We have assembled today to celebrate the anniversary of a momentous event, the anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution, the day on which our founding fathers subscribed to this document by signing the same and thereby unfolding the philosophy – social, economic and political, for the governance of free India. We have every reason to be proud of and to celebrate that unique occasion. We take this opportunity to thank the founding fathers, for this document, who spent a good deal of their time and energy in giving shape to this suprema lex which was to guide the future destination of the country. We are ever grateful to them. The foremost reason why we are proud of our Constitution is that it promises governance through the Rule of Law. While in many countries which initially opted for a democratic form of Government the euphoria lasted for brief spells, we are of the view that in our country, notwithstanding its complexity, democracy has stabilized and democratic institutions have flourished. The survival of democracy in India has left many bewildered.
The socio-economic transformation – a welfare State and an egalitarian society as its objective – must also be through the process of law. It is true that such desired socio-economic transformation through process of law has been slow, however, the march has been steady. Today, rule-specific laws are being substituted by rights-specific laws (RTE, RTI, Food Security Bill). These socio-economic legislation requires a paradigm shift in the matter of interpretation of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Courts have come from formal equality to egalitarian equality to the concept of Deprivation.
Judicial independence is one of the essential elements of Rule of Law. Every civilized society has seen the need for an impartial and independent judiciary. The principle of Judicial Independence has acquired renewed significance, since the Constitution of India has conferred on the Judiciary the power of judicial review. However, keeping in mind the doctrine of Separation of Powers, Judiciary has to exercise considerable restraint to ensure that the surcharged democracy does not lead to a breakdown of the working of the Parliament and the Government. The Judiciary needs to work in the area demarcated by the Constitution. Awareness about rights has grown while correspondingly redressal from the Executive has been reduced. The Executive has its own compulsions – huge population, lack of resources, high inflation, global economic region etc. As a consequence litigation has multiplied. Despite commendable achievements in terms of disposal which I will presently demonstrate, the challenge is and should be for Zero Pendency in which direction a lot needs to be done.
Today, the crisis of confidence in human institutions has come to the forefront. The deficiency of every institution in tackling the growing and complicated social problems has become a common feature. It is a challenge for every institution. Every democratic institution needs to meet this challenge. The viability of judicial institutions depends upon their acceptability by the people. When the viability of the system gets into disrepute and ultimately the system becomes less and less useful to the community, the challenge lies in rejuvenating the system by restoring its credibility and people’s faith in it. Thus, the foremost challenge to the
Judiciary today is viability of the system. Citizens approach the Court only when there is confidence in the system and faith in the wisdom of the Judges. This is where the Public Trust doctrine comes in. The Institution stands on public trust.
I am an optimist. I do not share the impression that judicial system has collapsed or is fast collapsing. I strongly believe and maintain that with all the drawbacks and limitations with shortage of resources and capacity, we still have a time-tested system. This is no justification to discard the system by giving it bad name. Judiciary has performed a commendable job, which is indicated by the Status Report. Before reading the statistical data, let me say that there is a need to highlight that all the stakeholders are accountable for maintaining and achieving standards of Court Excellence. The general tendency is to put the entire blame on the Judges.
The executive including the police and the Bar have an important role to play in expeditious disposal of cases. There is a backlog of cases, however, it is not as big as is sought to be projected. Please note that 74% of the cases are less than five years old. The focus: expeditious disposal of 26% of cases which are more than five years old i.e. “Five plus free” should be the initiative.
India is an aspirational democracy. It is the shared idea of India to emerge from Society which has individuals of diverse ideologies, cultures and religious denominations. We must, therefore, identify common strands that will bind us, as one nation and one people. Unless this is done we cannot build a modern and strong India. In the hierarchy of values, judicial integrity is above judicial independence. Judicial accountability needs to be balanced with judicial independence. I would request the Bar as well as eminent jurists to deliberate upon constitutional concepts such as Judicial Independence and Judicial Accountability. We, the Judges, do not mind a studied fair criticism. However, as an advice to the Bar please do not dismantle an Institution without showing how to build a better one. Please remember “When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”
The Supreme Court clears the way for women to become In-Flight Supervisors in Air India. Thanks to those women who believed in and fought for equality at the workplace.
This judgment passed virtually without comment. The media ignored it. Why should the rights of a relatively small group of women concern the rest of us? Yet the November 17 Supreme Court judgment, by Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph, upholding Air India’s 2005 decision to remove the precondition that an In Flight Supervisor could only be a male, and that women cabin crew could also be appointed to that position, is significant. The troubled airline has not been a shining example of gender equity. Yet, finally wisdom dawned and it did accept that there was no justification for a rule that held a particular job only for men when the men and women on flights had the same training and did virtually identical tasks.
What is fascinating about this case is the manner in which the male cabin crew opposed the new rule and challenged it in court. In 2007, the Delhi High Court upheld Air India’s right to make this change and held that it saw nothing wrong in the rule. That judgment is worth reading in its entirety as it spells out the history of the struggles of women cabin crew in Air India to assert their right to equal treatment. There have been innumerable court cases, on issues ranging from a different retirement age for male and female crew members to a rule at one point where women who became pregnant within four years of being appointed had to quit to one where women cabin crew were grounded if they exceeded a certain weight.
It is hard to fathom why a ‘national’ airline should lag so behind the times on these issues. The women employed by Air India have had to turn to the courts on all these issues. These were not battles for additional powers. The women were simply asserting that they should have the same rights as other employees in a country where equality is guaranteed and where one is working for a ‘national’ airline that ostensibly wishes to promote India’s ‘national’ image.
This last battle, to get the airline to remove the anomaly where a particular job was virtually kept as a ‘male only’ designation for no reason at all, was in some ways the strangest. Senior women cabin crew members of Air India, some of whom trained other cabin crew members including men, had to contend with serving under the same men they had trained simply because, regardless of seniority or experience, they could never get the designation of In-Flight Supervisor. Even after private airlines came on the scene where there was no discrimination between male and female cabin crew, Air India persisted. And when it finally changed the rule, the male cabin crew objected, calling this positive change “discriminatory” and challenged it in Court.
In 2007, the Delhi High Court was quite clear in its ruling. It stated: “The Court finds that IFS (In-Flight Supervisor) is no longer a post, much less a promotional post. It is a function that one among the cabin crew, on the basis of seniority, is asked to perform during the flight. This Court is unable to discern in any of the settlements any assurance or promise held out to the pre-1997 male cabin crew that a female colleague of theirs will never ever be asked to perform the function of an IFS. Nor do the judgments of the Supreme Court say so. The impugned order dated 27.12.2005 is not discriminatory to the male cabin crew. In fact, far from eliminating the possibility of the male cabin crew performing the function of IFS, it provides a chance to their female colleagues as well. In effect it removes the ‘ men only’ tag on the function of IFS. We are asked by the pre-1997 male cabin crew to hold this to be unreasonable. We decline to do so. This Court finds nothing arbitrary, unreasonable or irrational in the pre-1997 male cabin crew being asked to serve on a flight which has their female colleague as an IFS. This then is the jist of the lengthy judgment that follows.” (LPA Nos. 122-125 of 2006, Date of Decision: October 8, 2007.)
Representatives of the male cabin crew had argued that they would not work under women, even if they were senior. The job had been promised only to men and they were determined to hang on to it. And women could not claim the right to equality in this matter because the job of a woman on flight and a man on flight were substantially different, they argued. Yet passengers on flights can observe for themselves that the men and women in the cabin crew do exactly the same things — welcome you, make announcements about safety regulations, serve you food and drink, clear up after you, help anyone needing help, remain alert in case there is an emergency and act if such an occasion should arise.
All this is so obvious that it does not need repeating. Yet, none of this convinced the flight pursers employed by Air India who challenged the Delhi High Court judgment. The Supreme Court ruling, one hopes, has settled the matter and Air India will now be permitted to join the 21st century. And perhaps it will finally also decide to use gender-neutral terms to describe the men and women who are part of the cabin crew.
