Harish Salve explains SC powers on contempt

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: If a person is found guilty of committing contempt of Supreme Court, will the apex court’s constitutional power to punish him be circumscribed by the Contempt of Court Act (CCA) provisions?

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing in the application filed by Vodafone complaining about misreporting during the hearing of its case, said CCA only provided the guiding principles and would in no way limit the apex court’s power on quantum of punishment, which in appropriate cases could exceed what is provided in the statute. The response came to a query from a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana P Desai and J S Khehar whether Article 129 of the Constitution, which provides that “the Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself”, meant it was bridled by the CCA.

After hearing Salve’s view, the CJI said though the bench had not taken any final view, it was of the opinion that provisions of a statute could not limit the Constitution-vested powers of the apex court. In the midst of long deliberation on the necessity of framing media reporting guidelines to protect right of an accused to reputation and dignity as well as preserve sanctity of fair trial, the bench asked for Salve’s view on restricting press freedom derived from right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and whether it could only be done through parameters specified under Article 19(2).

The senior advocate said, “The Supreme Court need not deal with the restrictions specified under Article 19(2) because it is only engaged in an exercise to define the contours of press freedom in reporting pending investigation or trial of a case and balancing it with the right of the accused to dignity and reputation.”

Salve said these days it was common to find TV channels standing outside a house being raided by investigating agencies and telecasting minute by minute details of the search operation. “This surely besmirches someone’s reputation. What happens if the agency does not find any incriminating material or does not press any charge at the end of the investigations? Can he not move the constitutional courts seeking relief on the ground that such reporting was destroying his reputation,” he asked.

“The media should be beyond government regulations except acceptable censorship. But to argue that media is beyond all regulation is the limit,” he said. Salve also objected to media using unnecessary hyperboles to describe intense questioning by a bench in serious issues.

He said, “Judges ask sharp questions to get the best out of lawyers. There is no pulling up, tearing into or lambasting involved in the oral argument-based judicial scrutiny system in India. There is a talk of restraining judges from making comments on institutions. If anyone has to exercise restraint, it is the reporters who cover the courts, not the judges nor the lawyers who must not be inhibited in any manner from free and frank exchange of views.”

Counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan said the investigating agencies had been regularly leaking information to media to prejudice an accused branding him as a terrorist though ultimately he might get acquitted in a trial. Appearing for Rajasthan government, counsel Manish Singhvi said a state producing clear and cogent evidence of consistent media misreporting could seek temporary deferment of publication for a limited period.

“However, the order for postponement of publication must be direct, proximate with investigation and must be least intrusive to the freedom of press/electronic media. Thus, the press has a right to report even criminal sub-judice matters as long as they do not impair or destroy fair investigation,” he said. Singhvi said subordinate courts had sovereign power to dispense justice and hence, they had inherent powers to pass appropriate orders to secure the ends of justice.

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Don’t lay guidelines, outline contours of press freedom: Salve

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: Former solicitor general Harish Salve on Wednesday said the Supreme Court should make the media aware of the boundaries within which it must operate while reporting court proceedings and suggested that the constitutional court must bring clarity to the contours of press freedom to prevent breach of a citizen’s right to fair trial and right to life with dignity, guaranteed under Article 21.

He agreed with most lawyers in telling a five-judge bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, R P Desai and J S Khehar that it was not for the apex court to frame guidelines but disagreed with other senior advocates who had said that the court could have a case-to-case approach in scrutinizing media reports for transgression of right to life related sub-rights of an accused or a private citizen.

“The Supreme Court is not Press Council of India to tell the media what should not have been written. Media too cannot decide what should be the spread and extent of its right to report conferred on it to meet the people’s right to know. So, the Supreme Court is the only organ under the Constitution which can bring clarity by declaring the contours of right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) by balancing it against the crucial right to life,” Salve said.

“What the Supreme Court declares as the limits under Article 19(1)(a) will be abided by the responsible media, most of whom are very responsible. That is the surest way to safeguard citizen’s right to life which encompasses their right to privacy and right to live with dignity in a society,” said Salve, who appeared in an application moved by Vodafone months ago complaining about misreporting.

