Reasonable restriction to Right of free speech and expression

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Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident Dt … vs Home Secretary And Ors. on 23 February, 2012 – SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CRL.) NO. 122 OF 2011

1. At the very outset, I would prefer to examine the principles of law that can render assistance in weighing the merit or otherwise of the contentious disputations asserted before the Court by the parties in the present suo moto petition. Besides restating the law governing Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India and the parallel restrictions contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3) respectively, I would also gauge the dimensions of legal provisions in relation to the exercise of jurisdiction by the empowered officer in passing an order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short `Cr.P.C.’).

2. It appears justified here to mention the First Amendment to the United States (US) Constitution, a bellwether in the pursuit of expanding the horizon of civil liberties. This Amendment provides for the freedom of speech of press in the American Bill of Rights. This Amendment added new dimensions to this right to freedom and purportedly, without any limitations. The expressions used in wording the Amendment have a wide magnitude and are capable of liberal construction. It reads as under :

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

3. The effect of use of these expressions, in particular, was that the freedom of speech of press was considered absolute and free from any restrictions whatsoever. Shortly thereafter, as a result of widening of the power of judicial review, the US Supreme Court preferred to test each case on the touchstone of the rule of `clear- and-present-danger’. However, application of this rule was unable to withstand the pace of development of law and, therefore, through its judicial pronouncements, the US Supreme Court applied the doctrine of `balancing of interests’. The cases relating to speech did not simply involve the rights of the offending speaker but typically they presented a clash of several rights or a conflict between individual rights and necessary functions of the Government. Justice Frankfurter often applied the above-mentioned Balancing Formula and concluded that “while the court has emphasized the importance of `free speech’, it has recognized that free speech is not in itself a touchstone. The Constitution is not unmindful of other important interests, such as public order, if free expression of ideas is not found to be the overbalancing considerations.

4. The `balancing of interests’ approach is basically derived from Roscoe Pound‘s theories of social engineering. Pound had insisted that his structure of public, social and individual interests are all, in fact, individual interests looked at from different points of view for the purpose of clarity. Therefore, in order to make the system work properly, it is essential that when interests are balanced, all claims must be translated into the same level and carefully labelled. Thus, a social interest may not be balanced against individual interest, but only against another social interest. The author points out that throughout the heyday of the clear-and-present-danger and preferred position doctrines, the language of balancing, weighing or accommodating interests was employed as an integral part of the libertarian position. [Freedom of Speech: The Supreme Court and Judicial Review, by Martin Shapiro, 1966]

5. Even in the United States there is a recurring debate in modern First Amendment Jurisprudence as to whether First Amendment rights are `absolute’ in the sense that the Government may not abridge them at all or whether the First Amendment requires the `balancing of competing interests’ in the sense that free speech values and the Government’s competing justification must be isolated and weighted in each case. Although the First Amendment to the American Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, press or assembly, it has long been established that those freedoms themselves are dependent upon the power of the constitutional Government to survive. If it is to survive, it must have power to protect itself against unlawful conduct and under some circumstances against incitements to commit unlawful acts. Freedom of speech, thus, does not comprehend the right to speak on any subject at any time. In the case of Schenck v. United States [63 L ed 1173], the Court held :

The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that have all the effect of force….the question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

[Constitution of India, (2nd Edn.), Volume 1 by Dr. L.M. Singhvi]

6. In contradistinction to the above approach of the US Supreme Court, the Indian Constitution spells out the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). It also provides the right to assemble peacefully and without arms to every citizen of the country under Article 19(1)(b). However, these rights are not free from any restrictions and are not absolute in their terms and application. Articles 19(2) and 19(3), respectively, control the freedoms available to a citizen. Article 19(2) empowers the State to impose reasonable restrictions on exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the interest of the factors stated in the said clause. Similarly, Article 19(3) enables the State to make any law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred, again in the interest of the factors stated therein.

7. In face of this constitutional mandate, the American doctrine adumbrated in Schenck’s case (supra) cannot be imported and applied. Under our Constitution, this right is not an absolute right but is subject to the above-noticed restrictions. Thus, the position under our Constitution is different.

 8. In `Constitutional Law of India’ by H.M. Seervai (Fourth Edn.), Vol.1, the author has noticed that the provisions of the two Constitutions as to freedom of speech and expression are essentially different. The difference being accentuated by the provisions of the Indian Constitution for preventive detention which have no counterpart in the US Constitution. Reasonable restriction contemplated under the Indian Constitution brings the matter in the domain of the court as the question of reasonableness is a question primarily for the Court to decide. {Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra [(1961) 3 SCR 423]}.

9. The fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution itself being made subject to reasonable restrictions, the laws so enacted to specify certain restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression have to be construed meaningfully and with the constitutional object in mind. For instance, the right to freedom of speech and expression is not violated by a law which requires that name of the printer and publisher and the place of printing and publication should be printed legibly on every book or paper.

10. Thus, there is a marked distinction in the language of law, its possible interpretation and application under the Indian and the US laws. It is significant to note that the freedom of speech is the bulwark of democratic Government. This freedom is essential for proper functioning of the democratic process. The freedom of speech and expression is regarded as the first condition of liberty. It occupies a preferred position in the hierarchy of liberties, giving succour and protection to all other liberties. It has been truly said that it is the mother of all other liberties. Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on social, political and economic matters. It has been described as a ;basic human right ;a natural right; and the like. With the development of law in India, the right to freedom of speech and expression has taken within its ambit the right to receive information as well as the right of press.

11. In order to effectively consider the rival contentions raised and in the backdrop of the factual matrix, it will be of some concern for this Court to examine the constitutional scheme and the historical background of the relevant Articles relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression in India. The framers of our Constitution, in unambiguous terms, granted the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. This gave to the citizens of this country a very valuable right, which is the essence of any democratic system. There could be no expression without these rights. Liberty of thought enables liberty of expression. Belief occupies a place higher than thought and expression. Belief of people rests on liberty of thought and expression. Placed as the three angles of a triangle, thought and expression would occupy the two corner angles on the baseline while belief would have to be placed at the upper angle. Attainment of the preambled liberties is eternally connected to the liberty of expression. (Ref. Preamble, The Spirit and Backbone of the Constitution of India, by Justice R.C. Lahoti). These valuable fundamental rights are subject to restrictions contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3), respectively. Article 19(1) was subjected to just one amendment, by the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1979, vide which Article 19(1)(f) was repealed. Since the Parliament felt the need of amending Article 19(2) of the Constitution, it was substituted by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 with retrospective effect. Article 19(2) was subjected to another amendment and vide the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963, the expression "sovereignty and integrity of India was added. The pre-amendment Article had empowered the State to make laws imposing reasonable restrictions in exercise of the rights conferred under Article 19(1)(a) in the interest of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence. To introduce a more definite dimension with regard to the sovereignty and integrity of India, this Amendment was made. It provided the right spectrum in relation to which the State could enact a law to place reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression.

12. This shows that the State has a duty to protect itself against certain unlawful actions and, therefore, may enact laws which would ensure such protection. The right that springs from Article 19(1)(a) is not absolute and unchecked. There cannot be any liberty absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation so as to confer a right wholly free from any restraint. Had there been no restraint, the rights and freedoms may become synonymous with anarchy and disorder. {Ref.: State of West Bengal Vs. Subodh Gopal Bose [AIR 1954 SC 92]}.

13. I consider it appropriate to examine the term `liberty’, which is subject to reasonable restrictions, with reference to the other constitutional rights. Article 21 is the foundation of the constitutional scheme. It grants to every person the right to life and personal liberty. This Article prescribes a negative mandate that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The procedure established by law for deprivation of rights conferred by this Article must be fair, just and reasonable. The rules of justice and fair play require that State action should neither be unjust nor unfair, lest it attracts the vice of unreasonableness, thereby vitiating the law which prescribed that procedure and, consequently, the action taken thereunder.

14. Any action taken by a public authority which is entrusted with the statutory power has, therefore, to be tested by the application of two standards – first, the action must be within the scope of the authority conferred by law and, second, it must be reasonable. If any action, within the scope of the authority conferred by law is found to be unreasonable, it means that the procedure established under which that action is taken is itself unreasonable. The concept of `procedure established by law’ changed its character after the judgment of this Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. UOI [AIR 1978 SC 597], where this Court took the view as under : "The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically is an essential element of equality or non arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of reasonableness in order to be right and just and fair and not arbitrary fanciful or oppressive otherwise it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.This was also noted in the case of Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra (1978) 3 SCC 544 where this Court took the following view:

Procedure established by law are words of deep meaning for all lovers of liberty and judicial sentinels.

