Social Action Litigation Can Serve as a Powerful Tool to Correct Inefficiencies in Government Delivery: Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud

Sonepat: On the historic occasion of India’s Constitution Day, Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Judge, Supreme Court of India delivered a special lecture to mark the event. “The framers of our Constitution laid down the cornerstones to create a legal and an institutional infrastructure to promote a culture of Constitutionalism and Liberal Democracy and it now falls on each of us to play our part. The ability of the Constitution to inspire citizen’s movement is unique. They recognized that for our Constitution to endure and liberal democracy to survive, the State must do its duty of ensuring an equal distribution of resources and welfare for all. It must eliminate institutional and societal barriers imposed on individuals and groups that prevent their ability to fully participate in our vibrant democracy. To ensure the resilience of Constitutional methods for expressing discontent, the State must remain committed to achieving equality and protecting its minorities. Our Constitution is a mobilization tool for social movements and its aspiration is captured in its Preamble.”


Hon’ble Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud deliberated on a range of issues quoting leading global and Indian luminaries while explaining how liberal democracy and enlightened citizenship endures. “The values of the Constitution provide a unifying force in recognizing and respecting our diversity and plural culture. It is unique as a powerful moral register to inspire citizens’ movements. The Constitution does not belong solely to lawyers and judges.” Justice Chandrachud emphasized the role of the citizens and social movements in realizing constitutional aspirations. Quoting many international legal experts and legendary judges, whose judgements have informed and influenced democratic principles, Justice Chandrachud highlighted that for minorities whose concerns are not addressed through the political process, courts may be the only forum for the realization of their rights where even the legal recognition of rights does not change the reality of those oppressed. He also touched upon the rights of the LGBTQ community, gender rights, security of women, rights of tribal communities and more in this context.


However, he also opined that a clear-eyed assessment of the Supreme Court’s function of the limits of what it can do and the doctrinal and procedural constraints that inform its functioning can help ensure that citizens channel their energy in seeking societal reform through multiple fora rather than just through the courts. He then shared at length a series of case studies which amply demonstrate the vital role courts can play in fostering constitutional values and in the of protection liberal democratic ideals. Justice Chandrachud observed, “The Supreme Court has to act as an oversight body to ensure that executive action does not result in Constitutional rights being sacrificed at the altar of market forces,” He added. “Social action litigation has served as a powerful tool to correct inefficiencies in government delivery and to protect the interest of those at the receiving end of repression and absence of legal protection. Through wide stakeholder consultation we can persuasively counter the concern that social action litigation is being transformed from an instrument to empower the impoverished and neglected into a means to entrench and exacerbate existing social inequities. Courts can set forth a thought process for reform, use social action litigation to broaden the conversation and provide voice and representation to those whose interests might otherwise be ignored in decisions impacting them.”


Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar, Founding Vice Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University, reflecting on the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, said, “Dr B.R. Ambedkar had a prophetic imagination of what could potentially be the future and the State in which India was in 1949 and the journey we had to travel to strengthen our democratic institutions that will fulfill the values of constitutionalism. Dr. Ambedkar spoke about three critical dangers that the young Indian democracy was about to witness and need to effectively respond. He cautioned that if we wish to maintain democracy, not merely in form but also in fact, we need to hold fast to Constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. To avoid hero-worship, which can be a harbinger of dictatorship, he said that there is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered lifelong service to the country, but devotion in politics can play an unequal part. Religious devotion can lead to the salvation of the soul but in politics it is a sure road to degradation. Emphasizing social democracy, he stressed the need to ensure democratic principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. There is a delicate and critical relationship between Constitutionalism, liberal democracy and enlightened citizenship.”


Professor (Dr.) Upendra Baxi, Research Professor of Law & Distinguished Scholar, O.P. Jindal Global University, succinctly emphasized and said, “We need ancient wisdom to fight modern menaces as we are currently facing two major crises which threaten human civilization namely Anthropocene and the Covid 19 Pandemic. A progressive Judiciary can empower enlightened citizen ship especially in the context of the dangers that the human species is facing today.” He further added that the Indian Judiciary had been remarkable in dealing with the issues around the Pandemic, especially in ensuring right to collective security and public health. He also underlined the environmental crisis humankind is facing today and that 97% scientists warn of long term, anthropogenic harm. “We need to declare a new order of relationship between global business and human life to save the world.”

The Constitution Day Lecture was held as part of the ongoing Global Conference “Reimagining & Transforming the Future of Law Schools and Legal Education: Confluence of Ideas During & Beyond COVID-19” organized by the Jindal Global Law School of O.P. Jindal Global University from 25-27 November, 2020.