The senior advocate said continuous commentary on the merits of a case while it was being argued and targeting of individuals by media had a chilling effect on judges and lawyers, inhibiting free and frank discussion in a court room. “After all, judges and lawyers are human beings. The court should clarify if such reporting puts in peril such discussion during court proceedings,” he said.

Salve said government’s affidavits could be reported by the press even before it came up for court scrutiny. But if scurrilous allegations were made in any affidavit branding people as terrorists, murderers or money launderers, then the media has to wait till the court scrutinizes the contents of the affidavit in an open court hearing, he said.

The bench asked, “In our country the ground reality is that suit for damages or defamation is not an efficacious remedy against such errant reporting as it would take 20 years for conclusion of such proceedings. Will a high court or the Supreme Court be accused of violating Article 19(1)(a) if it entertained a petition from a person aggrieved by scurrilous allegations reported in the media and passed a temporary restraint order?”

Salve said constitutional courts would be well within their limits to entertain and pass appropriate orders on a writ petition from a private citizen complaining that his/her reputation was being destroyed by scurrilous allegations repeatedly reported by TV channels or print media.

If Salve cited Nupur Talwar case to point at spurious effects of brazen media coverage on a person and his right to fair trial, former law minister Ram Jethmalani cited the Jessica Lal murder case proceedings in Delhi High Court to highlight miscarriage of justice because of sustained media campaign.

Before concluding his arguments, Jethmalani said the courts have power to order repeat publication of material that hurt the right of the accused to fair trial or interference in the administration of justice. “Guidelines on media reporting will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it may create additional problems. The solution lies in enforcing Contempt of Court Act. Send one or two persons to jail under the contempt law and that will bring sanity in reporting,” Jethmalani said.

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Warding Off The Eye

MEDIA VS SUPREME COURT

MEDIA VS SUPREME COURT

The judiciary and Parliament seem to think they could do with less coverage
 The Problem Of Too Much Attention
  1. A PIL in Feb alleged that CJI Kapadia had a conflict of interest in the Vodafone tax case. It was dismissed; a penalty was imposed.
  2. Advocate Harish Salve says he was misquoted in the Vodafone matter. Eligibility criterion spelt out for court reporters.
  3. In Mar, CJI says reports on the disproportionate assets of ex-CJI K.G. Balakrishnan are upsetting
  4. SC hurt by reports of a judge listing her daughters in ‘liabilities’
  5. Advocate Fali Nariman says a confidential exchange between his client Sahara and SEBI was leaked on TV. CJI directs parties to make submission in the matter.
  6. Court expresses concern over how the media reported on events surrounding the murder of Arushi Talwar and on her personal life

***

Over the last couple of days, two pillars of democracy have decided that the media must be kept on a leash. First, the Lok Sabha secretariat declared that the media would not be allowed in the vicinity of parliamentary standing and joint committee meetings. Reporters usually hang about for informal briefings from MP acquaintances—it’s the life-breath of in-depth coverage of Parliament. Media professionals wonder if the unprecedented order is timed to prevent reporting on the three defence chiefs’ appearance before a parliamentary committee, slated for April 20. Second, the Allahabad High Court prohibited the media from writing or reporting further on the sensational news of troop movements towards Delhi on Jan 16-17. The Union i&b ministry followed up with an advisory seeking strict adherence to the court order. The two restrictions come even as the Supreme Court is mulling guidelines for law reporters covering it.

So, is this the system recoiling at all those big news stories of scams and criminal investigations that have come out recently? Media professionals feel these ‘guidelines’ would end up stifling them. The bigger fear is that, when institutions like the Supreme Court and the Lok Sabha start writing rulebooks for the media, they might prompt others—say the bureaucracy and the police—to do so too. The cascading effect could shrink the space of reporting in the same proportion as RTI added to it.

It was in the backdrop of an information explosion triggered by television channels, where opinions were sought and decisions arrived at swiftly, that the Law Commission finalised its 2006 report, ‘Trial by Media’, framing guidelines for reporting on criminal proceedings in court. The report makes a case for not covering a trial till it is concluded. It is learnt the Centre is in active consultation with the states on the commission’s report.

