‘Using’ Crisis of Governance as an Opportunity for ‘Re-invention’: Why the Supreme Court of India Took To Hearing Public Interest Litigations—A Case Study

Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
AuthorSubrata Biswas
Subject MatterArticles
‘Using’ Crisis of Governance as an
Opportunity for ‘Re-invention’:
Why the Supreme Court of India
Took To Hearing Public Interest
Litigations—A Case Study
Subrata Biswas1
What do the different State organs do when they face a crisis? Do the suffering institutions successfully
re-invent themselves or is it that some other institution uses the crisis to find an ‘opportunity’ to re-
invent itself? Can one’s crisis be another’s opportunity?
This case-study analyses how the Supreme Court of India (hereinafter SCI) reinvented itself in a bid
to further the cause of good governance in the country ever since emergency had been clamped on
the nation towards the end of 1970s. Surely there has been a crisis of governance in India, caused by
the pathetic performance of both the legislature and the executive. It has led to myriad problems in
both social and political arenas. If left unaddressed, Indian people might have turned more violent than
they already are and that could have perpetrated a failure of democracy in the country. But the SCI
has successfully played a positive role in this regard. If the other institutions have failed the people, the
Supreme Court has championed their cause. The world’s largest democracy stands saved until now.
But is it wholly the judges’ heartfelt concern for the people that has prompted the Supreme Court to
function in this fashion? Did anything go wrong during the emergency? Why is it that it has been more
and more active ever since the emergency ended? And why is it that there has been an exponential
growth in public interest litigations (hereinafter PILs) in the Supreme Court even though it cannot
handle so many cases because of infrastructural paucities?
Situating itself in the specific context of PILs entertained by the SCI and supporting it with the
theoretical inputs of the so-called ‘principal-agent framework’, this essay argues that there has been
a competition (i.e., between the court and the elected politicians) for ‘occupying’ more space in the
domain of governance since the inception of the Constitution and it is only the Supreme Court that got
the right ‘opportunity’ to achieve its objective in the wake of crisis in governance that became so visible
in Indian politics ever since the fag-end of the 1970s.
While the court tried other instruments earlier in its game plan vis-a-vis the elected politicians, the
crisis situation since the end of the 1970s made it ‘invent’ a new tool in the form of PILs capable of
Asian Journal of Legal Education
7(2) 215–223, 2020
© 2020 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2322005820933090
Corresponding author:
Subrata Biswas, Special Excise Commissioner (Enforcement), Excise Directorate, Government of West Bengal,
32, B. B. Ganguly Street, Kolkata, 700012, India.
E-mails: specialcommissionerenforcement@gmail.com; subrata.biswas1966@bangla.gov.in
1 An alumnus of Master of Public Affairs programme, Institute of Political Studies, Paris.

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