Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Supreme Court and Human Rights

A recent article in The Hindu dealt with evolution of human rights jurisprudence in India, and praised the Supreme Court for its seminal contribution to it. However, a recent case when the Supreme Court rejected a Writ Petition seeking its direction to the police to register a case of custodial violence against a police officer may be viewed with concern. The petitioner, Prashant Bhushan, representing the NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation, sought action against the concerned officials, and restoration of rule of law. The petition was based on a news item on Prime Time TV on an English news channel, CNN-IBN screening a police official openly admitting that he had tortured Mohammad Afzal in May-June 2000, to extort confessions of his involvement with a militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). This was prior to his being accused and convicted in what is now known as the December 2001 Parliament attack case. The official, then D.S.P. Davinder Singh has been recorded saying that he “tortured Mohd. Afzal till the limits of any interrogation, put petrol in his ass, stripped him naked and hung him upside down in order to break militancy and save India”. This interview was telecast on CNN IBN on 27 November 2006 at 8.00 p.m. prime time, in a programme called ‘Afzal Decoded’. It also appeared from this recording that Davinder Singh’s official superior, S.P. Ashif Bukhari, knew about the torture and permitted it.
In his trial in the Parliament Attack case, Afzal had recorded in his statement under Section 313, Code of Criminal Procedure, that he was picked up and tortured by the J&K STF, yet no action was taken.
The Centre for PIL is a Registered Society formed for the purpose of protection of public interest through conducting public interest litigation in an organized manner. Its Executive Committee consists of several senior Advocates including F.S. Nariman, Shanti Bhushan, Anil Diwan, Rajinder Sachar, Colin Gonsalves and others. The Petitioner has filed several important public interest petitions including Writ Petition (Civil) No. 637 of 1998, titled Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CIPL) & Ors. Vs. Union of India, seeking comprehensive administrative guidelines for securing the citizens’ right to information.
But the report about the hearing in the Supreme Court is of concern to all right thinking people. The Bench not only raised questions about the propriety of using the lawyers' chambers for the NGO work (It is not clear whether the Bench thinks an advocate cannot be an NGO activist), but advised the petitioner to approach a police station to file the FIR. Mr.Prashant Bhushan, petitioner, had this to say when asked for his reaction:
"I need to register an FIR in a case where I alone or a few persons like me are witness to a crime. In a case where the crime has been admitted on primetime of a national TV network where senior officers of the J&K police havealso been interviewed, it is the duty of the police to register the FIR. Since they had not done it, I can legitimately infer that they have no inclination to do so."
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