The court battles fought by women cabin crew of Air India are significant for other reasons. Many of the women who went to court could just have sat back and accepted conditions as they prevailed. After all, they had a secure job and a reasonable salary. But because some of them took the risk of even losing their jobs and challenged these discriminatory provisions, those who join the airline now will be much better placed than their seniors. The lesson these battles hold out is that discrimination does not disappear on its own and that managements are not struck by a sudden realisation that they should be fair to their employees. Positive change is more often than not the result of battles fought by those who believe strongly in equity and justice.
Let us first deal with a minor issue canvassed by Mr. Raval, learned ASG. It is submitted that this Court has refused to entertain the Special Leave Petition filed by one of the co-accused [Sharad Kumar Vs. CBI (supra)] and, therefore, there is no reason or change in the circumstance to take a different view in the case of the appellants who are also charge- sheeted for the same offence. We are not impressed by this argument. In the aforesaid petition, the petitioner was before this Court before framing of charges by the Trial Court. Now the charges are framed and the trial has commenced. We cannot compare the earlier and the present proceedings and conclude that there are no changed circumstances and reject these petitions.
The appellants are facing trial in respect of the offences under Sections 420-B, 468, 471 and 109 of Indian Penal Code and Section 13(2) read 2 with 13(i)(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Bail has been refused first by the Special Judge, CBI, New Delhi and subsequently, by the High Court. Both the courts have listed the factors, on which they think, are relevant for refusing the Bail applications filed by the applicants as seriousness of the charge; the nature of the evidence in support of the charge; the likely sentence to be imposed upon conviction; the possibility of interference with witnesses; the objection of the prosecuting authorities; possibility of absconding from justice.
In bail applications, generally, it has been laid down from the earliest times that the object of bail is to secure the appearance of the accused person at his trial by reasonable amount of bail. The object of bail is neither punitive nor preventative. Deprivation of liberty must be considered a punishment, unless it can be required to ensure that an accused person will stand his trial when called upon. The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty. From the earliest times, it was appreciated that detention in custody pending completion of trial could be a cause of great hardship. From time to time, necessity demands that some un-convicted persons should be held in custody pending trial to secure their attendance at the trial but in such cases, `necessity’ is the operative test. In this country, it would be quite contrary to the concept of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution that any person should be punished in respect of any matter, upon which, he has not been convicted or that in any circumstances, he should be deprived of his liberty upon only the belief that he will tamper with the witnesses if left at liberty, save in the most extraordinary circumstances. Apart from the question of prevention being the object of a refusal of bail, one must not lose sight of the fact that any imprisonment before conviction has a substantial punitive content and it would be improper for any Court to refuse bail as a mark of disapproval of former conduct whether the accused has been convicted for it or not or to refuse bail to an un-convicted person for the purpose of giving him a taste of imprisonment as a lesson.
In the instant case, as we have already noticed that the pointing finger of accusation against the appellants is `the seriousness of the charge’. The offences alleged are economic offences which have resulted in loss to the State exchequer. Though, they contend that there is possibility of the appellants tampering witnesses, they have not placed any material in support of the allegation. In our view, seriousness of the charge is, no doubt, one of the relevant considerations while considering bail applications but that is not the only test or the factor : The other factor that also requires to be taken note of is the punishment that could be imposed after trial and conviction, both under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act. Otherwise, if the former is the only test, we would not be balancing the Constitutional Rights but rather recalibration of the scales of justice. The provisions of Cr.P.C. confer discretionary jurisdiction on Criminal Courts to grant bail to accused pending trial or in appeal against convictions, since the jurisdiction is discretionary, it has to be exercised with great care and caution by balancing valuable right of liberty of an individual and the interest of the society in general. In our view, the reasoning adopted by the learned District Judge, which is affirmed by the High Court, in our opinion, a denial of the whole basis of our system of law and normal rule of bail system. It transcends respect for the requirement that a man shall be considered innocent until he is found guilty. If such power is recognized, then it may lead to chaotic situation and would jeopardize the personal liberty of an individual.
This Court, in Kalyan Chandra Sarkar Vs. Rajesh Ranjan– (2005) 2 SCC 42, observed that under the criminal laws of this country, a person accused of offences which are non-bailable, is liable to be detained in custody during the pendency of trial unless he is enlarged on bail in accordance with law. Such detention cannot be questioned as being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution, since the same is authorized by law. But even persons accused of non- bailable offences are entitled to bail if the Court concerned comes to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against him and/or if the Court is satisfied by reasons to be recorded that in spite of the existence of prima facie case, there is need to release such accused on bail, where fact situations require it to do so.
This Court, time and again, has stated that bail is the rule and committal to jail an exception. It is also observed that refusal of bail is a restriction on the personal liberty of the individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Balchand, (1977) 4 SCC 308, this Court opined:
The basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail, except where there are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like, by the petitioner who seeks enlargement on bail from the Court. We do not intend to be exhaustive but only illustrative.
It is true that the gravity of the offence involved is likely to induce the petitioner to avoid the course of justice and must weigh with us when considering the question of jail. So also the heinousness of the crime. Even so, the record of the petitioner in this case is that, while he has been on bail throughout in the trial court and he was released after the judgment of the High Court, there is nothing to suggest that he has abused the trust placed in him by the court; his social circumstances also are not so unfavourable in the sense of his being a desperate character or unsocial element who is likely to betray the confidence that the court may place in him to turn up to take justice at the hands of the court. He is stated to be a young man of 27 years with a family to maintain. The circumstances and the social milieu do not militate against the petitioner being granted bail at this stage. At the same time any possibility of the absconsion or evasion or other abuse can be taken care of by a direction that the petitioner will report himself before the police station at Baren once every fortnight (17) In the case of Gudikanti Narasimhulu v. Public Prosecutor, (1978) 1 SCC 240, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J., sitting as Chamber Judge, enunciated the principles of bail thus: What, then, is judicial discretion in this bail context? In the elegant words of Benjamin Cardozo:
The Judge, even when he is free, is still not wholly free. He is not to innovate at pleasure. He is not a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. He is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence. He is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system, and subordinated to the primordial necessity of order in the social life. Wide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains Even so it is useful to notice the tart terms of Lord Camden that the discretion of a Judge is the law of tyrants: it is always unknown, it is different in different men; it is casual, and depends upon constitution, temper and passion. In the best, it is oftentimes caprice; in the worst, it is every vice, folly and passion to which human nature is liable Perhaps, this is an overly simplistic statement and we must remember the constitutional focus in Articles 21 and 19 before following diffuse observations and practices in the English system. Even in England there is a growing awareness that the working of the bail system requires a second look from the point of view of correct legal criteria and sound principles, as has been pointed out by Dr Bottomley. Let us have a glance at the pros and cons and the true principle around which other relevant factors must revolve. When the case is finally disposed of and a person is sentenced to incarceration, things stand on a different footing. We are concerned with the penultimate stage and the principal rule to guide release on bail should be to secure the presence of the applicant who seeks to be liberated, to take judgment and serve sentence in the event of the Court punishing him with imprisonment. In this perspective, relevance of considerations is regulated by their nexus with the likely absence of the applicant for fear of a severe sentence, if such be plausible in the case. As Erle. J. indicated, when the crime charged (of which a conviction has been sustained) is of the highest magnitude and the punishment of it assigned by law is of extreme severity, the Court may reasonably presume, some evidence warranting, that no amount of bail would secure the presence of the convict at the stage of judgment, should he be enlarged. Lord Campbell, C.J. concurred in this approach in that case and Coleridge J. set down the order of priorities as follows:
I do not think that an accused party is detained in custody because of his guilt, but because there are sufficient probable grounds for the charge against him as to make it proper that he should be tried, and because the detention is necessary to ensure his appearance at trial …. It is a very important element in considering whether the party, if admitted to bail, would appear to take his trial; and I think that in coming to a determination on that point three elements will generally be found the most important: the charge, the nature of the evidence by which it is supported, and the punishment to which the party would be liable if convicted. In the present case, the charge is that of wilful murder; the evidence contains an admission by the prisoners of the truth of the charge, and the punishment of the offence is, by law, death
It is thus obvious that the nature of the charge is the vital factor and the nature of the evidence also is pertinent. The punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted or conviction is confirmed, also bears upon the issue. Another relevant factor is as to whether the course of justice would be thwarted by him who seeks the benignant jurisdiction of the Court to be freed for the time being. Thus the legal principles and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record – particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habitual, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a defendant is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.