As the five-judge constitution bench under the Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia, engages in a threadbare discussion on the media with advocates of freedom of the press and others, it is perhaps time to ask, as indeed the court is doing, whether guidelines regulating the media are required at all. In fact, is there any reason to suppose that media coverage has led to miscarriage of justice. And have existing guidelines failed? Linked to both questions is the public’s right to know and be informed.

Already, there are quite a few guidelines to begin with. There’s the Press Council Act of 1979, though its powers could be debated. Presided over by a retired judge and with journalists and newspapers’ representatives on the board, the council has the power to censure, warn and admonish the press if it fails to adhere to the guidelines. Its present head, Justice Markandeya Katju, has called the Allahabad High Court’s gag order “not correct” and said that “the media has a fundamental right to make such a publication, as it did not endanger national security”.

Then, there’s the News Broadcasting Authority of India (NBA), a self-regulatory body of broadcasters with academics, eminent persons and a former CJI on its rolls. It has a detailed programme code, advocates voluntary adherence and imposes penalties. After the 28/11 attack on Mumbai, it had drawn up rules for reportage by the electronic media.

In his capacity as chairperson of NBA, which is a party to the SC’s deliberations guidelines for the media, former CJI J.S. Verma says, “I feel that, as there are already guidelines drawn up by the channels themselves, the bench in my view could suggest modifications if it so wished. In fact, if the judiciary says compliance with existing guidelines is desirable, that itself will have the desired effect.” Verma—who is often openly critical of media reports—thinks peer pressure works better than imposed guidelines.

Other senior lawyers hold the view that the court has no power to make laws. Former SC judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer calls the SC’s attempt to regulate the media a case of judicial overreach. “It’s Parliament that has the right to legislate, not the court.”

Though the chief justice of India has repeatedly clarified that the aim is to regulate, not control, these recent exercises are seen as part of an overall process to control a media that is seen as increasingly critical and combative. The judiciary and the media, which appeared to be working in tandem at one point, now appear to have fallen out.

Does the public have a right to know about how justice is delivered? And if it does, how will that happen if reporters are not permitted to report? Such a move would also run against the open court proceedings our judiciary has adopted till now. There are many who suggest that instead of a broad arc of guidelines, what is required is a case-to-case examination. If an error takes place due to the media, there are adequate grievance redressal structures within the courts in the form of contempt and defamation laws. Moreover, journalists enjoys no special immunities or privileges by law.

Says Kumar Ketkar, editor of Divya Bhaskar, “I am quite critical of the media, but I feel the Supreme Court is overstepping its brief in wanting to frame guidelines for court reporting as the move creates an impression that the court alone is the upholder of integrity, sovereignty and the national interest. This is unfortunate. It would also appear that court and the media are in direct confrontation with each other.”

Adds Arnab Goswami, head of Time Now, “If everything now becomes a matter of litigation, there will be nothing to report on. What will we report on?”

ANURADHA RAMAN IN THE OUTLOOK

Post-2G, courts increasingly hanging up on bail pleas

J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU

Public opinion and media glare blocking the normal course of the law, say experts. When Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed expressed concern over businessmen being kept behind bars and said this might affect investment, he might not have bargained for the Supreme Court’s reaction that his “comments are disturbing.”

Faced with having to decide between granting bail or sending the accused to jail before trial, trial courts have usually plumped for the former, except in serious or heinous crimes.But the 2G spectrum case, in which some of the accused have been packed off to jail at the pre-trial stage, has set a new trend that trial court judges describe as “changing the rules of the game” and that many legal experts see as a worrying challenge to well-settled principles of law in the grant of bail.

Some senior trial court judges handling sensitive cases, including those relating to economic offences, told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that until now, they granted bail routinely to the accused in economic offence and bank fraud cases.“We take cognisance of the chargesheet and on the first date of their appearance in response to summons, we release them on bail. During the trial they used to be on bail. If convicted, they would be sent to jail subject to their right of appeal,” said one judge.