15. What emerges from the above principles, which has also been followed in a catena of judgments of this Court, is that the law itself has to be reasonable and furthermore, the action under that law has to be in accordance with the law so established. Non-observance of either of this can vitiate the action, but if the former is invalid, the latter cannot withstand.

16. Article 13 is a protective provision and an index of the importance and preference that the framers of the Constitution gave to Part III. In terms of Article 13(1), the laws in force before the commencement of the Constitution, in so far as they were inconsistent with the provisions of that Part were, to the extent of such inconsistency, void. It also fettered the right of the State in making laws. The State is not to make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by this Part and if such law is made then to the extent of conflict, it would be void. In other words, except for the limitations stated in the Articles contained in Part III itself and Article 13(4) of the Constitution, this Article is the 13 reservoir of the fundamental protections available to any person/citizen.

17. While these are the guaranteed fundamental rights, Article 38, under the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution, places a constitutional obligation upon the State to strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting, as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice – social, economic and political – shall inform all the institutions of the national life. Article 37 makes the Directive Principles of State Policy fundamental in governance of the country and provides that it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.

18. With the development of law, even certain matters covered under this Part relating to Directive Principles have been uplifted to the status of fundamental rights, for instance, the right to education. Though this right forms part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, compulsory and primary education has been treated as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by the courts, which consequently led to the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010.

 19. Article 51A deals with the fundamental duties of the citizens. It, inter alia, postulates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution, to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.

20. Thus, a common thread runs through Parts III, IV and IVA of the Constitution of India. One Part enumerates the fundamental rights, the second declares the fundamental principles of governance and the third lays down the fundamental duties of the citizens. While interpreting any of these provisions, it shall always be advisable to examine the scope and impact of such interpretation on all the three constitutional aspects emerging from these parts. It is necessary to be clear about the meaning of the word "fundamental as used in the expression ;fundamental in the governance of the State to describe the directive principles which have not legally been made enforceable. Thus, the word "fundamental has been used in two different senses under our Constitution. The essential character of the fundamental rights is secured by limiting the legislative power and by providing that any transgression of the limitation would render the offending law pretendo void. The word fundamental in Article 37 also means basic or essential, but it is used in the normative sense of setting, before the State, goals which it should try to achieve. As already noticed, the significance of the fundamental principles stated in the directive principles has attained greater significance through judicial pronouncements.

21. As difficult as it is to anticipate the right to any freedom or liberty without any reasonable restriction, equally difficult it is to imagine the existence of a right not coupled with a duty. The duty may be a direct or indirect consequence of a fair assertion of the right. Part III of the Constitution of India although confers rights, still duties and restrictions are inherent thereunder. These rights are basic in nature and are recognized and guaranteed as natural rights, inherent in the status of a citizen of a free country, but are not absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation. Each one of these rights is to be controlled, curtailed and regulated, to a certain extent, by laws made by the Parliament or the State Legislature. In spite of there being a general presumption in favour of the constitutionality of a legislation under challenge alleging violation of the right to freedom guaranteed by clause (1) of Article 19 of the Constitution, on a prima facie case of such violation being made out, the onus shifts upon the State to show that the legislation comes within the permissible restrictions set out in clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 and that the particular restriction is reasonable. It is for the State to place on record appropriate material justifying the restriction and its reasonability. Reasonability of restriction is a matter which squarely falls within the power of judicial review of the Courts. Such limitations, therefore, indicate two purposes; one that the freedom is not absolute and is subject to regulatory measures and the second that there is also a limitation on the power of the legislature to restrict these freedoms. The legislature has to exercise these powers within the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

22. Further, there is a direct and not merely implied responsibility upon the Government to function openly and in public interest. The Right to Information itself emerges from the right to freedom of speech and expression. Unlike an individual, the State owns a multi-dimensional responsibility. It has to maintain and ensure security of the State as well as the social and public order. It has to give utmost regard to the right to freedom of speech and expression which a citizen or a group of citizens may assert. The State also has a duty to provide security and protection to the persons who wish to attend such assembly at the invitation of the person who is exercising his right to freedom of speech or otherwise. In the case of S. Rangarajan v. Jagjivan Ram [(1989) 2 SCC 574], this Court noticed as under : The problem of defining the area of freedom of expression when it appears to conflict with the various social interests enumerated under Article 19(2) may briefly be touched upon here. There does indeed have to be a compromise between the interest of freedom of expression and special interests. But we cannot simply balance the two interests as if they are of equal weight. Our 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 proximate and direct nexus with the expression. The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest. In other words, the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a "spark in a power keg

23. Where the Court applies the test of `proximate and direct nexus with the expression’, the Court also has to keep in mind that the restriction should be founded on the principle of least invasiveness i.e. the restriction should be imposed in a manner and to the extent which is unavoidable in a given situation. The Court would also take into consideration whether the anticipated event would or would not be intrinsically dangerous to public interest.

24. Now, I would examine the various tests that have been applied over the period of time to examine the validity and/or reasonability of the restrictions imposed upon the rights.

Upon the Rights Enshrined in the Constitution

 25. No person can be divested of his fundamental rights. They are incapable of being taken away or abridged. All that the State can do, by exercise of its legislative power, is to regulate these rights by imposition of reasonable restrictions on them. Upon an analysis of the law, the following tests emerge:-

a) The restriction can be imposed only by or under the authority of law. It cannot be imposed by exercise of executive power without any law to back it up.

b) Each restriction must be reasonable.

c) A restriction must be related to the purpose mentioned in Article 19(2).

 26. The questions before the Court, thus, are whether the restriction imposed was reasonable and whether the purported purpose of the same squarely fell within the relevant clauses discussed above. The legislative determination of what restriction to impose on a freedom is final and conclusive, as it is not open to judicial review. The judgments of this Court have been consistent in taking the view that it is difficult to define or explain the word "reasonable" with any precision. It will always be dependent on the facts of a given case with reference to the law which has been enacted to create a restriction on the right. It is neither possible nor advisable to state any abstract standard or general pattern of reasonableness as applicable uniformly to all cases. This Court in the case of State of Madras v. V.G. Row [AIR 1952 SC 196] held :- "It is important in this context to bear in mind that the test of reasonableness, whereever prescribed, should be applied to each individual statute impugned, and no abstract standard or general pattern of reasonableness, can be laid down as applicable to all cases.

27. For adjudging the reasonableness of a restriction, factors such as the duration and extent of the restrictions, the circumstances under which and the manner in which that imposition has been authorized, the nature of the right infringed, the underlining purpose of the restrictions imposed, the extent and urgency of the evil sought to be remedied thereby, the disproportion of the imposition, the prevailing conditions at the time, amongst others, enter into the judicial verdict. [See: ChintamanraoAnr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1951 SC 118)].

 28. The courts must bear a clear distinction in mind with regard to `restriction’ and `prohibition’. They are expressions which cannot be used inter-changeably as they have different connotations and consequences in law. Wherever a `prohibition’ is imposed, besides satisfying all the tests of a reasonable `restriction’, it must also satisfy the requirement that any lesser alternative would be inadequate. Furthermore, whether a restriction, in effect, amounts to a total prohibition or not, is a question of fact which has to be determined with regard to facts and circumstances of each case. This Court in the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat and Others [(2005) 8 SCC 534] held as under:- "75. Three propositions are well settled: (i) ‘restriction’ includes cases of ‘prohibition’; (ii) the standard for judging reasonability of restriction or restriction amounting to prohibition remains the same, excepting that a total prohibition must also satisfy the test that a lesser alternative would be inadequate; and (iii) whether a restriction in effect amounts to a total prohibition is a question of fact which shall have to be determined with regard to the facts and circumstances of each case, the ambit of the right and the effect of the restriction upon the exercise of that right…..

