NALSAR organised second edition of ‘The Courts and The Constitution ’20 in Review’ Conference’

The first Press Release was published on LAOT here

NALSAR University of Law just concluded the second edition of its ‘The Courts and the Constitution Conference’ held in partnership with Azim Premji University and the blog Law and Other Things. The idea behind this annual conference is to take the opportunity of the Republic Day weekend to review some of the major decisions of Courts delivered in the preceding year.

The Opening Session on 25 January was a tribute to the memory of Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon, who passed away in 2019. Prof. Faizan Mustafa, the Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR set the ball rolling and declared the second Courts and the Constitution Conference open by expressing his disappointment that the year 2019 will not be remembered for what the Court did do, but for what all it did not do. Prof. N. Vasanthi gave an overview of the conference agenda. Dr. SitharamamKakarala, a former professor of the NLISU then took the opportunity to share his anecdotal experiences of having worked alongside Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon.He exhorted the need to move from Legal Education 2.0 to Legal Education 3.0 where NLUs must start paying more attention to their postgraduate programmes such as LLM, MPhil and PhD. Finally, Vikram Raghavan informed the audience that the objective behind the Law and Other Things Blog was for people to engage with the constitution, and that this conference hoped to be one such platform.

Thereafter, the first substantive panel on the ‘Institutional Developments in the Judiciary’ was opened by its moderator Sidharth Chauhan. Dr. Arghya Sengupta opened the discussion by presenting how the judiciary fared on the front of its independence by pointing out the development of new criteria for the elevation of judges to the Supreme Court (for instance, the sanctioned strength of the parent high court). Apurva Vishwanath then narrated in detail how the Supreme Court failed to secure natural justice to one of its staffers who had accused the former Chief Justice of India of sexual harassment.Venkat Venkatesan expounded on the role of a legal journalist in holding the judiciary accountable.Thereafter Anuj Bhuwania talked about how the Supreme Court was merely granting rights without remedies in 2019.

The second panel, moderated by Dr. Arun Kumar Thiruvengadam,dealt with ‘Federalism & the Constitution’, where the focus shifted from courts to other constitutional actors.Prof. Anthony Blackshield opened the discussion by explaining unique features of federalism in Australia, Canada, USA and South Africa. Alok Prasanna Kumar explained the federalist challenges that the 15th Finance Commission is facing in the drafting of its report. Malavika Prasad took the session’s attention to the issue of de-operationalization Article 370 of the Constitution vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status.Suchindran Bhaskar Narayandiscussedthe complicated role of governors in a quasi-federal country like India. Lastly, Rohit De gave a historical context to federalism in India since 1940s and explained political reluctance to federalism.

The third panel chaired by Professor AmitaDhanda was devoted to Shamnad Basheer, another luminary whom we lost in 2019. She opened with a poignant account of her memory of Basheer, who according to her, was one of those who walked his deed and did what he said!The panel was titled ‘Emerging Voices’ where some of the work carried out by young and emerging scholars was presented. The panel consisted of Chintan Chandrachud, Kanika Gauba and Manav Kapur, all of whom spoke on the theme of the current tides against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (“CAA”) with a focus on the history of India and its partition in 1947. Chintan Chandrachud also talked about the Kartar Singh case and lessons we could learn from cases that India forgot.

On 26 January, the conference started with the flag hoisting by Justice Swaminathan on the occasion of Republic Day. Day two of the conference witnessed four panels. The first one pertained to Citizenship and was opened by the moderator Arvind Narrain. Justice Swaminathan commented on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and asked everyone to at least engage with the views of those supporting the CAAin order to facilitate a conversation.Aymen Mohammad then drew upon federalism and Article 355 of the Constitution to point out how the Union was wrongly justifying its protection of the federal units. He also elaborated upon the procedural shortcomings of National Population Register (NPR) and found the trio of CAA-NPR-NCR to be incorrigibly violative of individual privacy. Dr. Mohsin Alam Bhat drew upon his experiences from Assam to enlighten the audience about the ‘twilight of citizenship’ by explaining the inhumane functioning of foreigners’ tribunals. He observed that a culture of fear, excess of law, and mass suspicion were being furthered by the current Union government. Thereafter, Nizam Pasha stressed upon the need to examine citizenship, the right to have rights, in the larger constitutional framework and exposed the absurdity of Akhand Bharat claim.

The panel on ‘Law and Religion’ saw Professor Faizan Mustafa critiquing the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Ayodhya dispute as one which seems to have effectively rewritten the laws of property, possession and evidence.SruthisagarYamunan highlighted inconsistencies in courts’ attempt to strike a balance between social reforms and religious rights of communities through the Sabrimala and Ayodhya judgments. SuhrithParthasarthy drew the audience’s attention to how the Supreme Court’s order to review its judgment in the Sabrimala case was problematic. Professor N. Vasanthi, who was moderating the session concluded by emphasizing the need to have a proper relationship between law and religion.

The penultimate panel was devoted to reviewing ‘Developments in Equality Jurisprudence’ whereArundhati Katju used the Ayodhya judgment to exposit how the main challenge before the Supreme Court is engaging the interplay between Article 14 (equality) and secularism.Dr. Anup Surendranath began by pointing out how the Supreme Court failed in its application of the test of manifest arbitrariness in the Bombay Dance Bar Case. Alok Prasanna Kumar sought to explain how the 10% reservation brought about for economically weaker sections of the society through the 103rd Constitutional Amendment fell afoul of the Basic Structure doctrine and confused the objective of reservations from that of ensuring parity to that of handing out charity. Dr. Sudhir Krishnaswamy concluded the session by positing some grilling questions to the panelists and also pondering over what he termed as the ‘elephant in the room’- the question of reservations for the Muslims.

The last session on reforming tribunals was moderated byVivek Reddy. He prompted the speakers to speak on the possibility of removing tribunals, instead of reforming them. T. Prashant Reddy andDr. Arun Thiruvengadam discussed the existing inefficiency of tribunals and the Court’s decision in Roger Mathew case.

The conference ended with a vote of thanks by Sidharth Chauhan, who also invited speakers to give their valuable advice and recommendations for the upcoming editions of The Courts and The Constitution Conference.

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