Particularly in bank fraud cases involving senior bank managers and officials, the judge said, “we don’t send them to jail till the trial is over. The only condition we impose is they must surrender their passports and must ensure their presence during trial.”

But not any more apparently. “The rules of the game have changed dramatically after the ‘2G case’,” said another trial judge. “We are now in a fix whether to grant bail or not as before in bank fraud or economic offence cases. We are afraid not only about ‘trial by media’ but also about brickbats from the higher judiciary even if there is merit in granting bail in deserving cases.”

When asked whether a judge could violate the right to life and personal liberty of an accused just to pre-empt possible adverse remarks from the peers, pat came the reply: “Our career is also important for us. Even one blemish in the service records, even if it is not true, will spoil our chances of promotion to higher grade,” not to speak of elevation as a judge of the High Court.

Well-settled principles

Eminent legal experts are unanimous that irrespective of the nature of the cases, trial courts are bound to grant bail following the well settled principles of law. They are of the view that once the court takes cognisance of the chargesheet and the accused appears in court in response to summons, the course available to the court is to proceed as per Section 309 (2) Cr.P.C. by accepting bail bonds from the accused in terms of Section 88 Cr.P.C.

“Right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution is of paramount importance. Bail and not jail is the rule generally followed, except in heinous crimes and murder cases, where one may refuse bail. Courts must keep in mind that they must give specific reasons depending on the facts in each case as to why bail is being denied despite Article 2,” said eminent lawyer Fali Nariman.

According to him, “the approach of the investigating agencies nowadays seems to be that since some of the high profile accused allegedly manipulate the trial which ends in acquittal let them stay in jail before trial as long as possible. This is not a correct approach.”

Other senior lawyers are also of the opinion that the principles of bail are slanted in favour of the citizen’s right to liberty, and wondered if public opinion, including media, were driving the current trend of denying bail.

Though by itself the refusal of bail is not punitive, said former Solicitor-General Harish Salve, “the impression however is inescapable that in current times the societal revulsion against corruption in high places is displacing established principles of grant of bail.”

But if public opinion is the driving force behind denial of bail, and the judiciary wants to be seen as taking immediate steps against corrupt politicians and corporates, that would constitute, said Mr. Salve, “a subversion” of the principles of liberty.

“The freedom of the individual cannot be imperilled on the touchstone of public opinion. That, in a stark form, is the difference between justice by the guillotine in the presence of howling crowds, and the slow but fair system of justice in a democracy governed by the rule of law,” he said.

There would be moments, Mr. Salve said, “when the temptation to jettison time tested values is great in order to be seen to do something visible to those who society feels — and media convicts — of crimes such as corruption.”

Succumbing to this temptation would not augur well for democracy, he cautioned. His solution: fix the wheels of justice so that they move somewhat faster, rather than supplanting the principles of justice themselves.

Legal luminaries are clear that the only justification for refusal of bail would be if there was a possibility that the accused would abscond, or if he was likely to tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses.

“Denial of bail should not be a form of punishment before trial itself starts. Personal liberty is a precious right and ought not to be interfered with by a premature punishment not contemplated by law. Way back in 1977, the Supreme Court said that the basic rule is bail, not jail. This position has not changed, and the trial courts should fearlessly follow the settled law relating to grant of bail,” said senior lawyer Raju Ramachandran.

The vice-chairman of the All India Bar Association, S. Prabakaran, also pointed out that as a signatory to several human rights conventions, India must respect the right of the accused to seek bail. “It is sad to note that invariably in all criminal cases,” said Mr. Prabakaran, “prosecution opposes bail to the accused in a mechanical manner. It is an irony that the same prosecuting agencies which take years to complete investigation and file a chargesheet in the court usually put up a stiff resistance against grant of bail on the usual ground ‘investigation is pending’.”

It should be borne in mind, he cautioned, “that if finally the cases end up in acquittal, the loss, ignominy and reputation suffered by the accused cannot be compensated by the judicial system. ‘Bail as a right and jail is an exception’ policy should be scrupulously followed by all the courts to avoid over-crowding of jails.”