Viewed from this perspective, we gain a better insight into the rules of the game. When a person, charged with a grave offence, has been acquitted at a stage, has the intermediate acquittal pertinence to a bail plea when the appeal before this Court pends? Yes, it has. The panic which might prompt the accused to jump the gauntlet of justice is less, having enjoyed the confidence of the Court’s verdict once. Concurrent holdings of guilt have the opposite effect. Again, the ground for denial of provisional release becomes weaker when the fact stares us in the face that a fair finding — if that be so — of innocence has been recorded by one Court. It may not be conclusive, for the judgment of acquittal may be ex facie wrong, the likelihood of desperate reprisal, if enlarged, may be a deterrent and his own safety may be more in prison than in the vengeful village where feuds have provoked the violent offence. It depends. Antecedents of the man and socio- geographical circumstances have a bearing only from this angle. Police exaggerations of prospective misconduct of the accused, if enlarged, must be soberly sized up lest danger of excesses and injustice creep subtly into the discretionary curial technique. Bad record and police prediction of criminal prospects to invalidate the bail plea are admissible in principle but shall not stampede the Court into a complacent refusal. In Gurcharan Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.), (1978) 1 SCC 118, this Court took the view:. In other non-bailable cases the Court will exercise its judicial discretion in favour of granting bail subject to sub- section (3) of Section 437 CrPC if it deems necessary to act under it. Unless exceptional circumstances are brought to the notice of the Court which may defeat proper investigation and a fair trial, the Court will not decline to grant bail to a person who is not accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. It is also clear that when an accused is brought before the Court of a Magistrate with the allegation against him of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, he has ordinarily no option in the matter but to refuse bail subject, however, to the first proviso to Section 437(1) CrPC and in a case where the Magistrate entertains a reasonable belief on the materials that the accused has not been guilty of such an offence. This will, however, be an extraordinary occasion since there will be some materials at the stage of initial arrest, for the accusation or for strong suspicion of commission by the person of such an offence.
Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code, on the other hand, confers special powers on the High Court or the Court of Session in respect of bail. Unlike under Section 437(1) there is no ban imposed under Section 439(1), CrPC against granting of bail by the High Court or the Court of Session to persons accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. It is, however, legitimate to suppose that the High Court or the Court of Session will be approached by an accused only after he has failed before the Magistrate and after the investigation has progressed throwing light on the evidence and circumstances implicating the accused. Even so, the High Court or the Court of Session will have to exercise its judicial discretion in considering the question of granting of bail under Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code. The overriding considerations in granting bail to which we adverted to earlier and which are common both in the case of Section 437(1) and Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code are the nature and gravity of the circumstances in which the offence is committed; the position and the status of the accused with reference to the victim and the witnesses; the likelihood, of the accused fleeing from justice; of repeating the offence; of jeopardising his own life being faced with a grim prospect of possible conviction in the case; of tampering with witnesses; the history of the case as well as of its investigation and other relevant grounds which, in view of so many valuable factors, cannot be exhaustively set out
In Babu Singh v. State of U.P., (1978) 1 SCC 579, this Court opined: The Code is cryptic on this topic and the Court prefers to be tacit, be the order custodial or not. And yet, the issue is one of liberty, justice, public safety and burden on the public treasury, all of which insist that a developed jurisprudence of bail is integral to a socially sensitized judicial process. As Chamber Judge in this summit Court I had to deal with this uncanalised case-flow, ad hoc response to the docket being the flickering candle light. So it is desirable that the subject is disposed of on basic principle, not improvised brevity draped as discretion. Personal liberty, deprived when bail is refused, is too precious a value of our constitutional system recognised under Article 21 that the curial power to negate it is a great trust exercisable, not casually but judicially, with lively concern for the cost to the individual and the community. To glamorise impressionistic orders as discretionary may, on occasions, make a litigative gamble decisive of a fundamental right. After all, personal liberty of an accused or convict is fundamental, suffering lawful eclipse only in terms of procedure established by law. The last four words of Article 21 are the life of that human right. …
Thus the legal principle and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record–particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habituals, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a defendant, is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.
The significance and sweep of Article 21 make the deprivation of liberty a matter of grave concern and permissible only when the law authorising it is reasonable, even-handed and geared to the goals of community good and State necessity spelt out in Article 19. Indeed, the considerations I have set out as criteria are germane to the constitutional proposition I have deduced. Reasonableness postulates intelligent care and predicates that deprivation of freedom by refusal of bail is not for punitive purpose but for the bi-focal interests of justice–to the individual involved and society affected.
We must weigh the contrary factors to answer the test of reasonableness, subject to the need for securing the presence of the bail applicant. It makes sense to assume that a man on bail has a better chance to prepare or present his case than one remanded in custody. And if public justice is to be promoted, mechanical detention should be demoted. In the United States, which has a constitutional perspective close to ours, the function of bail is limited, community roots of the applicant are stressed and, after the Vera Foundation’s Manhattan Bail Project, monetary suretyship is losing ground. The considerable public expense in keeping in custody where no danger of disappearance or disturbance can arise, is not a negligible consideration. Equally important is the deplorable condition, verging on the inhuman, of our sub-jails, that the unrewarding cruelty and expensive custody of avoidable incarceration makes refusal of bail unreasonable and a policy favouring release justly sensible.
Viewed from this perspective, we gain a better insight into the rules of the game. When a person, charged with a grave offence, has been acquitted at a stage, has the intermediate acquittal pertinence to a bail plea when the appeal before this Court pends? Yes, it has. The panic which might prompt the accused to jump the gauntlet of justice is less, having enjoyed the confidence of the Court’s verdict once. Concurrent holdings of guilt have the opposite effect. Again, the ground for denial of provisional release becomes weaker when the fact stares us in the face that a fair finding — if that be so — of innocence has been recorded by one Court. It may be conclusive, for the judgment of acquittal may be ex facie wrong, the likelihood of desperate reprisal, it enlarged, may be a deterrent and his own safety may be more in prison than in the vengeful village where feuds have provoked the violent offence. It depends. Antecedents of the man and socio-geographical circumstances have a bearing only from this angle. Police exaggerations of prospective misconduct of the accused, if enlarged, must be soberly sized up lest danger of excesses and injustice creep subtly into the discretionary curial technique. Bad record and police prediction of criminal prospects to invalidate the bail plea are admissible in principle but shall not stampede the Court into a complacent refusal
In Moti Ram v. State of M.P., (1978) 4 SCC 47, this Court, while discussing pre-trial detention, held: The consequences of pre-trial detention are grave. Defendants presumed innocent arc subjected to the psychological and physical deprivations of jail life, usually under more onerous conditions than are imposed on convicted defendants. The jailed defendant loses his job if he has one and is prevented from contributing to the preparation of his defence. Equally important, the burden of his detention frequently falls heavily on the innocent members of his family.
The concept and philosophy of bail was discussed by this Court in Vaman Narain Ghiya v. State of Rajasthan, (2009) 2 SCC 281, thus: Bail remains an undefined term in CrPC. Nowhere else has the term been statutorily defined. Conceptually, it continues to be understood as a right for assertion of freedom against the State imposing restraints. Since the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, to which India is a signatory, the concept of bail has found a place within the scope of human rights. The dictionary meaning of the expression bail denotes a security for appearance of a prisoner for his release. Etymologically, the word is derived from an old French verb bailer; which means to give or to deliver, although another view is that its derivation is from the Latin term baiul are, meaning to bear a burden;. Bail is a conditional liberty. Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary (4th Edn., 1971) spells out certain other details. It states: when a man is taken or arrested for felony, suspicion of felony, indicted of felony, or any such case, so that he is restrained of his liberty. And, being by law bailable, offereth surety to those which have authority to bail him, which sureties are bound for him to the King’s use in a certain sums of money, or body for body, that he shall appear before the justices of goal delivery at the next sessions, etc. Then upon the bonds of these sureties, as is aforesaid, he is bailed–that is to say, set at liberty until the day appointed for his appearance Bail may thus be regarded as a mechanism whereby the State devolutes upon the community the function of securing the presence of the prisoners, and at the same time involves participation of the community in administration of justice.
