview, such as negotiations between the Government and the protesting farmers. This reminded me of the following observation of Justice Felix Frankfurter on the standard for a judicial decision from Alan Barth’s book Prophets with Honour: Great Dissents and Great Dissenters in the Supreme Court:
“A Court which yields to the popular will thereby licenses itself to practice despotism, for there can be no assurance that it will not, on another occasion, indulge its own will. Courts van fulfil their democratic responsibility in a democratic society only to the extent they succeed in shaping their judgements by rational standards, and rational standards are both personal and incommunicable.”
While I do believe that the Supreme Court’s intervention strategically served to calm frayed tempers especially in view of the impending celebrations for the Republic Day, the intervention has, in my humble view, come at the cost of institutional restraint which is implicit in the doctrine of separation of powers, and may have sowed the seed for more such protests and placatory interventions in the near future. The Government was given a Hobson’s choice between voluntarily putting on hold the implementation of the farm laws and inviting a stay on their implementation by the Supremes. That this goes beyond judicial activism and enters the scary realm of judicial populism, which has been in the making for some time now, appears to be the general sombre consensus.