Another senior advocate, K. Subramanian, also pointed out that courts were bound to follow the settled principles in granting bail in the interests of protecting the liberty of the individual as well to protect society’s interest.

Presumption of innocence

Reminding that at the pre-trial stage, every accused person is presumed to be innocent until the matter is finally disposed of by a competent court, Mr. Subramanian said “simply because a person has been charged with an alleged offence, he does not lose his right to protection of life and personal liberty.”

The main consideration in the matter of bail should not be that the accused is detained as a punishment, he said, but “whether the presence of the accused would be readily available for trial or that he is likely to abuse the discretion granted in his favour by tampering with evidence.”

SOURCE: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2535127.ece

‘Are public servants cut above public?’

ABRAHAM THOMAS IN THE PIONEER

Sixty years after India became a Republic, the Supreme Court posed a question on Friday on whether public servants should be entitled to red beacons, a stream of security personnel and a fleet of cars as a matter of right.Wondering what the term “public servant” actually meant, a Bench of Justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhyay gave liberty to convert a matter challenging grant of Z-plus security to a Congress MLA from Uttar Pradesh into a PIL to examine whether there should be norms or guidelines governing grant of security to VIPs and citizens in general, to prevent it being misused.

The case before the court was an appeal filed by one Abhay Singh through advocate CD Singh challenging grant of high security to one Pramod Tewari, MLA from Pratapgarh. The security was provided to him in 1985 for inviting wrath of the Sikh militants over an objectionable statement made by him. The Centre placed him in its prime security zone without reviewing the threat perception for decades together. Close to 50 security personnel were posted with him along with a fleet of cars, each attached with beacon light, causing inconvenience and terror among local residents.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, who questioned the entitlement of Tewari to secure Z-plus security, forced the Court to think on the larger issue involved. Since India became a Republic in January 1950, “any symbol of authority or superiority conferred by the Government or allowed by the government would fall foul of such a principle of egalitarianism.” Moreover, Article 18 abolished all titles and granting security as a matter of entitlement to public servants vitiated the very concept of the term defined under Article 309, Salve added. Conscious of the abuse of the security apparatus, the bench said, “This is a very serious issue. We will convert it into a PIL.”

What caught the imagination of the court was Salve’s insistence to remove such symbols that made public servants a crest above common man. Giving a historical context to the issue under debate, Salve maintained that public servants during British rule were foreign citizens who owed allegiance to the Crown and thus were awarded these symbols.

But it ceased after India gave itself a Constitution. Unfortunately, he remarked, “It is now a common practice amongst those who hold public office or are connected with political parties and organisations to seek security.” The Bench agreed, “public servants are actually servants of the public,” giving permission to Salve to file a fresh petition stressing this point.

The matter would be heard on October 14.

http://dailypioneer.com/nation/8611-are-public-servants-cut-above-public.html

Journalists may soon need law degree to report on Supreme Court

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Print and electronic media journalists will also need to have at least 7 years and three-and-a-half years of experience, respectively

Nikhil Kanekal in The MINT

New Delhi: New Supreme Court reporting norms, if enforced, will result in 80% of the journalists who have been covering proceedings being disqualified. The Supreme Court can bar any correspondent from coverage without offering any reasons under the new rules.

Issued by the court on Saturday, the norms require that permanent and temporary accredited print journalists have a professional law degree and at least seven years of experience. Electronic media reporters need, apart from the law degree, at least three-and-a-half-years of experience. The circular did not set a deadline for the norms to come into force. Court officials didn’t throw light on when the circular would come into effect, when asked on Tuesday.

The new norms follow instances in which faults were found in coverage.

Two of these arose from coverage of the Vodafone tax dispute. Vodafone lawyer Harish Salve complained to the Supreme Court that a Press Trust of India (PTI) report on 10 August had misquoted him. Salve had argued that Vodafone could “avoid” tax as tax avoidance was permissible under law. Indian income-tax authorities have alleged that Vodafone evaded tax by structuring its $11.2 billion transaction to buy out Hutchison’s Indian cellular business through tax-saving routes. Salve spent more than a day demonstrating to the bench the difference between tax avoidance and evasion, and that his client had acted in accordance with law.