Personal liberty is fundamental and can be circumscribed only by some process sanctioned by law. Liberty of a citizen is undoubtedly important but this is to balance with the security of the community. A balance is required to be maintained between the personal liberty of the accused and the investigational right of the police. It must result in minimum interference with the personal liberty of the accused and the right of the police to investigate the case. It has to dovetail two conflicting demands, namely, on the one hand the requirements of the society for being shielded from the hazards of being exposed to the misadventures of a person alleged to have committed a crime; and on the other, the fundamental canon of criminal jurisprudence viz. the presumption of innocence of an accused till he is found guilty. Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint, the more restraint on others to keep off from us, the more liberty we have. (See A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras)
The law of bail, like any other branch of law, has its own philosophy, and occupies an important place in the administration of justice and the concept of bail emerges from the conflict between the police power to restrict liberty of a man who is alleged to have committed a crime, and presumption of innocence in favour of the alleged criminal. An accused is not detained in custody with the object of punishing him on the assumption of his guilt.
More recently, in the case of Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra, (2011) 1 SCC 694, this Court observed that just as liberty is precious to an individual, so is the society’s interest in maintenance of peace, law and order. Both are equally important This Court further observed : Personal liberty is a very precious fundamental right and it should be curtailed only when it becomes imperative according to the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case This Court has taken the view that when there is a delay in the trial, bail should be granted to the accused [See Babba v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 11 SCC 569, Vivek Kumar v. State of U.P., (2000) 9 SCC 443, Mahesh Kumar Bhawsinghka v. State of Delhi, (2000) 9 SCC 383].
The principles, which the Court must consider while granting or declining bail, have been culled out by this Court in the case of Prahlad Singh Bhati v. NCT, Delhi, (2001) 4 SCC 280, thus: The jurisdiction to grant bail has to be exercised on the basis of well-settled principles having regard to the circumstances of each case and not in an arbitrary manner. While granting the bail, the court has to keep in mind the nature of accusations, the nature of the evidence in support thereof, the severity of the punishment which conviction will entail, the character, behaviour, means and standing of the accused, circumstances which are peculiar to the accused, reasonable possibility of securing the presence of the accused at the trial, reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with, the larger interests of the public or State and similar other considerations. It has also to be kept in mind that for the purposes of granting the bail the legislature has used the words reasonable grounds for believing instead of the evidence which means the court dealing with the grant of bail can only satisfy it (sic itself) as to whether there is a genuine case against the accused and that the prosecution will be able to produce prima facie evidence in support of the charge. It is not expected, at this stage, to have the evidence establishing the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt
In State of U.P. v. Amarmani Tripathi, (2005) 8 SCC 21, this Court held as under: "18. It is well settled that the matters to be considered in an application for bail are (i) whether there is any prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the offence; (ii) nature and gravity of the charge; (iii) severity of the punishment in the event of conviction; (iv) danger of the accused absconding or fleeing, if released on bail; (v) character, behaviour, means, position and standing of the accused; (vi) likelihood of the offence being repeated; (vii) reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with; and (viii) danger, of course, of justice being thwarted by grant of bail [see Prahlad Singh Bhati v. NCT, Delhi and Gurcharan Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.)]. While a vague allegation that the accused may tamper with the evidence or witnesses may not be a ground to refuse bail, if the accused is of such character that his mere presence at large would intimidate the witnesses or if there is material to show that he will use his liberty to subvert justice or tamper with the evidence, then bail will be refused. We may also refer to the following principles relating to grant or refusal of bail Kalyan Chandra Sarkar v. Rajesh Ranjan: (SCC pp. 535-36, para 11) The law in regard to grant or refusal of bail is very well settled. The court granting bail should exercise its discretion in a judicious manner and not as a matter of course. Though at the stage of granting bail a detailed examination of evidence and elaborate documentation of the merit of the case need not be undertaken, there is a need to indicate in such orders reasons for prima facie concluding why bail was being granted particularly where the accused is charged of having committed a serious offence. Any order devoid of such reasons would suffer from non-application of mind. It is also necessary for the court granting bail to consider among other circumstances, the following factors also before granting bail; they are:
(a) The nature of accusation and the severity of punishment in case of conviction and the nature of supporting evidence.
(b) Reasonable apprehension of tampering with the witness or apprehension of threat to the complainant.
While a detailed examination of the evidence is to be avoided while considering the question of bail, to ensure that there is no prejudging and no prejudice, a brief examination to be satisfied about the existence or otherwise of a prima facie case is necessary) Coming back to the facts of the present case, both the Courts have refused the request for grant of bail on two grounds :- The primary ground is that offence alleged against the accused persons is very serious involving deep rooted planning in which, huge financial loss is caused to the State exchequer ; the secondary ground is that the possibility of the accused persons tempering with the witnesses. In the present case, the charge is that of cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, forgery for the purpose of cheating using as genuine a forged document. The punishment of the offence is punishment for a term which may extend to seven years. It is, no doubt, true that the nature of the charge may be relevant, but at the same time, the punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted, also bears upon the issue. Therefore, in determining whether to grant bail, both the seriousness of the charge and the severity of the punishment should be taken into consideration. The grant or refusal to grant bail lies within the discretion of the Court. The grant or denial is regulated, to a large extent, by the facts and circumstances of each particular case. But at the same time, right to bail is not to be denied merely because of the sentiments of the community against the accused.
The primary purposes of bail in a criminal case are to relieve the accused of imprisonment, to relieve the State of the burden of keeping him, pending the trial, and at the same time, to keep the accused constructively in the custody of the Court, whether before or after conviction, to assure that he will submit to the jurisdiction of the Court and be in attendance thereon whenever his presence is required. This Court in Gurcharan Singh and Ors. Vs. State AIR 1978 SC 179 observed that two paramount considerations, while considering petition for grant of bail in non-bailable offence, apart from the seriousness of the offence, are the likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice and his tampering with the prosecution witnesses. Both of them relate to ensure of the fair trial of the case. Though, this aspect is dealt by the High Court in its impugned order, in our view, the same is not convincing.
When the undertrial prisoners are detained in jail custody to an indefinite period, Article 21 of the Constitution is violated. Every person, detained or arrested, is entitled to speedy trial, the question is : whether the same is possible in the present case. There are seventeen accused persons. Statement of the witnesses runs to several hundred pages and the documents on which reliance is placed by the prosecution, is voluminous. The trial may take considerable time and it looks to us that the appellants, who are in jail, have to remain in jail longer than the period of detention, had they been convicted. It is not in the interest of justice that accused should be in jail for an indefinite period. No doubt, the offence alleged against the appellants is a serious one in terms of alleged huge loss to the State exchequer, that, by itself, should not deter us from enlarging the appellants on bail when there is no serious contention of the respondent that the accused, if released on bail, would interfere with the trial or tamper with evidence. We do not see any good reason to detain the accused in custody, that too, after the completion of the investigation and filing of the charge-sheet. This Court, in the case of State of Kerala Vs. Raneef (2011) 1 SCC 784, has stated: In deciding bail applications an important factor which should certainly be taken into consideration by the court is the delay in concluding the trial. Often this takes several years, and if the accused is denied bail but is ultimately acquitted, who will restore so many years of his life spent in custody? Is Article 21 of the Constitution, which is the most basic of all the fundamental rights in our Constitution, not violated in such a case? Of course this is not the only factor, but it is certainly one of the important factors in deciding whether to grant bail. In the present case the respondent has already spent 66 days in custody (as stated in Para 2 of his counter-affidavit), and we see no reason why he should be denied bail. A doctor incarcerated for a long period may end up like Dr. Manette in Charles Dicken’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, who forgot his profession and even his name in the Bastille
In `Bihar Fodder Scam’, this Court, taking into consideration the seriousness of the charges alleged and the maximum sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed including the fact that the appellants were in jail for a period more than six months as on the date of passing of the order, was of the view that the further detention of the appellants as pre-trial prisoners would not serve any purpose.
What is our national aim? To my mind, our national aim must be to make India a highly prosperous country for its citizens, and for that it is necessary to have a high degree of industrialization.
