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Above: Syrian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II (centre) met Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (in white) regarding the church case/Photo: UNI

The Marxist-led government is being rebuked for its strong push to implement the Sabarimala order while choosing to soft-pedal on the apex court’s order in the Piravom church case

By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

In what appears to be a taunt to the LDF government in Kerala on its position that it is dedicated to complying with court orders in letter and spirit, the Kerala High Court came down heavily on the government, saying that it is selective in implementing court orders even when they are issued by the apex court.

While considering a batch of petitions seeking police assistance in implementing the Supreme Court’s judgment in a church case involving two rival factions—Jacobite and Malankara Orthodox—a division bench comprising Justices PR Ramachandra Menon and Devan Ramachandran said it had a prima facie suspicion that “the government appears to be implementing directions of courts selectively, to suit its interests”.

Penning the judgment, Justice Ramachandran said that the issue was the implementation of a July 2017 verdict of the apex court, which decided a century-old dispute between the Jacobite and Orthodox factions in favour of the latter. The SC had upheld the latter’s claims over several prominent church assets. Responding to the petition, Advocate General CP Sudhakara Prasad submitted before the High Court that police intervention may lead to “bloodshed, loss of life by immolation or suicide or a complete breakdown of law and order”. Therefore, the political machinery was attempting to reach an out-of-court settlement between the factions. The AG, however, expressed unequivocally that the judgment was final and binding. He submitted before the court that the government was exercising caution in view of the “peculiar” circumstances in the Piravom area.

The division bench said: “We are completely taken aback by the submissions of the learned Advocate General”, and added that it failed to understand how there could be an out-of-court settlement after the issue had been finally adjudicated by the apex court. The order further observed that: “We see that in certain other instances, the state has implemented judgments strongly by deploying a large number of police personnel and by imposing local restrictions under the Code of Criminal Procedure”. The remarks left little doubt that the Court was referring to the Marxist-led government’s over-enthusiasm to implement the SC order that allowed entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala hill shrine.

“We certainly fail to understand how in a case of relatively lesser magnitude as this, where admittedly at the best 200 to 400 people are involved, the state should shy away from its obligation to implement orders of the courts or why the police should helplessly say that they are incapable of executing directions and declarations of the Supreme Court,” the Court observed. The Court felt it was appropriate to give another chance to the AG to “think over” the submissions and posted the matter for further hearing on December 11, 2018.

After the order was dictated, Senior Advocate P Ravindran, who appeared for one of the contesting church factions, informed the Court that its prima facie observations may not be correct as the SC itself had permitted parties to enter into settlements, and the attempt of the government could not be seen as contrary to the top court’s directions. Responding to this submission, the Court said the statement filed by the government itself said that the settlem­ent attempts had been a failure despite the intervention of the chief minister.

While the AG says the government should be given time for an out-of-court settlement, the leaders of the BJP and the Sabarimala Karma Samiti have been calling out the double standards of the government. Already, the AG has faced flak from the High Court for misleading the Court about the grave issues involved in Sabarimala. While the AG wanted to avoid an “unpleasant situation” in implementing the judgment in the Piravom church case, citing law and order issues, he has not even intimated the police about the court’s directions on partially lifting the ban orders at some points at Sabarimala and granting more concession on the restrictions imposed on the devotees. It may be noted that tho­u­sands of pilgrims are visiting the hill shrine on a daily basis during the pilgrim season and lakhs of women have spoken out against hasty implemen­tation of the court order.

“Compared to the Piravom church case, the SC judgment on Sabarimala was of a declaratory nature and had put no timeframe to implement the order. But the government is being proactive in implementing the Sabarimala verdict only while opting for a negotiated out-of-court settlement in a case (Piravom case) in which the apex court has passed its final order,” pointed out some legal experts, such as BJP state president and noted lawyer PS Sreedharan Pillai.

When the AG asked for two months’ time to arrive at an out-of-court settlement, Justice Ramachandran sought to know under what sanction of law the police and the state machinery are attempting an amicable settlement outside the court. “We fail to comprehend how any of these authorities can attempt a “settlement” when the views and declarations of law by the Honourable Supreme Court are completely beyond doubt; and in what manner they now seek latitude to permit them to implement these judgments solely with the consent of the warring factions,” the Court asked. When the AG said that any attempt to implement the court verdict may lead to law and order issues, the Court said: “It implies that the government has not made any attempt to implement the order. It’s obvious that these submissi­ons are more speculative and conjectural in nature, without even an attempt being made to implement the directions, particularly when the learned Advocate General himself says that the judgments can be implemented through police ass­istance only if so ordered by this court.”

“The conspicuous failure or refusal of the authorities in doing so makes the intentions of the authorities questionable and impels us to a suspicion, at least, prima facie, that the government appears to be impl­ementing directions of courts selectively, suiting its interests.” The Court’s observations are strong enough to shame anyone, but obviously not the hypocrites in the CPI(M).

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