If the House thinks irregularities took place in delivering the verdict, then it should prepare to impeach the judges concerned
A parliamentary committee’s decision to seek expert advice on a Supreme Court verdict, which it considers questionable, is nothing short of interference in the judiciary’s independence and an assault on the principle of checks and balances, meant to maintain the system of separation of powers. The parliamentary Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee on Friday decided to seek advice from constitutional and other experts on whether it would be appropriate to cross-examine the Supreme Court verdict of August 26 on Ncell’s tax liability in the Parliament. The Supreme Court verdict had slashed the outstanding tax liability on the Ncell buyout deal by Axiata Investment UK to Rs 14.5 billion from Rs 39.06 billion – determined by the Large Taxpayers’ Office (LTO) – which a section of the civil society and some lawmakers are crying foul for the huge loss this has caused to the state. The grand full bench of the apex court had, in its verdict, stated that the LTO had overstated the tax liability of the telecom giant by adding inapplicable interest and fines. This is the first time an attempt is being made by a legislative branch to scrutinise a judicial decision.
The constitution has given the apex court full authority to interpret the constitution, or a law made, or any legal principle laid down in trying a lawsuit. Hence, all are obligated to abide by the verdict of the apex court, even if it does not appeal to a section of society. Interfering in the jurisdiction of the apex court by a legislative body to influence a judicial process will only erode its judicial independence. It is not for the Parliament to be hearing appeals against the apex court. No other than the lawmakers themselves, who are there to study the constitution and make laws accordingly, should have known this better. Lawmakers should not be swayed by personal whims and cheap populist tactics to target an esteemed body like the Supreme Court and its verdict.
The verdict on Ncell’s tax liability was passed by a five-member full bench, and hence there cannot be a judicial review. Thus, the attorney general – and all legal experts being approached – should advise the parliamentary panel accordingly. If the judges have erred in their judgement, then there is the Judicial Council (JC) to launch an investigation against them and take disciplinary action. In July, the JC had formed two committees to investigate alleged wrong-doings by four judges – three from the Pokhara High Court and one from the Kathmandu District Court. It had also recommended punitive action against the erring judges of Biratnagar High Court in the 33-kilo gold smuggling case. If the parliamentary committee is convinced that irregularities took place while delivering the court’s verdict on Ncell’s tax liability, then it should prepare to impeach the judges concerned. That is the only way out. The parliamentary body cannot question the apex court verdict. The unconstitutional approach being taken by the House panel will also make investors wary, at a time when the country has been reaching out for foreign direct investment. In any lawsuit involving foreign investment, the Supreme Court will be the final arbiter, not the Parliament.
When KP Sharma Oli became prime minister for the first time in 2016, his first cabinet decision was to replace all tuins (rope bridges) with trail bridges within a year. However, people in many hilly districts are still relying on the risky cable to cross rivers. It is mostly the school-going children who often use tuins to cross the rivers to go to school on a daily basis.
A report from three rural municipalities in Dolakha district has it that the local people still have to cross rivers with the help of tuins due to lack of suspension bridges over them. It is particularly dangerous to cross the rivers during the rainy season. Building suspension bridges falls within the jurisdiction of the local levels. The local level officials must discuss the issue with the locals and identify suitable locations to replace the tuins with trail bridges. The government had already built as many as 447 trail bridges across the country two years ago. An additional 108 trail bridges were built last fiscal.The government has plans to replace all tuins with trail bridges within three years. More than 7,500 trail bridges have been built in the past 50 years with the help of the Swiss government, benefitting around one million people.
A version of this article appears in print on September 09, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.