Eight years into government by Narendra Modi, it is no longer possible to pretend that India’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy is not in acute danger. The reason is the collapse of the judiciary, the only pillar of democracy that had remained standing after the second victory of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019.
History will remember Justice A. M. Khanwilkar’s two last authored judgments for the barely veiled hostility they showed towards civil society and their disregard for the fundamental rights and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty enshrined in the constitution. Khanwilkar began the demolition of these rights on June 25, when he not only dismissed Zakia Jafri’s appeal for justice with contempt but also incited the Modi government to punish those who had helped her to file it.
His demolition project was completed on July 27, just two days before he retired, by rubbishing no fewer than 242 petitions against the draconian powers appropriated by the executive branch of the government to harass, impoverish and imprison those merely accused of money ‘laundering’ – hiding ill-gotten gains from taxation through laws against economic crimes given to specially created agencies by a succession of laws such as the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Eighty of these petitions were specifically against amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which had reversed the burden of proof, placing it upon the accused – who had to prove their innocence – instead of on the government having to prove their guilt….