Mephisto is closer than we think, says Justice Gautam Patel

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]N June 3, 2019, Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court delivered the first J B D’Souza Memorial lecture where he called on public servants to remain forever in the service of  men “who are nothing”.

In the lecture,  Justice Patel discusses the functioning of the civic administration and the judiciary and what he describes as their “catastrophic fall from grace”. He warns against “executive authoritarianism” and reminds us of why our Constitution described us as a democratic republic  – “neither one nor the other exclusively, but both, together”; because it envisaged that a sheer majority would not determine outcomes  but that there would have to be constant engagement between the elector and the elected, however noisy or messy that might be. What we see today, he says, is an assault on democracy with the legislature succumbing to expanding administrative control and a resistance by the executive to judicial review.

Mephisto is closer than we think, he warns, alluding to the demon in German folklore. He calls for us to adapt the doctrine of public trust in environmental law, where our governors are the custodians of our commons; where instrumental and structural transparency ensures that the dispositive powers of the governors are limited while ensuring public service integrity. It is only this, Justice Patel says quoting Rosanvallon that a “group of individuals can metamorphosise into civil society, a polity in which each person is truly a ‘citizen’”

“Public servants must remain forever precisely in the service of men who are nothing,” Justice Patel says, while calling on persons from civil society to enter public service knowing that in being “a public servant the emphasis is, first and last, on being a servant. What we need is more Bain D’Souzas.”

Joseph Bain D’Souza was the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra and the Bombay Municipal Commissioner and had campaigned tirelessly for civil rights and demanded action on the Sri Krishna Commission report on the 1992-1993 communal riots. In his book “No Trumpets or Bugles: Recollections of an Unrepentant Babu” D’Souza asks if the role of the bureaucrat was to serve the government or the people.  D’Souza passed way in September 2007.