Even setting up and running a single primary school requires a lot of money, e.g. for buying land, erecting the school building and providing for the recurrent expenditure for salaries of teachers, staff, etc. We have to set up in our country not just one primary school, but hundreds of thousands of primary schools, tens of thousands of high schools and colleges and engineering colleges, technical institutes, medical colleges, scientific research centres, hospitals, libraries etc.
Where is the money for all these to come from? Money does not fall from the sky. It can only come from a highly developed industry, and it is industrialization alone which can generate the wealth we need for the welfare of our people. Today India is a poor country. Nobody respects the poor. It is for this reason that we do not have much respect in the world community (whatever we may think of ourselves). One proof of this is that we are not given a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, although we have a population of 1200 million, whereas Britain and France with populations of 60 million each have permanent seats.
It is industrialization alone which can abolish poverty and unemployment, which are the main causes of crime and terrorism, and get us respect in the world community. Also, when there is rapid industrialization, which should be our national target, millions of jobs will be created which will solve the problem of unemployment. For industrialization, development of science is absolutely necessary, and for that freedom is also absolutely necessary, freedom to think, freedom to write, freedom to discuss with others, freedom to explain, freedom to criticize and freedom to dissent.
The growth of science requires certain supportive values, particularly liberty. This is because the thought process cannot develop without freedom. The values of a scientific community viz., pluralism, tolerance, individual freedom and free flow of information are very similar to the values of a democratic society (see ‘Science and the Making of the Modern World’ by John Marks).
A democratic society permits freedom of speech and expression, freedom to practice one’s own religion, which is based on tolerance, and freedom to dissent and criticize. These are precisely the values of a scientific community. In other words, in scientific matters authoritarianism and dogmatism are wholly out of place. Scientists must be largely left free to govern themselves, and have large amount of freedom which is necessary for innovation and creativity. Hence, democracy and liberty go hand in hand with the growth of science because both are based on tolerance, individual freedom and free flow of ideas. In democracy, as in a scientific community, there is freedom to speak, freedom to discuss, freedom to criticize and freedom to dissent.
“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law – the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed”
Similarly, Justice William O. Douglas in Terminiello vs. Chicago 337 US 1 (1949) observed: “….[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest… There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups”.
In our own country, in ancient times the method of Shastrarthas had been developed. These were debates in which the thinkers of those times had full freedom to speak and to criticize their opponents in the opponent’s presence, and also in the presence of a large assembly of people. There are hundreds of references to such Shastrarthas in our epics and other literature. It was this freedom to freely discuss and criticize in ancient India which resulted in tremendous growth of knowledge even in such ancient times, including not only in philosophy, grammar law, etc. but also scientific knowledge, e.g. mathematics, astronomy, medicines, etc. The names of Aryabhatt, Brahmagupta, Bhaskar, Sushrut and Charak are known to all. With the aid of science we had built mighty civilizations e.g. the Indus Valley Civilization when people in Europe were living in forests.
In this connection, we may also mention about modern European history. England was the first country in the world to industrialize and modernize. This economic process was accompanied with the political struggle for liberty and democracy in the 17th and 18th centuries, which was particularly a struggle between the King and Parliament. As we all know, Parliament won, and this laid the foundation of freedom and civil liberties in England, which was necessary to create the atmosphere which science requires to prosper.
Similarly, in France, before the French Revolution of 1789, the thinkers of the Enlightenment — Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Holbach, etc. who attacked feudalism and religious dogmatism paved the way for the Revolution of 1789 which destroyed feudalism, and led to scientific progress. On the other hand, in Italy, Spain and some other countries the Inquisition stifled free thinking and thereby scientific growth. All scientific ideas which were not consistent with the Bible were regarded as crimes e.g. the theory of Copernicus which stated that the earth moved around the sun and not the sun around the earth. As a result, these countries were left far behind England and France, and remained in the feudal dark ages for centuries.
The struggle to establish the scientific outlook was not an easy one. Scientific ideas initially were condemned because they were regarded as opposed to religious dogma. Voltaire and Rousseau had to fly for their lives to other countries. The Church persecuted the greatest scientists with blind cruelty, burning them at the stake (e.g. Bruno), torturing them (e.g. Galileo), and forbidding or destroying their works. As recently as in 1925 the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution was forbidden in the state of Tennessee in U.S.A., and a teacher John Scopes was tried in the famous ‘Monkey Trial’ for teaching that theory. For centuries the Church in Europe played an extremely reactionary role and fought pitilessly against the scientific conception of the world, and against the democratic movements. In India, if we are to progress and rise as a world power, we have to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner in our country, and destroy superstitions, e.g. the belief in astrology and palmistry, and the feudal ideas of casteism and communalism.
Science is that knowledge by which we can understand nature (and human society) and use this knowledge for our benefit. For doing so, the scientists rely on reason, observation and experiment. This obviously cannot be done on the dictates of anyone (though the government can certainly create the atmosphere where these can flourish). Science and democratic values go hand in hand.
In science, there is no final word, unlike in religion. Science questions everything and does not take anything for granted. Obviously, this approach is not permitted in an undemocratic society, e.g. feudal society (which is governed by religion) or fascist society (in which there is a dictator). Thus, Hitler, with his Nazi racial philosophy, caused an enormous setback to science in Germany by persecuting Jewish scientists and banning their works (e.g. Einstein).
Indeed, in India, after the Constitution was adopted in 1950, there was an atmosphere of liberal freedom in view of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution e.g. the right to free speech (Article 19), liberty (Article 21), equality (Articles 14 to 17), religious freedom (Article 25), etc. This helped growth of science and technology in our country, because it created an atmosphere of freedom where people including the scientists, could freely discuss and dissent. If we compare our country with the neighbouring countries, there were no such freedoms in those countries and hence those countries lagged far behind in economic growth.
Apart from the above, the advanced sections of society who want to take the country forward, and have the knowledge to do so, must have a lot of freedom to discuss, debate and criticize each other. They are the pioneers and are often entering into a new field, much of which is unknown. Hence, they must have freedom to think, discuss and criticize.
As pointed out by John Stuart Mill in his celebrated essay ‘On Liberty’, all progress, advancement of knowledge and progressive change and improvement of old ways of thinking, and the consequent old behaviour-patterns, habits, customs and traditions can come about only from free individual dissents and dissentions, innovations, etc. which are at first usually resisted by inert or conservative people (who are usually the vast majority), and by a free competition between the old and new ideas. As pointed out by Mill, in any society ordinarily the majority shares old thoughts and traditions, and there is a strong tendency to insist on conformity and collective unity or solidarity, to repress dissents and innovations, and to tolerate only what the majority agree with. This inevitably works to prevent any progress and to thwart the creative impulses of the more creative and original minds. Extensive freedom to dissent and innovate, in all spheres of life, activity, culture and thought in all directions, including expressing ideas initially thought strange and often disliked by the conservative tradition-bound majority are indispensable for progress. The intellectually advanced and creative individuals are often in the minority, and are regarded as non-conforming eccentrics and deviants, and there is often a tendency to suppress them. This is why liberal democracy, i.e. majority rule but qualified and limited by firm protection of minorities, and individual rights and liberties, even as against the governing majority, is essential for progress. The majority often consists of mediocre persons who wish to continue in the old ways of thinking and practices. Hence the liberties and rights have to be guaranteed to the often powerless tiny minorities and lone individuals so that scientific progress can take place.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the U.S. Supreme Court in his dissenting judgment in Abrams vs. United States, (1919) observed : “…The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…”
The importance of the judiciary in India in this connection must also be highlighted in this country. In this connection reference may be made to two decisions of the Supreme Court delivered by me viz., Govt of A.P. and others vs. P. Laxmi Devi [2008 (4) SCC 720, JT 2008 (2) 639 and Deepak Bajaj vs. State of Maharashtra and others [JT 2008 (11) SC 609]. In these cases, I emphasized the importance of liberty for progress, and have observed that the judiciary must act as guardians of the liberties of the people, protecting them against executive, or even legislative arbitrariness or despotism. I have also in my judgments spoken out against honour killing, fake encounters, dowry deaths, etc. India needs democracy and scientific knowledge, and that means patiently spreading scientific ideas amongst the vast masses, raising their cultural level and involving them actively in the task of nation building.