29. The obvious result of the above discussion is that a restriction imposed in any form has to be reasonable and to that extent, it must stand the scrutiny of judicial review. It cannot be arbitrary or excessive. It must possess a direct and proximate nexus with the object sought to be achieved. Whenever and wherever any restriction is imposed upon the right to freedom of speech and expression, it must be within the framework of the prescribed law, as subscribed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

 30. As already noticed, rights, restrictions and duties co-exist. As, on the one hand, it is necessary to maintain and preserve the freedom of speech and expression in a democracy, there, on the other, it is also necessary to place reins on this freedom for the maintenance of social order. The term `social order’ has a very wide ambit. It includes `law and order’, `public order’ as well as `the security of the State’. The security of the State is the core subject and public order as well as law and order follow the same. In the case of Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras [1950 SCR 594], this Court took the view that local breaches of public order were no grounds for restricting the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. This led to the Constitutional (First Amendment) Act, 1951 and consequently, this Court in the case of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar [AIR 1966 SC 740] stated that an activity which affects `law and order’ may not necessarily affect `public order’ and an activity which might be prejudicial to `public order’ may not necessarily affect `security of the State’. Absence of `public order’ is an aggravated form of disturbance of public peace which affects the general current of public life. Any act which merely affects the security of others may not constitute a breach of `public order’.

31. The expression `in the interest of’ has given a wide amplitude to the permissible law which can be enacted to impose reasonable restrictions on the rights guaranteed by Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

 32. There has to be a balance and proportionality between the right and restriction on the one hand, and the right and duty, on the other. It will create an imbalance, if undue or disproportionate emphasis is placed upon the right of a citizen without considering the significance of the duty. The true source of right is duty. When the courts are called upon to examine the reasonableness of a legislative restriction on exercise of a freedom, the fundamental duties enunciated under Article 51A are of relevant consideration. Article 51A requires an individual to abide by the law, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence. It also requires the individual to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country. All these duties are not insignificant. Part IV of the Constitution relates to the Directive Principles of the State Policy. Article 38 was introduced in the Constitution as an obligation upon the State to maintain social order for promotion of welfare of the people. By the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, Article 51A was added to comprehensively state the fundamental duties of the citizens to compliment the obligations of the State. Thus, all these duties are of constitutional significance. It is obvious that the Parliament realized the need for inserting the fundamental duties as a part of the Indian Constitution and required every citizen of India to adhere to those duties. Thus, it will be difficult for any Court to exclude from its consideration any of the above-mentioned Articles of the Constitution while examining the validity or otherwise of any restriction relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression available to a citizen under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The restriction placed on a fundamental right would have to be examined with reference to the concept of fundamental duties and non-interference with liberty of others. Therefore, a restriction on the right to assemble and raise protest has also to be examined on similar parameters and values. In other words, when you assert your right, you must respect the freedom of others. Besides imposition of a restriction by the State, the non-interference with liberties of others is an essential condition for assertion of the right to freedom of speech and expression. In the case of Dr. D.C. Saxena v. Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India [(1996) 5 SCC 216], this Court held:

If maintenance of democracy is the foundation for free speech, society equally is entitled to regulate freedom of speech or expression by democratic action. The reason is obvious, viz., that society accepts free speech and expression and also puts limits on the right of the majority. Interest of the people involved in the acts of expression should be looked at not only from the perspective of the speaker but also the place at which he speaks, the scenario, the audience, the reaction of the publication, the purpose of the speech and the place and the forum in which the citizen exercises his freedom of speech and expression. The State has legitimate interest, therefore, to regulate the freedom of speech and expression which liberty represents the limits of the duty of restraint on speech or expression not to utter defamatory or libellous speech or expression. There is a correlative duty not to interfere with the liberty of others. Each is entitled to dignity of person and of reputation. Nobody has a right to denigrate others’ right to person or reputation. Therefore, freedom of speech and expression is tolerated so long as it is not malicious or libellous, so that all attempts to foster and ensure orderly and peaceful public discussion or public good should result from free speech in the market-place. If such speech or expression was untrue and so reckless as to its truth, the speaker or the author does not get protection of the constitutional right.

33. Every right has a corresponding duty. Part III of the Constitution of India although confers rights and duties, restrictions are inherent thereunder. Reasonable regulations have been found to be contained in the provisions of Part III of the Constitution of India, apart from clauses (2) to (4) and (6) of Article 19 of the Constitution {See Union of India v. Naveen Jindal and Anr. [(2004) 2 SCC 510]}.

34. As I have already discussed, the restriction must be provided by law in a manner somewhat distinct to the term `due process of law’ as contained in Article 21 of the Constitution. If the orders passed by the Executive are backed by a valid and effective law, the restriction imposed thereby is likely to withstand the test of reasonableness, which requires it to be free of arbitrariness, to have a direct nexus to the object and to be proportionate to the right restricted as well as the requirement of the society, for example, an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. This order is passed on the strength of a valid law enacted by the Parliament. The order is passed by an executive authority declaring that at a given place or area, more than five persons cannot assemble and hold a public meeting. There is a complete channel provided for examining the correctness or otherwise of such an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. and, therefore, it has been held by this Court in a catena of decisions that such order falls within the framework of reasonable restriction.

35. The distinction between `public order’ and `law and order’ is a fine one, but nevertheless clear. A restriction imposed with `law and order’ in mind would be least intruding into the guaranteed freedom while `public order’ may qualify for a greater degree of restriction since public order is a matter of even greater social concern. Out of all expressions used in this regard, as discussed in the earlier part of this judgment, `security of the state’ is the paramount and the State can impose restrictions upon the freedom, which may comparatively be more stringent than those imposed in relation to maintenance of `public order’ and `law and order’. However stringent may these restrictions be, they must stand the test of `reasonability’. The State would have to satisfy the Court that the imposition of such restrictions is not only in the interest of the security of the State but is also within the framework of Articles 19(2) and 19(3) of the Constitution.

36. It is keeping this distinction in mind, the Legislature, under Section 144 Cr.P.C., has empowered the District Magistrate, Sub- Divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate, specially empowered in this behalf, to direct any person to abstain from doing a certain act or to take action as directed, where sufficient ground for proceeding under this Section exists and immediate prevention and/or speedy remedy is desirable. By virtue of Section 144A Cr.P.C., which itself was introduced by Act 25 of 2005, the District Magistrate has been empowered to pass an order prohibiting, in any area within the local limits of his jurisdiction, the carrying of arms in any procession or the organizing or holding of any mass drill or mass training with arms in any public place, where it is necessary for him to do so for the preservation of public peace, public safety or maintenance of the public order. Section 144 Cr.P.C, therefore, empowers an executive authority, backed by these provisions, to impose reasonable restrictions vis-`-vis the fundamental rights. The provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. provide for a complete mechanism to be followed by the Magistrate concerned and also specify the limitation of time till when such an order may remain in force. It also prescribes the circumstances that are required to be taken into consideration by the said authority while passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C.

37. In Babu Lal Parate (supra) where this Court was concerned with the contention raised on behalf of the union of workers that the order passed in anticipation by the Magistrate under Section 144 Cr.P.C. was an encroachment on their rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b), it was held that the provisions of the Section, which commit the power in this regard to a Magistrate belonging to any of the classes referred to therein cannot be regarded as unreasonable. While examining the law in force in the United States, the Court further held that an anticipatory action of the kind permissible under Section 144 Cr.P.C. is not impermissible within the ambit of clauses (2) and (3) of Article 19. Public order has to be maintained at all times, particularly prior to any event and, therefore, it is competent for the legislature to pass a law permitting the appropriate authority to take anticipatory action or to place anticipatory restrictions upon particular kind of acts in an emergency for the purpose of maintaining public order.

38. In the case of Madhu Limaye v. Sub Divisional Magistrate and Ors. [AIR 1971 SC 2481], a Constitution Bench of this Court took the following view:

 The procedure to be followed is next stated. Under Sub-section (2) if time does not permit or the order cannot be served, it can be made ex parte. Under Sub-section (3) the order may be directed to a particular individual or to the public generally when frequenting or visiting a particular place. Under sub-section (4) the Magistrate may either suo motu or on an application by an aggrieved person, rescind or alter the order whether his own or by a Magistrate subordinate to him or made by his predecessor in Office. Under Sub-section (5) where the magistrate is moved by a person aggrieved he must hear him so that he may show cause against the order and if the Magistrate rejects wholly or in part the application, he must record his reasons in writing. This sub-section is mandatory. An order by the Magistrate does not remain in force after two months from the making thereof but the State Government may, however, extend the period by a notification in the Gazette but, only in cases of danger to human life, health or safety or where there is a likelihood of a riot or an affray. But the second portion of the sub-section was declared violative of Article 19 in State of Bihar v. K.K. Misra [1969] S.C.R. 337. It may be pointed out here that disobedience of an order lawfully promulgated is made an offence by Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, if such disobedience causes obstruction, annoyance or injury to persons lawfully employed. It is punishable with simple imprisonment for one month or fine of Rs. 200 or both.

