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New Delhi: It could well have turned out to be an embarrassment with a disturbing message. The official emails from the Supreme Court of India had Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image on its footer, with the message: “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas; Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas”. The image and the message were ostensibly to commemorate 75 years of Independence under the banner, “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav”.
Had the Supreme Court not acted swiftly to direct the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to remove the man and the message from its footer, it could have blurred the distinction between the executive and the judiciary, which sustains the very independence of the latter, sought to be celebrated officially.
On Friday, the Supreme Court noted: “Late last evening, it was brought to the notice of the Registry of the Supreme Court of India that the official emails of the Supreme Court of India were carrying an image as footer which has no connection whatsoever with the functioning of the judiciary. National Informatics Centre, which provides the email services to the apex court, was directed to drop that image from the footer of the emails originating from the Supreme Court. It was further directed to use the picture of the Supreme Court of India, instead. NIC has since complied with the directions of the SCI.”
The court placed a screenshot of an email from @sci.nic.in, after the NIC took corrective action as directed by the registry of the Supreme Court of India, for ready reference.
Even as the Supreme Court is seeking to redeem its image as a separate organ distinct from the executive since the assumption of office by the present Chief Justice of India, N.V.Ramana, the insertion of the message in the official emails of the Supreme Court, and its swift removal, by the NIC, on the directions of the Supreme Court, may have its own significance.
The court cannot disown the message, and its relevance for the commemoration of the 75th Independence Day. But by questioning its relevance for the functioning of the judiciary, the Supreme Court has made it clear that it protects its independent turf as jealously as it can – whether it be the appointment of judges as it did when it quashed the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act in 2015 or a mundane exercise of its power to decide what image should appear on its official emails.
The question which the Supreme Court’s assertion of its turf on Friday raises is whether it should be construed just a symbolic act or one which could support the common man’s hope that the Ramana court, unlike its immediate predecessors, would jealously guard its distance from the executive. The question of whether the court could have ignored the footer, had it not been accompanied by the PM’s image, making the political objective obvious, also remains.