To my mind, harsh and draconian laws will curb liberty, and that will not only violate the right to liberty granted by Article 21 of the Constitution, but will also lead to great evils e.g. increase in corruption in the police and other law enforcing agencies, which will have much more opportunities to extort money from the citizens, apart from impeding scientific and economic growth, which is vital for our country.
I have gone into some detail on this subject because I wished to clarify that I am a strong votary for liberty and have been misunderstood. However, liberty cannot be equated with licence to do anything one wishes. Should one be given the liberty to spread superstitions, to fan caste/or communal hatred, or put over emphasis on film stars, pop music, fashion parades and cricket in a poor country like ours? I think not. All freedoms are coupled with responsibilities, and no freedom is absolute. It is for this reason that I believe that while ordinarily issues relating to the media should be resolved by the democratic method of discussion and dialogue, in rare and exceptional cases (which may not be more than 5 per cent) harsh measures may be required, but that too not by the government but by any independent statutory authority e.g. the Lokpal.
(Justice Markandey Katju is the Chairman of Press Council of India)
As this historic institution marks the 150th year of its founding. K. Chandru, Judge of the Madras High Court, takes a look at some of its early chronicles.
Chennai — 600 104.This is the pin code allotted by the Department of Posts to the zone occupied by the Madras High Court. Any such “zone” has to have its boundaries. In our land, if there is a boundary, it has its own boundary deity. In the villages, this deity is called the sentinel goddess.
The High Court campus also has two sentinel deities. One, a statue of Rajaji in the north-east; the other, a statue of T. Prakasamgaru in the south-west. The two roads stretching northward from these two statues constitute the boundaries of the High Court. One is Prakasam Road (formerly Broadway), and the other is Rajaji Road (the old North Beach Road).
What is the link between these two eminent leaders enshrined as statues, and a campus reputed to house the largest number of courts in Asia (from the ‘small causes courts’ to the High Court)?
Born on December 10, 1878, Rajaji after completing his schooling and undergraduate studies, did his Law course at the Madras Law College. He was Chairman of the Salem Municipality and also had a flourishing legal practice there. However, in the interest of his children’s education, he landed in Madras with bag and baggage in March 1919. He had planned to practise at the High Court. But the fate of the nation changed that course. Gandhiji issued the call for a ‘non-cooperation movement’ against the colonial government. Heeding this call, Rajaji plunged into the movement, not even bothering to unpack the boxes containing legal tomes. Soon enough, he expressed opposition to the visit of the Prince of Wales and was imprisoned. A person who had the potential to become the foremost legal luminary in India, spent years in the darkness of prison. But history adorned him differently. Law’s loss became the legislature’s gain. The Constitution of India came into force on January 26, 1950. It was Rajaji’s privilege, as the first Indian Governor-General, to anoint Dr. Rajendra Prasad as the first President of India. What an honour!
The life of the south-western sentinel deity, Prakasamgaru, had been differently moulded. He studied in England and became a barrister. He registered himself at the Madras High Court, which had been denying opportunities to Indian lawyers, and achieved eminence in his profession. His reputation as a lawyer, and his professional income, were both legendary. He too responded to Mahatma Gandhi’s clarion call, renounced his lucrative legal practice and threw himself into the freedom movement. He never again entered the High Court precincts. But, he came to be hailed as the Lion of Andhra (Andhra Kesari). It was said that a day before his arrest, he returned a fee of Rs.1 lakh to his client and plunged himself into direct political action. Rs.1 lakh was a hefty sum 90 years ago.
Both these leaders had renounced their legal profession in response to Gandhiji’s call for non-cooperation. There were also other similarities. Rajaji became the Premier of the Madras Presidency in 1937, and Prakasamgaru in 1946. In 1952, Rajaji took over as the Chief Minister of the State of Madras (now Tamil Nadu). Prakasamgaru assumed responsibilities as the Chief Minister of the State of Andhra Pradesh in 1953.
The Lion of Andhra launched an English journal; Rajaji extended his support to this venture, naming it Swarajya. Later Rajaji himself took charge of publishing it. It is noteworthy that instead of pleading as lawyers before judges, they played roles in the very appointment of High Court judges. Rajaji played a key role in ensuring that Madras was retained as the capital of the State that is today Tamil Nadu. Thanks to his efforts, the Madras High Court is still with Tamil Nadu.
Having failed to make Madras City a part of Andhra, Prakasamgaru formed the State of Andhra and established a new Andhra High Court at Guntur in 1953, incorporating the Andhra districts which had until then been under the jurisdiction of the Madras High Court.
Is it any cause for wonder that these two stalwarts stand guard today as the sentinel deities of the Madras High Court?
The ‘SMS Emden’
A Tamil film titled Emden’s Son was produced, and the title was ‘Tamilised’ as Em Magan (Our Son) and released, in order to derive the tax benefits that a “Tamil” title would bring. The film producer offered the following clarification on the name: “SMS Emden” was a German warship that had hurled a bomb near the Madras Port during the First World War. The bomb splintered and landed near the High Court on September 22, 1914. A memorial tablet was installed at that site. We can still see that tablet some 10 metres behind the Rajaji statue. There is a ‘Karjili” ditty in Tamil on the arrival of the “Emden” and the hurling of the bomb. Here is an excerpt:
“Emden the German cruiser On South-east Madras shore ….…………. To damage Fort and Light house too Hurl they did some bombs ….. …………. With elation evident Declared a British Worthy Rolled three bombs Near High Court No damage, ha, no damage.”
The ditty was published in 1914 by Vijayapuram Na.Sabhapati Pillai at the Mannarkudi Bharat Press.The “Emden,” which had caused consternation in Madras, has since become a part of Tamil folklore. But the film producer, eager for a tax privilege, made a mess of that name. Not many know that the engineer of that ship was a Tamil: his name was Shenbagaraman. An association in his name still honours his memory, offering floral tributes at the tablet outside the High Court premises each year.
The unique lighthouse
In fact, the “Emden’s” target was not the High Court, but the lighthouse that stood majestically next to it. How at all did the lighthouse get located in the High Court complex? That is an interesting story.
During the early 19th century, the vast area of land west of Fort St. George held a fascination for the British. That was the buffer zone between the Black Town and the fort — today’s George Town at G.T. Till 1762, the Chenna Kesavapperumal temple and the Chenna Malleeswarar temple flourished in that area. Suddenly a fire destroyed these temples. Immediately, the colonial government took over that land and provided funds and land near the Flower Bazaar to construct the temples anew. Till this day, no one knows if that fire was indeed an accident or an engineered one. A new lighthouse was constructed on the land where the temples stood earlier. That lighthouse functioned from 1838 to 1844. Firewood was lit at the top of the structure to provide light. That lighthouse still exists in the High Court complex. It is under the watch of the Department of Archaeology, as a protected monument.
This lighthouse was only 125 feet in height. So the British government decided to build a new, taller lighthouse. In that vast area of land, the foundation was laid for a new (High Court) building.
Based on a proclamation by Queen Victoria, the Madras High Court, which was created in 1862, started functioning in the old Collector’s office on Rajaji Salai (the present Singaravelar Mansion). A new High Court building was constructed at a cost of Rs.12 lakh and inaugurated on July 12, 1892. At the top of the main tower of the building (175 feet high), a new lighthouse was constructed. It was then the tallest structure in Madras. Till the 1970s, the public was allowed to climb up the lighthouse. This has been stopped over the past 35 years. A new lighthouse has been put up near the Gandhi statue on the Marina.
The lighthouse was not only guiding sailors in distress on the high seas, but was also serving as a beacon for legal clients in turmoil. This is unique to the Madras High Court. Two such buildings do not coexist in the same complex in any other State in India.
See the lighthouse and go to the northern side of the High Court (that is, the Subhas Chandra Bose Road: formerly China Bazaar), and you can see the statue of V. Bhashyam Iyengar. It is planted on a lofty pedestal. Who is this person, you might ask. He was the first Indian Advocate-General. A very eminent jurist, he became Advocate-General in 1897, and served as a judge in the Madras High Court from 1901 to 1904. While many were amazed at his independent attitude, the white judges of that period refused to allow his statue to be installed in the court premises. But thanks to the relentless efforts of lawyers, a statue was eventually installed in 1927. He was denied a judgeship for long due to his fearlessly independent attitude and was granted the judgeship when he had less than two years of tenure left.