25. The gist of action under Section 144 is the urgency of the situation, its efficacy in the likelihood of being able to prevent some harmful occurrences. As it is possible to act absolutely and even ex parte it is obvious that the emergency must be sudden and the consequences sufficiently grave. Without it the exercise of power would have no justification. It is not an ordinary power flowing from administration but a power used in a judicial manner and which can stand further judicial scrutiny in the need for the exercise of the power, in its efficacy and in the extent of its application. There is no general proposition that an order under Section 144, Criminal Procedure Code cannot be passed without taking evidence : see Mst. Jagrupa Kumari v. Chotay Narain Singh (1936) 37 Cri.L.J. 95 (Pat) which in our opinion is correct in laying down this proposition. These fundamental facts emerge from the way the occasions for the exercise of the power are mentioned. Disturbances of public tranquility, riots and affray lead to subversion of public order unless they are prevented in time. Nuisances dangerous to human life, health or safety have no doubt to be abated and prevented. We are, however, not concerned with this part of the section and the validity of this part need not be decided here. In so far as the other parts of the section are concerned the key-note of the power is to free society from menace of serious disturbances of a grave character. The section is directed against those who attempt to prevent the exercise of legal rights by others or imperil the public safety and health. If that be so the matter must fall within the restrictions which the Constitution itself visualises as permissible in the interest of public order, or in the interest of the general public. We may say, however, that annoyance must assume sufficiently grave proportions to bring the matter within interests of public order.

 26. The criticism, however, is that the section suffers from over broadness and the words of the section are wide enough to give an absolute power which may be exercised in an unjustifiable case and then there would be no remedy except to ask the Magistrate to cancel the order which he may not do. Revision against his determination to the High Court may prove illusory because before the High Court can intervene the mischief will be done. Therefore, it is submitted that an inquiry should precede the making of the order. In other words, the burden should not be placed upon the person affected to clear his position. Further the order may be so general as to affect not only a particular party but persons who are innocent, as for example when there is an order banning meetings, processions, playing of music etc.

27. The effect of the order being in the interest of public order and the interests of the general public, occasions may arise when it is not possible to distinguish between those whose conduct must be controlled and those whose conduct is clear. As was pointed out in Babulal Parate case where two rival trade unions clashed and it was difficult to say whether a person belonged to one of the unions or to the general public, an order restricting the activities of the general public in the particular area was justified.

28. …A general order may be necessary when the number of persons is so large that distinction between them and the general public cannot be made without the risks mentioned in the section. A general order is thus justified but if the action is too general the order may be questioned by appropriate remedies for which there is ample provision in the law. In the case of Himat Lal K. Shah v. Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad & Anr. [(1973) 1 SCC 227], again a Constitution Bench of this Court, while dealing with a situation where a person seeking permission to hold a public meeting was denied the same on the ground that under another similar permission, certain elements had indulged in rioting and caused mischief to private and public properties, held Rule 7 framed under the Bombay Police Act, 1951 as being arbitrary and observed as under :.It is not surprising that the Constitution makers conferred a fundamental right on all citizens ‘to assemble peaceably and without arms’. While prior to the coming into force of the Constitution the right to assemble could have been abridged or taken away by law, now that cannot be done except by imposing reasonable restrictions within Article 19(3). But it is urged that the right to assemble does not mean that that right can be exercised at any and every place. This Court held in Railway Board v. Narinjan Singh (1969) 3 SCR 548; 554 : (1969)1 SCC 502 that there is no fundamental right for any one to hold meetings in government premises. It was observed: `The fact that the citizens of this country have freedom of speech, freedom to assemble peaceably and freedom to form associations or unions does not mean that they can exercise those freedoms in whatever place they please’.

 40. Section 144 Cr.P.C. is intended to serve public purpose and protect public order. This power vested in the executive is to be invoked after the satisfaction of the authority that there is need for immediate prevention or that speedy remedy is desirable and directions as contemplated are necessary to protect the interest of others or to prevent danger to human life, health or safety or disturbance of public tranquility or a riot or an affray. These features must co-exist at a given point of time in order to enable the authority concerned to pass appropriate orders. The expression `law and order’ is a comprehensive expression which may include not merely `public order’ but also matters such as `public peace’, `public tranquility’ and `orderliness’ in a locality or a local area and perhaps some other matters of public concern too. `Public order’ is something distinct from order or orderliness in a local area. Public order, if disturbed, must lead to public disorder whereas every breach of peace may not always lead to public disorder. This concept came to be illustratively explained in the judgment of this Court in the case of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia (supra) wherein it was held that when two drunkards quarrel and fight, there is `disorder’ but not `public disorder’. They can be dealt with under the powers to maintain `law and order’ but cannot be detained on the ground that they were disturbing `public order’. However, where the two persons fighting were of rival communities and one of them tried to raise communal passions, the problem is still one of `law and order’ but it raises the apprehension of public disorder. The main distinction is that where it affects the community or public at large, it will be an issue relatable to `public order’. Section 144 Cr.P.C. empowers passing of such order in the interest of public order equitable to public safety and tranquility. The provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. empowering the authorities to pass orders to tend to or to prevent the disturbances of public tranquility is not ultra vires the Constitution.

 41. In the case of State of Karnataka v. Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia, [(2004) 4 SCC 684], this Court, while observing that each person, whatever be his religion, must get the assurance from the State that he has the protection of law freely to profess, practice and propagate his religion and the freedom of conscience, held more emphatically that the courts should not normally interfere with matters relating to law and order which is primarily the domain of the concerned administrative authorities. They are by and large the best to assess and handle the situation depending upon the peculiar needs and necessities within their special knowledge.

42. The scope of Section 144 Cr.P.C. enumerates the principles and declares the situations where exercise of rights recognized by law, by one or few, may conflict with other rights of the public or tend to endanger the public peace, tranquility and/or harmony. The orders passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attempted to serve larger public interest and purpose. As already noticed, under the provisions of the Cr.P.C. complete procedural mechanism is provided for examining the need and merits of an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. If one reads the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. along with other constitutional provisions and the judicial pronouncements of this Court, it can undisputedly be stated that Section 144 Cr.P.C. is a power to be exercised by the specified authority to prevent disturbance of public order, tranquility and harmony by taking immediate steps and when desirable, to take such preventive measures. Further, when there exists freedom of rights which are subject to reasonable restrictions, there are contemporaneous duties cast upon the citizens too. The duty to maintain law and order lies on the concerned authority and, thus, there is nothing unreasonable in making it the initial judge of the emergency. All this is coupled with a fundamental duty upon the citizens to obey such lawful orders as well as to extend their full cooperation in maintaining public order and tranquility.

43. The concept of orderly conduct leads to a balance for assertion of a right to freedom. In the case of Feiner v. New York (1951) 340 U.S. 315, the Supreme Court of the United States of America dealt with the matter where a person had been convicted for an offence of disorderly conduct for making derogatory remarks concerning various persons including the President, political dignitaries and other local political officials during his speech, despite warning by the Police officers to stop the said speech. The Court, noticing the condition of the crowd as well as the refusal by the petitioner to obey the Police requests, found that the conduct of the convict was in violation of public peace and order and the authority did not exceed the bounds of proper state Police action, held as under: It is one thing to say that the Police cannot be used as an instrument for the suppression of unpopular views, and another to say that, when as here the speaker passes the bounds of arguments or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot, they are powerless to prevent a breach of the peace. Nor in this case can we condemn the considered judgment of three New York courts approving the means which the Police, faced with a crisis, used in the exercise of their power and duty to preserve peace and order. The findings of the state courts as to the existing situation and the imminence of greater disorder couples with petitioner’s deliberate defiance of the Police officers convince us that we should not reverse this conviction in the name of free speech.

