A tribute to Somnath Chatterjee

By Editorial Desk, ST

One of our very eminent contributors and writers G. L. Batra, who passed away recently had sent to us some of his articles relating to the different facets of governance in India. These articles covered various aspects of separation of powers as enshrined in the Indian constitution including the parliament and its functionaries. While going through, these articles, some of which have already been published and some still in the process of publication, I noticed the beautiful and sincere admiration or should I say reverence to Somnath Chatterjee.

G. L. Batra mentioned Somnath Chatterjee in several articles. He had worked closely with Chatterjee during his stint in the Indian parliament. On this sad occasion when we miss both the great personalities – Somnath Chatterjee and G. L. Batra, we would like to quote in verbatim what Batra wrote to us about Chatterjee when both were ebulliently alive. Here is our homage to revered Somnath Chatterjee in the words of our respected writer G. L. Batra.

“We also had an eminent Speaker in Sh. Somnath Chatterjee who is an intellectual, a very competent lawyer and a jurist. He was a master of rules of the House, whose honesty, competency and impartiality are not questionable.” – G. L. Batra’s extract from `The Speaker of the Lok Sabha.’

“Sh. Somnath Chatterjee, the Hon’ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha, delivering the Dr. K. N. Katju Memorial Lecture in April 2007, has called for a debate on the issue. After quoting several judgments of the Supreme Court on the doctrine of Separation of Powers, and the views of several eminent jurists, Shri Chatterjee said, ‘With all humility and sincerity, I feel that there should be introspection by all the organs of the State, so that they can work harmoniously to strengthen our democratic setup.’ In the same speech, the Hon’ble Speaker has also made the point that there is no redressal for the ‘aberrations’ when the judiciary oversteps its boundaries and impinges on the jurisdiction of other organs of the state. Shri Chatterjee cited the Jagdambika Pal case of 1998 and the Jharkhand Assembly case of 2005 as examples of the Supreme Court’s ‘unfortunate intrusion’ into the ‘well-demarcated areas’ of the Legislature and described these orders as having ‘upset the delicate Constitutional balance between the Judiciary and the Legislature.’ The Hon’ble Speaker went on to say that ‘the Constitution does not contemplate a super organ nor confers an overriding authority on any one organ. No organ has any power to superintend over the exercise of powers and functions of another unless the Constitution strictly so mandates.’ He noted that ‘of late, it is being noticed that the lines demarcating the jurisdiction of the different organs of the State are getting blurred, as a section of the Judiciary seems to be of the view that it has the authority by way of what is described as ‘judicial activism’ to exercise powers, which are earmarked by the Constitution for the Legislative or the Executive Branches.’…….” – G. L. Batra’s extract from `The Separation of Powers.’

“Sh. Somnath Chatterjee, the Speaker of the Fourteenth Lok Sabha has observed, ‘After five decades of independence, non-performance, aberrations and distortions have nearly taken over almost every sphere of our national activity, including the political and administrative systems, as a result of which the majority of our people face awesome problems and do not enjoy even the minimal rights which, the Constitution, our organic law, contemplates for them. Abysmal poverty, illiteracy, child mortality, lack of job opportunities, the absence of adequate health care, non-availability of pure drinking water in many areas, amongst others, are the problems which still haunt the common people and have resulted in the effective denial of the Constitutional and indeed the basic human rights to our people. Common people of our country, particularly the toiling sections, the workers, the peasants and farmers, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the minorities have not been able to fulfil their minimum needs. The condition of the working class in the country is still extremely uncertain in as much as with a large incidence of industrial sickness, widespread retrenchment, closure of public sector undertakings, it has become precarious. In such circumstances, members of Parliament have to play a very active, responsible and effective role .’………”1 – G. L. Batra’s extract from `The working of Indian Parliament.’

“Similarly, it has been said by no less a person than the Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha, Sh. Somnath Chatterjee, that the credibility of Parliament cannot be judged on the basis of a few members’ faults.” – G. L. Batra’s extract from `The Separation of Powers.’

“It would be too pessimistic to think that now, further, that the frequent disorders which prevail in the House and its repeated adjournments cannot be controlled. The wisdom of the House, its integrity, is not in doubt. Even at this point of time, the House is full of wisdom of its members, and intellect, and the Speaker, Shri Somnath Chatterjee, has rightly said that the wrongdoing of one or two members should not adversely affect the image of Parliament.” – G. L. Batra’s extract from `The working of Indian Parliament.’

          Photo Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Somnath_Chatterjee.jpg

  1. Somnath Chatterjee, ‘Parliament and the People’, from ‘Fifty Years of Indian Parliament’, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, 2002