The white judges who had refused to countenance the proposal, were later obliged to have a darshan of this statue on a daily basis. Every time they entered the court through the southern gate, they could not do so without seeing Bhashyam Iyengar standing majestically on a pedestal.
It is indeed a cruel irony that the passage between the southern and northern wings of the court has been taken over for the use of administrative offices, and turned into record rooms.
A High Court judge
Those who proceed from the Fort rail station to the Island Grounds should necessarily pass by an important bridge — Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer Bridge. Who was he? Born into a poor family, he read his lessons under a street lamp. Eventually he held many important positions and became a Judge of the Madras High Court in 1878. The first Indian to become a High Court Judge: Thiruvarur Muthuswami Iyer. His statue, sculpted in white marble, has the pride of place in the midst of all the courts on the first floor. He served as a judge of considerable repute for 17 years. He died on January 15, 1895. His statue was installed in 1898. His statue had been so positioned that it appeared to be watching the court of the then Chief Justice. Curiously enough, he never served as a Chief Justice of the court.
Are you wonderstruck at so many stories around the Madras High Court campus? Well, this is but a small sample!
The Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on “November 26”, 1949. Thirty years after, under the leadership of Dr. L. M. Singhvi, the Supreme Court Bar Association declared November 26th as the National Law Day. Thereafter, every year, this day is celebrated as the Law Day, all over India, especially by members of the legal fraternity. This day is celebrated to honour the 207 eminent members of the Constituent Assembly who are considered the founding fathers of the Constitution of India.
Shri M. N. Krishnamani, President, Supreme Court Bar Association, on a Law Day address said thatthe main objective of celebrating Law Day is, “We want to be a coherent democracy governed by the rule of law. In fact, true democracy and the rule of law always go together. It is the rule of law which guards the democratic polity. Therefore, the real purpose of celebrating Law Day is to rededicate ourselves to the following cardinal principles which formed the solid foundation on which this grand constitutional edifice is erected: (i) the rule of law, (ii) independence of the Judiciary, and (iii) the independence of legal profession. These three principles are intimately interconnected. The main purpose of independent judiciary and an independent bar is only to ensure that there is the rule of law.”
Law Day is an important day for the members of legal profession in India and also for the people of India. Lawyers and the Indian judiciary have time and again been the last resort of protecting rights and liberties of individuals. It is a special day we all should celebrate and recognize those who have played active role in upholding the rule of law and protected our rights and liberties.
On this day we would like to recognize two legal luminaries who have played an important role in promoting the spirit of our Constitution through their judgments, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice G. S. Singhvi. While the former retired recently on July 7, 2011, the latter continues to serve and is scheduled to retire on December 12, 2013. The Indian Supreme Court recently pronounced some path breaking decisions. It is interesting to note that at least one of the two above mentioned judges have been a part of the bench which has delivered such eye-opening judgments.
In Ram Jethmalani & Ors vs. Union of India & Ors, Justice Reddy criticised the Union government, strongly, for loosening its strings when it came to investigation of black money related cases and asked the government to tighten its grip over perpetrators of such crimes. He reiterated his point by constituting a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the investigation and the steps being taken to bring back black money stashed away in foreign banks. Also, Pune-based businessman Hasan Ali Khan’s bail plea was stayed and he was made available for custodial interrogation only because of the earlier directions issued by Justice Reddy .
In the Salwa Judum case, Justice Reddy came down heavily on the Chattisgarh government and the Centre for appointing tribals as Special Police Officers (SPOs) and training them to counter Maoists and held the action to be “unconstitutional” by highlighting the importance of human rights.
In 2008, he was also a part of the bench which laid down the guidelines for dealing with Public Interest Litigation, based on which the government is, presently considering a Bill. He reiterated that the High Court judges could not order suo motu investigation merely by treating anonymous letters and petitions listing allegations against individuals or institutions as PILs.
The fight for relevance of PILs has gained momentum again this year, due to Justice Singhvi’s judgment in Delhi Jal Board Appellant v/s National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers & others. The bench, in the above mentioned case, stated that it would be denial of justice if the courts denied addressing the genuine petitions filed by individuals, social workers and NGOs. The Court reminded that it is the duty of the judicial constituents of the State like its political and executive constituents to protect the rights of every citizen and every individual and ensure that everyone is able to live with dignity.
While dealing with Justice Dinakaran’s petition, the Apex Court, comprising of a bench of which Justice Singhvi was a part of, refused to be bogged down by the delay tactics used by Justice Dinakaran. It ruled that former Sikkim High Court Chief Justice, Justice Dinakaran’s known silence with regard to P. P. Rao’s appointment to the Rajya Sabha Committee for a period of almost ten months, militates against the bona fides of his objection to the appointment of P. P. Rao as member of the Committee. As a result of this decision Justice Dinakaran had to resign to save his face from an impeachment proceeding.
Further, it was Justice Singhvi’s(pictured) order in the 2G case which asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct investigation without being influenced by politicians or other influential persons, which finally led to the numerous charges, arrests and trials against the elite class of influential people who were involved in the scam. If not for his order, trial of this scam may have gone on for years without any ultimate result due to overreaching hands of corruption. This shows that Justice Singhvi is unperturbed by who is the government in the Centre and believes in only doing his job and upholding the values and goals of our Constitution.
While hearing a public suit by the All India Drug Action Network of several NGOs which challenged the government’s proposed policy on drug pricing, a bench comprising of Justice Singhvi and Justice S. J. Mukhopadhaya communicated to the central government that the prices of medicine should not shoot up further as the prices of medicine and ordinary lab tests were already too high.
On last Wednesday, a division bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justices Singhvi and H. L. Dattu granted bail to seven corporate accused in the 2G scam case, who had been in jail even after the charge sheet was filed and the investigation was complete. Justice Singhvi has played a balanced role here. This decision brings an end to the present trend of keeping under-trials in custody for prolonged period of time without any rational justification. While his initial order in the 2G scam paved way for the arrests and a proper investigation, the present order upheld the rights of the accused envisaged under our Constitution and other laws.
The aforementioned judgments of Justice Reddy and Justice Singhvi evidence the fact that the sacrosanct principles which have been envisaged in our diverse and elaborate Constitution by our founders are in the hands of sound judges. Their judgments have acted as eye-openers for not only the state and central government but also for the citizens of India. In an era, where the Judiciary is embroiled in controversies, these two eminent judges have continuously delivered such judgments which have upheld the values imbibed in the Constitution. On this special day, we salute you.
Indian courts have consistently upheld and championed the fundamental right to free speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution. This includes the right to put forward different and contrary views, right or wrong. A recent instance saw the Supreme Court of India striking down Uttar Pradesh‘s ban on the film Aarakshan. This article by A.P. Shah, retired Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts, sets out key issues relating to freedom of expression and censorship by the state. The article, written before the ban on the film, Dam 999, is highly relevant in the current context.
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
A few months ago, Aarakshan joined a long list of films whose screenings were sought to be curtailed by the state instrumentalities, because the social aspects depicted by them were seemingly understood as being bold or uncomfortable to the interests of certain sections of society. This once again raises the question whether India has truly come of age, or whether the freedom to express oneself is subservient to the subjective satisfaction of the state.
Just before the release of Aarakshan, which attempts to critically analyse the system of reservation in admissions in the Indian education system, three States, namely, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, decided to suspend the screening of the film in their respective States. The Director of the film approached the Supreme Court against this decision of the States, contending that it amounted to pre-censorship when no such power was vested in them. During the pendency of the petition, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh withdrew the order of suspension in their States. However, Uttar Pradesh remained adamant and decided to defend its order.
Striking down the decision of the Uttar Pradesh Government, the Supreme Court held that even delicate issues like reservation require public discussion and debate in a vibrant democracy such as ours. Such a discussion on social issues spreads awareness, which is required for the effective working of the democracy. In fact, such an informed and positive decision only helps society to grow.
Free speech and expression under the Constitution
The right to freedom of speech and expression is enshrined as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Freedom of expression means the right to express one’s opinion by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture or in any other manner. Such is the importance of this right in a democracy that without this right, the attempt to achieve a democratic and principles would be a hollow formality.