44. Another important precept of exercise of power in terms of Section 144 Cr.P.C. is that the right to hold meetings in public places is subject to control of the appropriate authority regarding the time and place of the meeting. Orders, temporary in nature, can be passed to prohibit the meeting or to prevent an imminent breach of peace. Such orders constitute reasonable restriction upon the freedom of speech and expression. This view has been followed consistently by this Court. To put it with greater clarity, it can be stated that the content is not the only concern of the controlling authority but the time and place of the meeting is also well within its jurisdiction. If the authority anticipates an imminent threat to public order or public tranquility, it would be free to pass desirable directions within the parameters of reasonable restrictions on the freedom of an individual. However, it must be borne in mind that the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attracted only in emergent situations. The emergent power is to be exercised for the purposes of maintaining public order. It was stated by this Court in Romesh Thapar (supra) that the Constitution requires a line to be drawn in the field of public order and tranquility, marking off, may be roughly, the boundary between those serious and aggravated forms of public disorder which are calculated to endanger the security of the State and the relatively minor breaches of peace of a purely local significance, treating for this purpose differences in degree as if they were different in kind. The significance of factors such as security of State and maintenance of public order is demonstrated by the mere fact that the framers of the Constitution provided these as distinct topics of legislation in Entry III of the Concurrent List of Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.

45. Moreover, an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. being an order which has a direct consequence of placing a restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to assemble peaceably, should be an order in writing and based upon material facts of the case. This would be the requirement of law for more than one reason. Firstly, it is an order placing a restriction upon the fundamental rights of a citizen and, thus, may adversely affect the interests of the parties, and secondly, under the provisions of the Cr.P.C., such an order is revisable and is subject to judicial review. Therefore, it will be appropriate that it must be an order in writing, referring to the facts and stating the reasons for imposition of such restriction. In the case of Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia (supra), this Court took the view that the Court, while dealing with such orders, does not act like an appellate authority over the decision of the official concerned. It would interfere only where the order is patently illegal and without jurisdiction or with ulterior motive and on extraneous consideration of political victimization by those in power. Normally, interference should be the exception and not the rule.

46. A bare reading of Section 144 Cr.P.C. shows that : (1) It is an executive power vested in the officer so empowered; (2) There must exist sufficient ground for proceeding; (3) Immediate prevention or speedy remedy is desirable; and (4) An order, in writing, should be passed stating the material facts and be served the same upon the concerned person.

47. These are the basic requirements for passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. Such an order can be passed against an individual or persons residing in a particular place or area or even against the public in general. Such an order can remain in force, not in excess of two months. The Government has the power to revoke such an order and wherever any person moves the Government for revoking such an order, the State Government is empowered to pass an appropriate order, after hearing the person in accordance with Sub-section (3) of Section 144 Cr.P.C. Out of the aforestated requirements, the requirements of existence of sufficient ground and need for immediate prevention or speedy remedy is of prime significance. In this context, the perception of the officer recording the desired/contemplated satisfaction has to be reasonable, least invasive and bona fide. The restraint has to be reasonable and further must be minimal. Such restraint should not be allowed to exceed the constraints of the particular situation either in nature or in duration. The most onerous duty that is cast upon the empowered officer by the legislature is that the perception of threat to public peace and tranquility should be real and not quandary, imaginary or a mere likely possibility. This Court in the case of Babulal Parate (supra) had clearly stated the following view : "the language of Section 144 is somewhat different. The test laid down in the Section is not merely `likelihood’ or `tendency’. The section says that the magistrate must be satisfied that immediate prevention of particular acts is necessary to counteract danger to public safety etc. The power conferred by the section is exercisable not only where present danger exists but is exercisable also when there is an apprehension of danger.

48. The above-stated view of the Constitution Bench is the unaltered state of law in our country. However, it needs to be specifically mentioned that the `apprehension of danger’ is again what can inevitably be gathered only from the circumstances of a given case.

49. Once an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. is passed, it is expected of all concerned to implement the said order unless it has been rescinded or modified by a forum of competent jurisdiction. Its enforcement has legal consequences. One of such consequences would be the dispersement of an unlawful assembly and, if necessitated, by using permissible force. An assembly which might have lawfully assembled would be termed as an `unlawful assembly’ upon the passing and implementation of such a preventive order. The empowered officer is also vested with adequate powers to direct the dispersement of such assembly. In this direction, he may even take the assistance of concerned officers and armed forces for the purposes of dispersing such an assembly. Furthermore, the said officer has even been vested with the powers of arresting and confining the persons and, if necessary, punishing them in accordance with law in terms of Section 129 Cr.P.C. An order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. would have an application to an `actual’ unlawful assembly as well as a `potential’ unlawful assembly. This is precisely the scope of application and enforcement of an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C.

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“When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter.”

Supreme Court of India

Chief Justice of India Shri S H Kapadia- Speech on the ocassion of Law Day 2011

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.

CONCLUSION :

B. R. Ambedkar delivering a speech to a rally ...

Image via Wikipedia

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.”

National Law Day: Two Constitutional Scholars who upheld the values of our Constitution

Supreme Court of India

PUBLISHED IN THE BAR AND BENCH 

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 that the 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.

http://www.barandbench.com/brief/2/1867/national-law-day-two-constitutional-scholars-who-upheld-the-values-of-our-constitution

Media and issues of responsibility

THE HINDU

The Indian media display certain defects. These should ideally be addressed and corrected in a democratic manner. But if the media prove incorrigible, harsh measures may be called for. The time has come when some introspection by the Indian media is required. Many people, not only those in authority but even ordinary people, have started saying that the media have become irresponsible and wayward, and need to be reined in.

Only a couple of days back I read in the newspapers that the Union government has issued some regulations regarding licences for news channels, to which there was a lot of reaction. Under the Constitution of India, freedom of the media is part of the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a). However, no freedom can be absolute, and reasonable restrictions can be placed on it. One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to the people that will enable them to form rational opinions, which is a sine qua non in a democracy. But are the Indian media performing this role properly?

I may only mention certain defects in the functioning of the India media today.

Twisting facts

One of the defects is that the media often twist facts. I would like to give an example.

One day, a leading English newspaper published on its front page a photograph of Justice Gyan Sudha Misra of the Supreme Court with the caption: “Supreme Court Judge says that her daughters are liabilities.” This was a distorted and fallacious item of news, published on the front page.

Supreme Court Judges have to disclose their assets and liabilities. Against the liabilities column, Justice Misra had written: “two daughters to be married.” Strictly speaking, it was not necessary to mention this because liabilities mean legal liabilities, for example, housing loan, car loan, and so on. Justice Misra’s intention was obviously to say that she would have to spend on her daughters’ future marriage. She has three daughters (no son), only one of whom has been married. Justice Misra never said, nor intended to say, that her daughters were liabilities. The news was false and defamatory, with the obvious intention of creating a sensation.

Paid news

A second defect concerns the issue of paid news that has become prominent of late. In the 2009 elections, it was a scandal. How this vicious practice could be stopped needs to be discussed. Incidentally, in compliance with an order of the Chief Information Commissioner dated September 19, 2011, we have placed the 71-page report of the Committee consisting of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Sreenivas Reddy on our website, http://www.presscouncil.nic.in with the disclaimer that the Press Council had rejected this report at its meeting held on April 26, 2010.

Non-issues as real issues

A third defect is that the media often portray non-issues as real issues, while the real issues are sidelined. The real issues in India are economic, that is, the terrible economic conditions in which 80 per cent of our people are living, the poverty, unemployment, lack of housing and medical care and so on. Instead of addressing these real issues, the media often try to divert the attention of people to non-issues. Such as that the wife of a film actor has become pregnant, whether she will give birth to a single child or to twins, and so on. Are these the real issues facing the nation?

At a Lakme India Fashion Week event, there were 512 accredited journalists covering the event in which models were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves at a distance of an hour’s flight from Nagpur, in the Vidharbha region. Nobody told that story, except one or two journalists, locally.

Is this a responsible way for the Indian media to function? Should the media turn a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities facing over 75 per cent of our people, and concentrate on some ‘Potemkin villages‘ where all is glamour and show biz? Are not the Indian media behaving much like Queen Marie Antoinette, who said that if the people had no bread, they should eat cake?

No doubt, sometimes the media mention farmers’ suicides, the rise in the price of essential commodities, and so on, but such coverage is at most 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the total. The bulk of the coverage goes to showing the life of film stars, pop music, fashion parades, cricket and astrology.

Tendency to brand

Here is a fourth defect. Bomb blasts have taken place near the Delhi High Court, in Mumbai, Bangalore and so on. Within a few hours of such a bomb blast, many TV channels started showing news items that said that the Indian Mujahideen or the Jaish-e-Mohammed or the Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islam had sent e-mails or text messages claiming responsibility. The names of such alleged organisations will always be Muslim ones. Now, an e-mail can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV channels and the next day in the newspapers, the tendency is to brand all Muslims as terrorists and bomb-throwers.