The court sought a response from PTI on an application made by Salve after the agency’s report.

On 18 August, PTI’s lawyer Shyam Divan issued an unconditional apology to the court, Vodafone and Salve.

Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia’s three-judge bench asked PTI to file a detailed affidavit explaining whether its reporter was present in the court at the time Salve made his argument. The court reportedly observed that norms for journalists needed to be revisited in light of the incident and what it said were other recent inaccurate reports.

Previously, Kapadia had expressed displeasure at a 15 December news report in a national daily that said the judiciary wanted to retain 1% of the Rs. 2,500 crore deposit made by Vodafone to the court’s registry. The report suggested that a “cash-strapped” judiciary was trying to source funds from “novel” methods such as these. Kapadia had then said: “People write whatever they want.” But the court did not initiate any action against the reporter or the newspaper.

Different benches of the court have, in the past, pointed to inaccurate or sensational news reports. However, Mint could not immediately ascertain the immediate reasons for the revision of the norms.

A.I.S. Cheema, secretary general of the court, the senior-most official on the administrative side, did not have time to meet this reporter on Tuesday for clarity on reasons for revising the norms.

The court’s media officials said reporters could make representations that would be forwarded to decision makers.

Justice Dalveer Bhandari, the Supreme Court judge in charge of granting accreditation to journalists, could not be reached on phone. His staff said he would not be available to comment till later this week.

A media law expert said India has an open court system that inspires confidence among people on the judiciary’s functioning.

“In India, unlike in the US, the press has no independent right under the freedom of expression. The journalist exercises his right as a citizen of this country under Article 19 (1)(a) and also acts as a trustee of the public’s right to know. In certain situations, he might get more access than others, but technically under our open court system that shouldn’t be necessary,” said the expert, who did not want to be named.

“Everyone can have access as it’s meant to be a check on the judges. It’s a check on the system. What is to stop me if I go into a court as lay person and write about something which I think is worthy of sharing with the public? As long as I’m not distorting the proceedings, there should be no problem,” this person said.

The Supreme Court has expressed its appreciation for the role played by the press in its annual reports. “Supreme Court attached great importance to the role of media and complementary to that of judicial organ in a democratic polity. In order to strengthen this partnership, the court took certain initiatives for mutual benefit,” said the 2008-09 report as it elucidated programmes organized by it to train court correspondents.

A February 2002 report in Frontline magazine cited a Supreme Court judgement that contained a defence of the freedom of the press. “Public trial in open court is undoubtedly essential for the healthy objective and fair administration of justice. Trial held subject to public scrutiny and gaze naturally acts as a check against judicial caprice or vagaries and serves as a powerful instrument for creating confidence of the public in the fairness, objectivity and impartiality of the administration of justice.”

There are currently 14 permanent accredited correspondents in the Supreme Court and approximately 80 temporary accredited journalists, according to the court’s officials.

Editors react

Newspaper and television editors said the requirement for a law degree might be excessive and that the unilateral provision in the norms to withdraw a journalist’s accreditation was not desirable.

“Reporters need not have a law degree to report on the Supreme Court. They need to have strong news sense and an acquaintance of legal nuances,” said Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now.

“The new norms seem overly restrictive and will make it more difficult for the media to cover the Supreme Court properly,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu. “While I share the concerns of the honourable judges that court proceedings are sometimes not reported accurately, the solution lies in proper editorial supervision by our newspapers and TV channels, rather than by specifying, with mathematical precision, the onerous qualifications court reporters must possess in order to be given access to a court room.”

“In the absence of access, there may actually be a greater likelihood of inaccurate reporting as journalists will be forced to rely on one-sided accounts of courtroom proceedings by lawyers representing their clients,” he said.