Although this right has wide amplitude, our Constitution mandates that when seeking to uphold the larger interest of society, the rights of an individual must give way to such collective rights. It is for this purpose that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) is qualified by “reasonable restrictions” under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. However, to preserve the essence of democracy as also to prevent the state from exercising its will arbitrarily, it is required that such restrictions must only be imposed with a great amount of care and caution.
The Supreme Court, in the case of Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Prof. Manubhai D. Shah (1992) 3 SCC 637, stated that the restriction had to be interpreted strictly and narrowly. Such restrictions are bound to be viewed as anathema, inasmuch as they are in the nature of curbs or limitations on the exercise of the right and are, therefore, bound to be viewed with suspicion, thereby throwing a heavy burden on the authorities who seek to impose them.
In contrast to India, the American system places a much greater value on this right as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not permit any prior restraint, and the guarantee of free speech is absolute and unqualified.
Role of the censor
It was stated in K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Ors., AIR 1971 SC 48that although it must be remembered that the cinematograph is a powerful medium, the mere portrayal of a social vice in a movie cannot attract the censor’s scissors: how the theme is handled by the producer should be the criterion. While analysing the role of the censor, the Supreme Court held: “The task of censor is extremely delicate and its duties cannot be the subject of an exhaustive set of commands established by prior ratiocination…..Our standards must be so framed that we are not reduced to a level where the protection of the least capable and most depraved amongst us determines what the morally healthy cannot view or read. The standards that we set for our censors must make a substantial allowance in favour of freedom this leaving a vast area for creative art to interpret life and society with some of its foibles along with what is good.”
Lawrence Liang stated in his article headlined ‘Sense and Censorbility’: “The practical mission of censorship is closely tied to the idea of creating an ‘ideal citizen-viewer. The task of censorship is to teach the viewer to become a citizen through particular spectatorical practices, and the imagined gaze of the citizen-viewer determines the specific content of censorship laws.”
Censorship on the decline
In general, prior restraint regarding film screenings has been on the decline over the decades in the democratic world. Since the 1960s in the United States, the courts have prescribed rigid criteria for prior restraint in cinema. Gradually, film censorship became impractical and no prior administrative restraint of films exists today in U.S. However, supervision of films still exists in the shape of film classifications introduced by the Motion Picture Association of America. Similarly in England, there is no general legislation conferring powers to censor movies, but the common practice is that censorship is based on the classification of movies according to their suitability to different audiences.
However, in contrast, certain countries such as India and several other Asian countries still retain censorship powers on films. The same can at best be understood as something in the nature of enforced morality being subjected upon the citizens by their state.
It is observed that censorship has been on the decline even in a country like Israel which is considered to be largely conservative. The Israel Supreme Court, through landmark decisions such as Israel Film Studios v. Gerry (1962) Isr SC 15 2407 and Bakri v. Film Censorship Board (2003) Isr SC 58 (1) 249, has been instrumental in negating the overreach of the censors even in cases where it was submitted that there would be “an outburst of negative feelings against the state,” and “severe offence to the feelings of a section of the society”. In Laor v. Film and Plays Censorship Board (1987) Isr SC 41 (1) 421, the Censor Board refused to permit the staging of the play Ephraim Returns to the Army, on the ground that it presented a distorted and false picture of the military administration and the occupied territories under Israeli military rule. The court overruled this objection and observed: “The parallel between the German soldier arresting a child and the Israeli soldier arresting an Arab youngster breaks my heart. Nonetheless we live in a democratic state, in which heartbreak is the very heart of democracy.”
The case of Ore Oru Gramathile
The case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram and Ors. (1989) 2 SCC 574, concerned a film Ore Oru Gramathile, which much like Aarakshan, was critical of the policy of reservation of the government. Allowing the screening of the movie, the Supreme Court held that in a democracy, it is not necessary that everyone should sing the same song. Freedom of expression is the rule and it is generally taken for granted. Everyone has a fundamental right to form his own opinion on any issue of general concern. He can form and inform by any legitimate means. Movie is the legitimate and the most important medium in which issues of general concern can be treated.
The court also held that on the issue of balancing the two interests, the commitment of freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered. The anticipated danger should not be remote, conjectural or far fetched. It should have a proximate and direct nexus with the expression. The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest.
Censor board has failed
Despite the power of regulating the content of films being vested in the Censor, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has often failed in the task entrusted to it by either stifling creativity or hijacking morality and trying to substitute it with the morality of certain vested interests. It is at times like these that the courts have to step in as the saviour of freedom, safeguarding different forms of expression against the censorial instincts of the state.
The Anand Patwardhan case
In the case of Anand Patwardhan v. Union of India, AIR 1997 Bom 25, Doordarshan refused to telecast the petitioner’s film, In Memory of Friends, which was about the violence in Punjab. The Bombay High Court, while dealing with the objection to screening of a movie, held: “The film maker may project his own message which the other may not approve of. But he has a right to ‘think out’ and put the counter appeals to reason. The State cannot prevent open discussion and open expression, however, hateful to the policies.”
The court further held that the petitioner’s film must be judged in its entirety. The film has a theme and it has a message to convey.
The same film maker, in Anand Patwardhan v. Union of India 1997 (3) Bom CR 438, approached the Bombay High Court seeking a direction to Doordarshan to telecast his documentary Raam-Ke-Naam. Objection was taken to certain scenes in the film where akar sevak justified the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse. Rejecting the point of view that the film provoked commission of offence, it was held that “viewed from the healthy and common sense of point of view, it is more likely that it will prevent incitement to such offences in future by extremists and fundamentalists.”
Anand Patwardhan also challenged an order of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), in Anand Patwardhan v. CBFC 2003 (5) Bom CR 58, which had directed changes to his documentary War and Peace (Jang aur Aman)that showed a Dalit leader questioning in his speech why the bomb had exploded on Buddha Jayanti day and not on Lord Rama’s birthday. The Bombay High Court held that it is only in a democratic form of government that the citizens have a right to express themselves fully and fearlessly as to what their point of view is towards the various events that are taking place around them.
Censorship against depiction of the aftermath of Godhra riots
The case of F.A. Picture International v. CBFC AIR 2005 Bom 145 was regarding the film Chand Bujh Gaya, which depicted the ordeal of a young couple — a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl — whose lives were torn apart in the State of Gujarat. The CBFC held that “the Gujarat violence is a live issue and a scar on national sensitivity. Exhibition of the film will certainly aggravate the situation.” The Bombay High Court held that no democracy can countenance a lid of suppression on events in society and stability in society can only be promoted by introspection into social reality, however grim it may be.
In Ramesh Pimple v. CBFC 2004 (5) Bom CR 214, the documentary film Aakrosh focused on the communal riots in Gujarat. The CBFC sought to curtail the screening of the movie on the ground that such exhibition would incite suppressed communal feelings. However, overruling this objection, the court gave the opinion that it is when the hour of conflict is over that it may be necessary to understand and analyse the reason for strife. We should not forget that the present state of things is the consequence of the past; and it is natural to inquire as to the sources of the good we enjoy or for the evils we suffer.
The Da Vinci Code controversy
The case Sony Pictures Releasing of India Ltd. v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2006) 3 M.L.J. 289, dealt with objection to the screening of Da Vinci Code, as the movie was considered to be offensive to the beliefs of Christians. Allowing the screening of the film, the Madras High Court held that the issue is whether there can be a work of art or literature or a film which propounds such interpretations, and whether the public have the right to decide whether to accept or reject such alternative interpretation. The issue is whether the state is bound to protect the person whose fundamental right is sought to be violated by people who threaten to breach peace, or whether the state will mutely watch such threats.
“When men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public,” wrote Benjamin Franklin. If one is allowed to say that a certain policy of the government is good, another is with equal freedom entitled to say that it is bad. If one is allowed to support a governmental scheme, the other could as well say that he would not support it. The different views are allowed to be expressed by proponents and opponents not because they are correct or valid, but because there is freedom in this country to express differing views on any issue. The ultimate good in a society is better reached by free trade in ideas — the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market. Courts must be ever vigilant in guarding perhaps the most precious of all the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.
(Justice A.P. Shah is a retired Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts. He wrote this article in the context of the ban on Aarakshan.)