The truth is that 99 per cent of the people of all communities, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, and of whatever caste or region, are good. But the manner in which such news is shown on TV screens and published in newspapers tends to create the impression that all Muslims are terrorists, and evil — which is totally false. The person who sends such e-mails or text messages obviously wants to create hatred between Hindus and Muslims, which is the old British divide-and-rule policy continuing even today. Should the media, wittingly or unwittingly, become part of this policy of divide-and-rule?

No doubt there are defects not only in the media but in other institutions also, for example, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and so on.

There are two ways to remove these defects in the media. One is the democratic way, that is, through discussions, consultations and persuasion — which is the method I prefer. The other way is by using harsh measures against the media, for example, by imposing heavy fines on defaulters, stopping government advertisements to them, suspending their licences, and so on.

In a democracy we should first try the first method to rectify the defects through the democratic method. For this purpose, I have decided to have regular get-togethers with the media, including the electronic media, so that we can all introspect and ourselves find out ways and means to rectify the defects in the media, rather than this being done by some government authority or external agency.

I propose to have such get-togethers once every two or three months, at which we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to think of how we can improve the performance of the media so that it may win the respect and confidence of the people.

If the media prove incorrigible, harsh measures may be required. But in my opinion, that should be done only as a last resort and in extreme situations. Ordinarily, we should first try to resolve issues through discussion, consultation and self-regulation. That is the approach which should be first tried in a democracy. I, therefore, request the Union government to defer the implementation of its recent decision regarding news channel licences, so that we can ourselves discuss the issue thoroughly, and ourselves take corrective measures.

Till now the function of the Press Council was only adjudication. I intend to make the Press Council an instrument of mediation in addition, which is in my opinion the democratic approach. For this purpose, I need help, cooperation and advice from the media.

India is passing through a transitional period in its history, from a feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period. The media must help society in going through this transitional period as quickly as possible, and by reducing the pain involved. This they can do by attacking feudal ideas, for example, casteism and communalism, and promoting modern scientific ideas.

(This is the edited text of a speech delivered by Justice (retired) Markandey Katju, the new Chairman of the Press Council of India, on October 10 at a get-together with mediapersons at his residence in New Delhi. The full text is available at www.thehindu.com)

SOURCE: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2559712.ece

Sex Workers Rehabilitation Case latest orders of the Honourable Supreme Court of India

This case was initially a criminal appeal, but later was converted into a Public Interest Litigation suo motu by our order dated 14th February, 2011. By that order we dismissed the criminal appeal of the appellant and upheld his conviction. However, we were of the opinion that the problems of sex workers required urgent attention by this Court. Hence, we proceeded thereafter to continue with the case as a Public Interest Litigation and passed several orders    thereon,     including      an       order   dated     19.07.2011 setting up a Panel with Mr. Pradip Ghosh, Senior Advocate, as its Chairman.

Today, the case has been listed again before us and a Third    Interim     Report   dated  12.09.2011 of     the   Panel appointed by our order dated 19.07.2011 has been filed before us by the Chairman of the Panel Mr. Pradip Ghosh, learned senior counsel.

From a perusal of the report submitted by the Panel report it appears that the Panel has been doing very good and sincere work in connection with the task which we have entrusted to it. The Panel has taken great pains and has held    regular   meetings   to     discuss      the    problem   of    sex workers. We have earlier pointed out in one of our orders that the problem of sex workers cannot be resolved in a very short time and will require long, patient effort. 

Our  initial aim was to create awareness in the public that sex workers are not bad girls, but they are in this profession      due    to    poverty. No   girl    would   ordinarily enjoy this kind of work, but she is compelled to do it for    sheer   survival.       Most     sex    workers   come   from    poor families,   they    are    subjected       to   ill    treatment   by    the owners of the brothels, they are often beaten, not givenproper food or medical treatment, and made to do this degrading work. Probably much of the money paid by their customers is taken away by others.

 We are happy to note that the Panel has set about its task in right earnest, and is considering ways and means to implement our ideas so that the sex workers can get some technical training through  which they can earn their livelihood and thus lead a life of dignity which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India

In the Third Interim Report the Panel has prayed for the following :-

(a)    An appropriate order directing the State Governments and the Local Authorities to issue Ration Cards to the sex workers treating them as persons in special category and relaxing the rigours of the Rules/requirements regarding the verification   of   their   address   and without mentioning their profession in the Card;

 (b) An appropriate order be made directing the Central Government and the Election Commission to issue Voter’s Identity Cards to the sex workers in relaxation of the rules/requirements in that behalf and without insisting on strict proof of their address/profession and without specifying their profession on the face of the Card;

(c.) An order be made directing the Central Government and the State Governments to ensure that the admission of the children of sex workers     in appropriate classes in the Government schools and Government sponsored schools and the schools run   by   the   Municipal   and  District   level authorities is not hampered in any way, because of their impaired social status.

(d) An appropriate order be made directing the Central Government to suitably alter and widen the UJWALA Scheme within a period of six months as directed by order dated 24.08.2011 (vide paragraph 26 of the said order) made in this matter.

(e) An order or direction be made to the effect hat the amount paid or to be paid by the Central Government, State Governments and the Union     Territories to the Secretary General of this Hon’ble   Court  as   directed   by  order   dated 24.08.2011, be deposited in the Bank Account of the Panel in the UCO Bank Supreme Court Compound Branch, in the name of “Panel Appointed by Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No. 135/2011”      to be     operated jointly by the Chairman of the Panel Mr. Pradip Ghosh and Mr. Jayant Bhusan, a member of the Panel, in terms of the order dated     24.08.2011.

(f) Such appropriate orders as may be deemed fit  and proper be made, for compliance by the Central Government of the earlier order made by the     Hon’ble Court on 24.08.2011 with regard to office accommodation, secretarial staff assistance and furnishing     the     office    with    necessary infrastructure and to furnish report of compliance  in this Hon’ble Court within a period to be fixed by the Hon’ble Court.”

 We are of the opinion that the suggestions of the Panel are   good      suggestions. Sex   workers    face     great difficulty      in   getting       ration      cards,    voter’s     identity cards or in opening bank accounts, etc. We are of the opinion that the authorities should see to it that sex workers do not face these difficulties as they are also citizens of India and have the same fundamental rights as others.

We, therefore, recommend that the suggestions made by the Panel in its Third Interim Report (which has been quoted above) shall be seriously taken into consideration by the Central Government, the State Governments and other authorities      and      hence    all    efforts       shall   be   made    to implement these suggestions expeditiously. If there is any difficulty in implementing them, then on the next date we should be told about such difficulty.

Needless to    say,     without      a   proper     office      and infrastructure the Panel will not be able to discharge its duties properly. We, therefore, again request the Central Government and the State Government of Delhi to do the needful in this connection expeditiously.

 We are informed that in pursuance of our order dated 24.08.2011 the  Central Government has deposited a sum of Rs. 10 Lakh with the Secretary General of this Court. Some of the States/Union Territories have made payment as directed   by   us.   However,   some   of   the   States/Union Territories are yet to make payment. We direct that those States or Union Territories which have not yet made payment shall make payment within three weeks from today (except those which have no sex workers).

We further direct that the amount deposited with the Secretary General of this Court shall be transferred to the account of the Panel in the UCO Bank, Supreme Court Compound Branch in Savings A/C No. 02070210000939.

List this case on 15.11.2011 by which time another report shall be submitted by the Panel. We hope and trust that the recommendations made by the Panel will be implemented by then by the concerned authorities.

J   (MARKANDEY KATJU)

J (GYAN SUDHA MISRA)

Mercy plea or Lokayukta: Can Prez and guv act in personal capacity?

Canon outside the entrance to Rashtrapati Bhaw...

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DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Recent decisions by constitutional heads – rejection of mercy petitions in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case by the President and the Gujarat governor’s decision to appoint Lokayukta – have caused debates both on constitutional and political lines.

The Constitution vests sovereign power in the President and governors. Governance in the Centre and states are carried out in their name. But they do not have unbridled power to decide mercy petitions in exercise of exclusive powers conferred on them under Articles 72 and 161. They have to act in aid and advice of the council of ministers, both at the Union and state levels, as have been held conclusively by the SC. The SC had grudgingly agreed with Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, who had said, “Pardon is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is part of a constitutional scheme. When granted, it is the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.”

