YET another episode has been added to the series of events that show just how keenly the judiciary is watching the doings of the government and indeed acts of parliament. Asked to adjudicate on the matter by two parliamentarians and a couple of other stakeholders, a three-member Supreme Court bench has said that the Higher Education Commission will continue working until and unless its status is changed by a piece of legislation. The HEC's existence is perceived to be threatened by the plan to devolve powers to the provinces, and the decision must have given some satisfaction to all those who are agitating against the commission's disbanding. The SC order does not stop the winding up; however, it is being viewed as a development that gives those who are demanding that the HEC must not go some time to plead their case and build their campaign. The government and parliamentarians belonging to the treasury have all been heard giving assurances of a smooth devolution, but they have only been partially successful in allaying fears on this score.
Where there are fears there is also another view. In the context of the SC order, the situation offers two leads and the choice of the course will determine the future relationship between the judiciary and a parliament which has time and again shown signs of discomfort under the close watch of the judges. The SC bench that was headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has asked parliament to define the role and status of the HEC. But the fact that the court's intervention is deemed to have been necessary is reflective of the trust deficit between the judiciary and other organs of the state. Observers who have been pointing out the dangers of a difficult partnership between parliament and the judiciary are waiting anxiously to see which of the two trends is going to be followed from here on: the one that recognises parliament's right to express and define through legislation or the one that draws it strength from a perpetual suspicion of parliament's capacity and ability.