Starting from inventing the 'basic structure' doctrine, the judiciary has played a highly proactive role in ensuring that India develops into a thriving democracy. In light of the statement, evaluate the role played by judicial activism in achieving the ideals of democracy.
Published: January 22, 2015
Historically, the Indian Judiciary has played a proactive role, stepping in when the other two branches of the government seem to have faltered. The linkage between Judicial activism and democracy is a complex one.
One of the important characteristics of a democratic nation is the separation of powers between the three branches of the government, namely the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. Each branch must function within its realm to foster a healthy democracy. Even though this is theoretically true, the reality tends to be quite different, with each branch encroaching upon the other’s turf with alarming regularity. Judicial activism is the term used to indicate the encroachment by the judiciary on the turf of the other two branches. This overreach is considered a threat to democracy because it violates the basic tenet of democracy that it is a government ‘by the people’ and ‘of the people’. The judges, who don’t have the people’s mandate assume the role of elected officials and engage in policy-making. This in itself cannot be encouraged. However, in India, in every instance of activism, the judiciary has stepped in to enforce the ideals of democracy in India, and to meet the demands of the people. For instance, in the case of issuing advisories w.r.t section 66A of the IT Act and issuing guidelines curbing the sale of acid in response to public outrage, the judiciary has engaged in making rules and taking decision which should’ve been with the Legislature/Executive. So, even though judicial activism is inherently undemocratic, in India it has furthered the ideals of democracy by protecting the aggrieved sections of society.
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