So, the President by rejecting the mercy pleas has, on the aid and advice of the Union council of ministers, come to the conclusion that public welfare would not be served by reducing the punishments awarded to the convicts. The Constitution does not provide for any mechanism to question the legality of decisions of President or governors exercising mercy jurisdiction. But the SC in Epuru Sudhakar case has given a small window for judicial review of the pardon powers of President and governors for the purpose of ruling out any arbitrariness.

Now, it is in the process of examining whether there should be a time limit for deciding mercy petitions, which keep pending for years inflicting mental torture on condemned prisoners awaiting their day. The question of the President and governors, conferred with wide powers under the Constitution, acting in their own capacity without consulting the elected government came in for wide discussion in Shamsher Singh case [1975 SCR (1) 814].

A 7-judge constitution bench was amused by the ingenious arguments by a counsel supporting vesting of discretionary powers with President and governors to step around the SC’s consistent view that India has accepted the Cabinet form of government.

The counsel argued – wherever the Constitution has expressly vested powers in the President or the governors, they belong to them alone and cannot be handled on their behalf by ministers under the relevant rules of business. It is similar to the arguments justifying Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal‘s decision to appoint Lokayukta without consulting the chief minister.

The SC had answered this question by saying, “How ambitious and subversive such an interpretation can be to parliamentary (and popular) authority unfolds itself when we survey the wide range of vital powers so enunciated in the Constitution. Indeed, a whole host of such Articles exist in the Constitution, most of them very vital for the daily running of the administration and embracing executive, emergency and legislative powers either of a routine or momentous nature.”Discussing the governors, the court said they had “power to grant pardon or to remit sentence, the power to make appointments including of the chief minister, the advocate general, district judges, members of the public service commission”.

It listed such kind of power vested in the President – supreme commander of the armed forces, appointment of judges of the SC and HCs, power to dismiss a state government under Article 356 and an entire army of public servants who continue in service at the pleasure of the President. If President and governors acted on their own, then parliamentary democracy “will become a dope and national elections a numerical exercise in expensive futility”, the court had warned.

The 7-judge bench said if this was true of Indian Constitution and the system of governance, then “we will be compelled to hold that there are two parallel authorities exercising powers of governance of country, as in the dyarchy days, except Whitehall is substituted by Rashtrapati Bhawan and Raj Bhawan. The Cabinet will shrink in political and administrative authority”.

It said such a distortion “would virtually amount to a subversion of the structure, substance and vitality of our Republic, particularly when we remember that governors are but appointed functionaries and the President himself elected on a limited indirect basis”.

Irrespective of who gets appointed and who gets pardon, let politicians not introduce politics into the constitutional scheme, the thread that keeps the country united. In case of Gujarat, there is a difference- the statute clearly provided that Lokayukta will be appointed by the governor in consultation with the chief justice of the HC. The Modi government can amend the statute, which on Shamsher Singh judgment logic, appears untenable. But as long as it is there, why does the BJP want the Modi government to have primacy in Lokayukta appointment but grandstands for an independent process for Lokpal?

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Mercy-plea-or-Lokayukta-Can-Prez-and-guv-act-in-personal-capacity/articleshow/9866312.cms

‘Do not insist on forcing us to do something that goes against the oath of our office’

Raj Ghat, Delhi is a memorial to Mahatma Gandh...

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INDIAN EXPRESS

Vandita Mishra: The Anna Hazare movement has been gaining momentum. In your interaction with MPs, do you see a shared sense of siege because of what is happening right now?

There is near unanimity in the country and amongst parliamentarians that corruption is a national issue. However, there is equal unanimity amongst parliamentarians that the way forward to address corruption is not to call into question the entire constitutional edifice where parliamentary supremacy in the matter of law-making is non-negotiable. In a republic inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, you can’t completely ignore the constitutional means for addressing a national malaise. But you should address corruption in a way consistent with the sanctity of our Constitution.

Coomi Kapoor: Are you saying unconstitutional means are being used? All they are doing is building up public opinion so that parliamentarians take into account the views of the public for this long delayed Bill.

The right to dissent, the right to protest and the right to mobilise opinion is given and it is respected and accepted. This is the reason why Anna and his team are fasting at Ramlila Maidan. In fact, the state is making all arrangements to facilitate the protest. What is an issue is the inclination to put a gun to the government’s head and say this is the Bill that you must legislate into law and you must do so by such and such time irrespective and in derogation of the established procedure of law-making as per the Constitution. How can you, in the name of advancing a laudable national objective, completely negate the permissible means under your Constitution? Now the argument is that we, the people of India, come first in the Constitution, therefore, everything else is subservient to the will of the people. Even with this I have no quarrel. But how do you determine the will of the people? The Constitution ordains that you determine the will of the people after every five years through an election. If you insult the collective judgment of the people of India, you are not advancing democracy. This is my view as a citizen of this country, as a constitutionalist, as a lawyer. The Constitution is intended to be a bulwark against the impulses of transient majorities. Majorities will come and go but the Constitution is supposed to be an enduring edifice.

Dilip Bobb: The general impression is that the government is now employing delaying tactics. How do you convince them that you are with them and not against them?

Let me tell you what this government has done so far: it’s not as if PM made his appeal for the first time last Tuesday–he used every opportunity to say that any peaceful contestation can be the subject of a debate. He has said, let us have a stronger Lokpal Bill based on a larger political consensus. He said he was not against the protest, he was concerned about Anna’s health. But don’t insist on forcing us to do something against the oath of our office. As a duly-elected government, we are voted into power and we want to uphold the Constitution of India. In the parliamentary process of law-making, the Standing Committee is a time-tested process which has produced very good legislation. Today, the atmosphere in the country is such that there is an earnestness to push for Lokpal as an instrument to remove corruption. But to say, do it by tomorrow and discount the Standing Committee procedure, to say that you want a bill to be rammed through in a manner that tomorrow somebody can ask why we have consciously ignored contrary views–that’s where we have issues. The same Constitution that gives me the right to the validity of my views, gives to the other the right to contest those views. But if you insist on deadlines, you are negating the first principle on which this republic is founded. What prevents another group from saying they will sit at Rajpath? If the government starts to buckle on issues of principle, the government will have no right to ask the citizens to comply with the law.

Coomi Kapoor: But the government has buckled, firstly by making Anna Hazare a member of the official drafting committee. Then you said the PM has to be out of the Lokpal and you buckled on that too. There has been a series of retractions from the government which shows that things are not that hard and fast.

There are give and take situations but there has never been a negation of an express constitutional stipulation. There is no bar on the Standing Committee to take into consideration the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Coomi Kapoor: But earlier the government had said it was not possible?

The difference is in what was being said by the Anna camp–that the Standing Committee should discuss “our” Bill. The process of law is that the Cabinet prepares a format which goes to Parliament, and that Bill is presented to the Standing Committee. There is no precedent for anyone insisting that the government takes only their Bill; if the government agrees with their Bill, it can present it to the Standing Committee as its own–there is no difficulty in that. But to tell us to disown our own Bill and to discuss only ‘your’ Bill amounts to law-making being outsourced to people who, as per the Constitution, cannot be the lawmakers. And the day you make a deliberate departure from the expressly stated and incontrovertible stipulation of the Constitution, you violate your oath of office. No government worth its name can consciously negate the fundamental principles of the Constitution.

Maneesh Chhibber: You said you can’t outsource lawmaking to anybody. So what is the National Advisory Committee (NAC) doing?

NAC is doing nothing other than submitting its suggestions. Name one law which NAC has insisted upon, the manner in which Anna Hazare is insisting. I cannot recall NAC ever insisting on anything.

Pradeep Kaushal: Why did you outsource drafting of the Lokpal Bill to the committee where half the members were from civil society?

It was a limited decision made in order to ensure that their views were fully taken on board. There is no constitutional or legal bar to not associate somebody with the draft. The bar is on the Bill we eventually bring before Parliament. After the drafting committee came to a conclusion, the ministers accepted some of Hazare’s suggestions and did not accept others. Then they presented the Bill to the Cabinet, which, in turn, endorsed it to make it a government Bill. That was presented before Parliament. We associated with these people purely to make sure that they had a full say in giving their inputs while the members of the government in that committee were formulating the draft.

Vandita Mishra: People say the government’s case is being made on too many legal, technical grounds and there is not enough of a political input.

Political issues are responded to politically as the PM has done last week. It is a political response of a sensitive and responsive PM who is concerned about the way things are developing, about the health of Anna Hazare. Legality and politics are not mutually exclusive to the extent that lawyers are able to backseat constitutional and legal issues and package them as part of the political response. I don’t see any inconsistency or mutual exclusivity between the two

Vandita Mishra: But what is the single largest source of hostility to the government?