Sanjay Gupta, editor, Dainik Jagran, published by Jagran Prakashan Ltd, said: “As an editor, I will anyway not hire a fresher to report on Supreme Court judgements. However, I don’t think there should be a prerequisite for reporters to have a degree in law. If reporters have adequate experience and are reporting judgements intelligently, and if the editors don’t have an issue, I don’t think it’s fair for the court to then have stringent norms.”

“I don’t want to comment much on the revised norm to withdraw the accreditation without giving any reason. Withdrawal of accreditation should be a bilateral dialogue between the authority and the newspaper. The editors have a right to know when a particular legal correspondent’s accreditation is withdrawn,” he added.

Abhilasha Ojha contributed to this story.

Citizen Anna and agent Prashant

THE TIMES OF INDIA

In fashionably liberal circles, Prashant Bhushan is an authentic modern hero, the people’s advocate who uses the killer argument to avenge the aam admi on the bloodless battlefield of the Supreme Court. Among his lawyer peers, Bhushan is somewhat disdainfully seen as an “activist who takes up causes, not cases”. Some politicians call him a “self-righteous” busybody with a penchant for the sensational storyline. Some others loathe the 55-year-old, who helped draft the Jan Lokpal Bill, as an anarchist impelled to bring down the system. To the man on the street, Bhushan is all but invisible.

But the results of his relentless war on what he calls “evil and venality” are all around. There appears to be a decided people’s clamour for the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill he wrote with former Supreme Court justice Santosh Hegde. And at the beginning of March, Bhushan effectively humbled India‘s chief political executive—the prime minister—as well as forced the highest court in the land to do his will.

With his trademark cautiousness, Bhushan admits this might be as good as it gets for a knee-jerk activist with “a passion for justice”. He acknowledges “I’ve been unwittingly catapulted into a kind of position of a hero, which I can see from the manner in which people are now wanting to interview me, as well as talk to me in the courts, congratulate me etc.”

It is safe to say Bhushan has made a career out of public interest litigation (PIL) having self-confessedly taken up “about 500 cases over 15-16 years” that deal with ‘good’ causes (environment, corruption, the Bofors case, Narmada dam). He made a career but not a fortune because he doesn’t charge for public interest cases, which he admits “take a long time, go on for a long time… more time than normal cases”. Effectively, therefore, he admits to spending just 25% of his time on paying cases, charging 5% of what other lawyers charge and earning just “enough to take care of my office expenses at any rate”.

Clearly, he is magnificently unworried about money. He lives in simple but great comfort with his former lawyer wife Deepa on one floor of his father’s house in Noida. The oldest of four children of well known lawyer and Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s law minister Shanti Bhushan, Prashant lives the dream described by American novelist Edith Wharton — the only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it. This is the starting point of the difference in Bhushan’s worldview and that of people he lumps together as “professional lawyers”. Most of them, he says severely, “are amoral, morally vacuous and they’re not bothered whether their client gets justice nor are they bothered whether their client’s cause is just or not.”

Bhushan’s fellow lawyer in the Supreme Court, Harish Salve, acknowledges the grubby and distinct reality of being a “commercial lawyer (not an activist). Sometimes, even we’re not convinced our clients are right”. Contrast that with Bhushan’s lofty refusal to “take up a case unless I feel my client is at least morally right.” America’s leading expert on the Indian legal system and London School of Economics Centennial Professor Marc Galanter says Bhushan is quite remarkable for “being so empowered.” Unlike many great—and effective—activist lawyers, notably the late William Kunstler who fought for civil liberties, black people and native Americans, “Prashant’s circumstances have given him (financial) independence, Kunstler had the imperative of making a living. I find it admirable that Prashant has grasped the opportunity”.

And how. Just months ago, he successfully challenged the Prime Minister and Home Minister’s decision to appoint PJ Thomas as head of the country’s eight-year-old premier integrity watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission. He was able to prove that the appointment of a man facing corruption charges to an anti-corruption institution was laughably inappropriate.

In mid-December, Bhushan managed to convince the Supreme Court it must monitor the Central Bureau of Investigation‘s (CBI) inquiry into the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, which the lawyer argued had only benefitted the “favourites amongst the favoured”. The Court even agreed with Bhushan that the CBI had dragged its feet on investigating the mega scandal. It was arguably just the fillip needed to start nailing those alleged to be guilty. From then on, it took the CBI just six weeks to arrest former telecom minister A Raja.

