Conference : « The Indian Constitution and Ethics » with the Honorable Justice G.S Singhvi

  Justice G.S Singhvi - Sorbonne

On February 12th 2018, we were honoured to attend the Honorable Justice G.S. Singhvi’s talk on the Indian Constitution and Ethics during his visit in Paris. The conference took place at the Sorbonne before the students of François Ameli and Hadi Slim’s LLM program in Business Law in Arab and Middle Eastern Countries. Mrs Joan Betti, International Relations Director, and Mrs Anne Vandeville, Careers and Employability Director, at the French law school HEAD were also in attendance.

Justice G.S. Singhvi served 26 years in different courts of India. He is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India and retired from this function on December 11th 2016. As a Supreme Court judge, he read around 5,200 cases per year and worked on Saturdays and Sundays. The 28 judges working at the court processed around 100,000 cases per year. Justice Singhvi is also a former Chairman of the Indian Competition Appellate Tribunal and a current Arbitrator in domestic and international disputes.

Justice Singhvi first started by mentioning that the Indian constitution has the particularity of being the largest in the world, with 395 original articles. He then talked about the journey and history of India before the Constitution was enacted. The British Parliament only enacted the Indian Independence Act in 1947. In 1946, an assembly composed of over 200 men started working on the drafting of the Indian Constitution and India officially became a democratic country on January 26th 1950. Justice Singhvi read to us the first lines of the constitution, summarising its essence, and stressing the importance of justice over social, economic and political considerations.

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;”

Throughout his presentation, Justice Singhvi emphasised the parallels between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles enclosed within the Constitution:

Most notably, it vindicates equality to men and women (Art. 14), promotes equality in matters of employment and especially protects women’s rights (Art. 16), as well as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association (Art. 19). At the same time, the Constitution prohibits discrimination in regards to cast, colour and religion (Art. 15) and formally abolishes untouchability (Art. 17).

It must be noted that restrictions to the principles in the Constitution are possible, but only if they are necessary to maintain the sovereignty of India and peace in society.

Justice Singhvi carried on commenting the Constitution giving us incredible insight into his native country, its evolution and the challenges it faces.

To put things in perspective, India is made of 29 states, 20 cultures and more than 1000 languages. The sheer size of India makes enforcement of the Constitution, and laws generally, incredibly complex. And, although the recent trend has been to empower local bodies to govern the country, a lack of funds increases difficulties.

Furthermore, only a small proportion of the population is fluent in English (about 10%), with the country’s literacy rate now over 70%. Justice Singhvi stressed the importance of promoting access to education. The State is now obligated to ensure that every child receives education until she or he is at least 14 years old. Since 1990 and the rise of globalisation, many parents consider their children as a source of revenue and the temptation is great to make them work from a young age instead of attending school. Justice Singhvi was, however, very positive about this issue, discussing progress made these past couple of years and the change of mindset occurring in families.

Regretfully, obedience to the law is still an issue, and capital punishment is still in force in India. Sanctions for offences have become stricter, especially in rape and molestation cases. Indeed, the principles of the Constitution are not enforceable by a court of law and it is thus the duty of the State to take steps to enforce them and further the Constitution’s purpose (Art. 37), even when infringing upon individual rights.

The right to life and personal liberty (Art. 21) remains a key issue today and the Court has expanded its purview to include the right to food. In 2012, for example, when many people could not feed themselves while tons of foods were rotting away, the Court forced the government to give it all away for free to the people.

We were impressed with some of the specificities of India’s Constitution. Not only does it promote the protection of the environment and wildlife (Art. 48A), but also it makes it a duty for its citizen to uphold the sovereignty of India and have compassion for living creatures (Art. 51A). The creation of the National Green Tribunal in 2010 in their wake is noteworthy.

Interestingly, the Indian Constitution provides that citizen and non-citizen alike have a right to petition the Supreme Court if his or her right has been breached by the State. Perhaps India can be a model for France in these matters?

In any case, we hope you will have learned a thing or two about the Indian Constitution and are as excited as we are to see what this great, promising country is going to become in the near future. Au revoir Justice Singhvi, may you come and visit us again. It was an honour and a pleasure to meet you!

By Marie Mortreux and Quentin De Donder

Students at HEAD

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