My sense is that people tend to think we are not with them in the fight against corruption. As time has gone by and as the debate is put in the correct perspective, it is clear that this is a choice between the right ends and the right means. People are tending more and more to agree with our perspective. The letter PM wrote and the public appeal made earlier to Anna Hazare to give up his fast were intended as a decisive signal to bring the national discourse back from an idiom of confrontation to an idiom of rational discourse and dialogue.

Maneesh Chhibber: Would you agree that Anna Hazare’s arrest was a wrong move?

I have already said that if I had been in-charge of the situation on the ground, I would not have sent Anna Hazare to Tihar jail. I think the right course would have been to notify a place like a guesthouse to detain him on a preventive basis. I think things moved too fast and these nuances got lost.

Dilip Bobb: What is your personal stand on the issues of the Lokpal covering PM, the bureaucracy and the judiciary?

Constitutionally, it is completely impermissible. How do you expect the government to consider these demands? On the judiciary: we have a constitutional procedure to discipline judges. As for PM, he has repeatedly said he has no problem being under the ambit of the Lokpal. But it is not as if this PM is the only PM under contemplation. What is under contemplation is the office of the PM, who has been described as the keystone of the Cabinet arch. And if the keystone is disturbed, the arch collapses. It is my personal view that no prime minister should be subjected to a system of inquiry or prosecution where immediately on the receipt of a complaint, the entire regime is triggered. It is not the absence of laws that have prevented prosecution of PMs. We have had two PMs who have been prosecuted even without the Lokpal. We are being unfair to those honest officers in the government who actually prosecuted PMs and former PMs. It is not because of the absence of laws that corruption in the country is growing, It is because of the general decline in the moral fibre of most people that the country is going down.

Maneesh Chhibber: Very recently, the government removed CBI from under the RTI. Is that probity?

I believe the reason for keeping CBI out of RTI is ensure the integrity of the investigation as the accused can use RTI to get information about what stage the investigation is at, which might destroy the integrity of the investigation.

Raj Kamal Jha: This is hypothetical but if the same debate had happened under UPA-I, do you think you would have been on a stronger wicket than UPA-II under the shadow of CWG and 2G? What role has that shadow played in the current discourse?

I do agree that the atmosphere created in the country with allegations related to 2G and other issues have had an impact, consciously or unconsciously, on the sentiments of the people, and the sentiments of the lawmakers, even the judiciary. In fact, we are all impacted at a certain level–and rationality and objectivity sometimes become the casualty. I saw this phenomenon in the indictment of Justice Sen.

Coomi Kapoor: Did the prevailing atmosphere influence the views of parliamentarians who were not in favour of Justice Sen’s impeachment?

I believe, as a lawyer and not as a parliamentarian, that in a criminal case, two views are possible and if the prosecution has not proved its point to the hilt, the benefit of the doubt must go to the accused. That is not to say that the same principle applies when we have debates on issues such as this in Parliament. The parliamentarians, in their collective wisdom, took a view that the judgment would advance the cause of substantive justice for a cause.

Kaushal Shroff: The Jan Lokpal Bill states that seven members should approve any investigation against the PM, of whom at least four would be judicial members. Wouldn’t they understand the gravity of the issue involved and the repercussions of investigating a PM?

The fundamental issue is the environment in which our democracy operates. The imminent possibility of a mala fide prosecution or investigation into the conduct of the prime minister in the discharge of his extremely critical duties can have the effect of destabilising governments. This is the view that is taken by those who dispute the necessity of the PM in the Lokpal. There are others who believe that there are sufficient safeguards to see an abuse of the law doesn’t take place. If Parliament in its wisdom decides to put the PM under the Lokpal, so be it. But there are two strong views and somebody has to decide which view must prevail. Which is that instrumentality in the scheme of our constitutional order which takes the final call? Parliament, in its collective judgment, where all shades of political opinion are reflected.

Vandita Mishra: Some people in your party say Rahul Gandhi should step into the Anna Hazare negotiations.

Rahul Gandhi enjoys a preeminent position in the party. He has a very incisive instinct on many issues. His counsel is always available to the party. As the Congress general secretary, he doesn’t have to ask anyone before intervening. For all you know, he may be involved in giving his advice in the manner he deems fit. It is his call how to intervene, when to intervene and on what issues to intervene.

Sourabh Jyoti Sharma: Transparency International Report 2010 says the judiciary is the second most corrupt institution in India after the police. Do you want to bring a stronger Judicial Accountability Bill in Parliament?

The Judicial Accountability Bill will be brought before Parliament. The government remains committed to it. There is a broad consensus on it. We need to ensure that there is an adequate mechanism to deal with allegations of lack of probity in the judiciary.

Sourabh Jyoti Sharma: What is your view, as a lawyer, on the collegium system of judicial appointment?

On judicial appointments, the experience has been mixed. I don’t think the collegium system has always achieved the desired results.

Unni Rajen Shanker: Many people are talking for the government in the media. Are you being briefed before you talk?

There is so much information on the issues at hand, we almost drink, eat and breathe these issues. The senior people who go on TV channels do have their own perception of what is required to be said and if there is a doubt in their minds, they are always free to seek clarification.

Vandita Mishra: What is the feedback your parliamentarians are getting from the ground, from outside big cities like Delhi? Do they face the same outrage or is there a distinction to be made?

Nobody disputes that the issue of corruption has caught the imagination of the country. The point of contestation is how does the nation together move forward in a direction that will minimize the scourge of corruption and show that the fundamentals of our body politic are not constantly being eroded by this menace. It is a great tragedy that the current UPA leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh known for their deep commitment to probity in public life should have to bear the brunt in a very unjust and a very unfair manner just because an atmosphere in the country has been created where the responsibility for all that is wrong lies with the government. Look at the series of initiatives the government has taken on corruption: has anyone else take such corrective measures?

When did a serving minister go to jail, when did we send the top bureaucrats to jail? It is said this was done because Supreme Court wanted it to be done. Who went to Supreme Court and asked, through CBI that the Supreme Court monitor the investigations so that the people of India should not think anybody was being protected? We must at least be given credit for vigorously pursuing the cases of corruption. The proof of the pudding is in its eating. Judge me not by what I say but by what I do and this government has taken conscious, purposive and strong action where strong prima facie cases of corruption have been an issue. One more thing; these are the people who have been behind bars for the last several months and whose bail applications have not been granted. As a lawyer I ask myself, is bail the rule and jail an exception or jail the rule and bail an exception? As early as 1977, Justice Krishna Iyer said bail is the rule as it subserves the cause personal liberty and jail in an exception. You must jail only those people who are hardened criminals who can pervert and thwart the course of justice. I sometimes wonder whether someone can be denied liberty merely because the atmosphere is in favour of hanging those without convicting them. At another level, there are proposals that nobody can contest an election if there is a charge of a criminal offense against him. It is said this is the best way to eliminate criminals from politics.

But it is a dangerous path to follow. We have a great law and a great legal architecture but we also know that laws are abused. It is easy to have a false charge against someone in a mofussil town. Years of reputation built in public affairs, a man’s political career can be destroyed. The answer to the criminalization of politics is not in riding roughshod over fundamental principles that are intended to safeguard your liberties and your inalienable rights embedded in the Constitution. Let us not tinker with the fundamental principles of our republic on account of impulses of the moment. All constitutions are designed to secure the nation against intensities of the momentary impulses. If you tinker with the Constitution, you will never be able to restore its integrity.

Vandita Mishra: The burden of your argument is that there is an atmosphere in the country and the government is an unfortunate victim of that atmospehere. Would you not admit to a single mistake the government has made in contributing to this atmosphere? Has the absence of Sonia Gandhi made a difference?

Sonia Gandhi’s absence is deeply felt at all critical moments and even otherwise both in the party and in the government. Her presence, her guidance, her sage counsel and advice has been a great source of strength to the UPA government and Congress. I will be the last person to say this government, or any government, is infallible. There could be a bona fide error of judgment like sending Anna Hazare to Tihar Jail. Governments do make mistakes but as long as they are bona fide and are redressed and corrected, I think the benefit of doubt must remain with the government.

People throw out governments when they don’t find their explanations convincing. The choice is not between a perfect government and an imperfect government, the choice is between a bona fide governance and misgovernance.

Transcribed by Chinki Sinha & Geeta Gupta