Bhushan wasted little time taking aim at his next quarry in the 2G scam. On March 1, he told the Supreme Court that the CBI was behaving suspiciously by failing to investigate the direct involvement of the Tata group in the entire matter. Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly assured him the case was “progressing in the right direction. Prima facie there is no fault in its investigation. We are quite conscious that CBI must probe every aspect of the case.” Bhushan had made his point. But he is not triumphant. Possibly just a tad self-satisfied. He talks about his own “moral authority” and the fact that his “responsible and consistent” campaign against judicial corruption means judges “both respect and fear you (him)”. Despite being mild-mannered and retiring, some might find him as boastful as an Arab dictator: “Even judges today are afraid of throwing in jail someone who they know is perceived to be right by the people.”

Chiefly though, he is unyielding and as a friend describes him, “all heavy seriousness” about his role in India today. The science fiction addict who once wrote a turgid novel of the genre, is clear that he is an “agent of change, a catalyst”. The IIT Madras student who left halfway, went on to Princeton to study philosophy and economics but couldn’t stay the course, is steady as a rock about his destiny. He objects to the adjective “messiah”, saying “it can mean many things. I see myself as a person who tries to see the connections between what is happening and tries to spread the message that I feel should be spread about what is wrong with our economic policies, what is wrong with our judicial system.”

He studied law at Allahabad, doing part of the course before Princeton and taking his final exam on his return. He started early down the public interest road, inspired partly by his father’s views on justice, probity and corruption. Early on, he fought limestone quarrying in the picturesque Doon Valley. Then, there was the Bhopal gas tragedy litigation. He was Delhi president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, one of India’s oldest human rights organizations.

Bhushan is unembarrassed to be asked if activism is an indulgence for those who can afford it, chiefly people who don’t need to worry about feeding the family or putting a son through Oxford (Manav, oldest of his three sons, is studying Math there). “Activism certainly needs to be supported—by like-minded people or grants…I don’t need to seek grants because I come from a very well-to-do family”. Salve, who has faced Bhushan across the courtroom many times (“cases go up to two digits”) magnanimously says that “we need the Prashant Bhushans, we need people like him. Every system needs crackpots”. Bhushan himself describes Salve as his chief detractor but Salve insists that Bhushan is generally to be admired because “he takes every cause, good, bad or indifferent and argues it with passion.”

Salve’s words of praise may sit oddly with his deeds. In his own words Salve “drew the Supreme Court’s attention” to Bhushan’s September 2009 interview to a magazine in which he claimed “half of the last 16 Chief Justices were corrupt”. Bhushan now faces contempt of court proceedings. Salve denies animosity. “We’re all on the same side, as citizens, we’re against corruption but I think that he is sometimes out of sync with economic reality.”

This fierce romantic idealism seems to annoy Bhushan’s detractors most. Like America’s self-appointed “radical lawyer” William Kunstler, Bhushan is accused of being a “publicity seeker”. Some are suspicious of his chiming with writer Arundhati Roy to recall India Rising to right rather than jingoistic might. Some say the Jan Lokpal Bill would have been drafted with or without Bhushan. Others say the main opposition BJP would have achieved the same results on the 2G scam had Bhushan not managed courtroom success. His chief critics say he’s not really a serious lawyer at all, just a “cause-pleader”. But Salve will have none of this. “He is a good lawyer. His arguments are crisp and to the point. He doesn’t get into high philosophy and jurisprudence. He picks his cause and he bangs it hard”.

Bhushan, unemotional to the point of bloodlessness, bangs on. From his third floor office opposite the Supreme Court, he looks dreamily at the pigeons on the window sill: “There are some straws in the wind. There is reason for hope. Today you can sense a kind of arousal and excitement even among the urban middle class which one didn’t see earlier. There’s resistance everywhere against every kind of loot and degradation.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/Citizen-Anna-and-agent-Prashant/articleshow/7931100.cms