Wednesday, June 06, 2007

SC'S INTERVENTION IN GUJJAR VIOLENCE: A FEW QUESTIONS

The Supreme Court's suo motu notice to the DGPs of four States on what action they have taken or proposed to take against the perpetrators of the violence, triggered by the Gujjars' bandh is interesting. This is perhaps the first time that the Supreme Court has taken suo motu notice when there was large scale destruction of public and private property, due to the call for bandh by any group of people. There can be no two opinions that the organisers of the bandh must be asked to pay for the resultant losses, whether the bandh is peaceful or not. There can be a debate on whether bandh is an effective medium to register a protest, or even whether the protestors have the right to force the non-protestors to join the bandh, by creating unfavourable circumstances like road blockade etc. The Gujjars' bandh was anticipated. Therefore, why the DGPs did not take preventive action, to stop destruction of property and disruption of normal life could have been the right question which should have been posed by the Court, which would have helped the country to face similar situations in future. Therefore, the Court's question to the DGPs - on what action was taken or why no action was taken - may not really bring the desired results. Action could be taken only if the police knows who are the culprits, and this requires investigation, and the setting in motion of a legal process.
The urgency shown by the Court stems from the fact that it was disturbed by the images shown on the television by many channels. On the destruction of public and private property, it needs to be asked whether the channels identified the culprits, whether the culprits could be identified by virtue of the TV clips. If it is possible, no doubt action must be taken against them.
I would not be surprised if a proper investigation reveals that the violence was to some extent abetted by these channels, who were vying with one another to sensationalise the issue. The repeated manner they were showing the 'violent' clips during the week-long disturbances even made the I&B Minister so disturbed to call these channels and advise them to follow some code of behaviour, so that they don't unwittingly contribute to the spread of violence. A serious discussion in Parliament on any issue makes no news; but pandemonium does. Similarly, a peaceful protest makes no news to these channels; a violent protest does. Since you cannot show killings, show destruction of property, encourage and abet a peaceful crowd to do that in order to gain publicity on T.V. is the in-house unwritten code for many of the television journalists. "As the electronic media shows, the offenders feel that they have done some heroic or laudable thing because they show their beaming faces when the TV camera is focused on them," the court in its brief order recorded. Therefore, in its anxiety to ensure justice to the victims of this national shame, the Court should not close its eyes to the shame within the media.
Having said that, certain disturbing questions are bound to be asked about the merits of Court's intervention in this case. No doubt, the Court was moved by a genuine concern that justice be meted out to the victims of violence. But, only on June 4, the Vacation Bench rejected a plea to intervene in the violence instigated against the Dera sect in Punjab. The plea of the petitioners was for a direction to the authorities to ensure protection of the lives and properties of the followers of the sect, and the sect itself in the wake of the threats from the hardline Sikh groups. But the Court rejected the plea saying only State could handle religious conflicts. The Court said it was a religious issue on which no writ mandamus could be issued. It also stated that the tension arising out of the situation was purely a law and order problem that had to be essentially handled by the government agencies.
Reacting to the plea of Dera Sacha Sauda counsel Rajiv Dhawan that the deras faced a threat of closure, apparently from Akal Takhat, the Bench said, "Sensitisation of the issue should not involve the court… it is not the court’s job to decide where the BSF or Army should be deployed… for that, you have to approach the government."
As Dhawan said the problem was not confined to the jurisdiction of Punjab and Haryana High Court but some other states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir were also involved, the Bench said, "The genesis of the problem is essentially Punjab."
Personally, I am not at all convinced by the distinction sought to be drawn by the Court between the violence resulting from the Gujjars' demand and the one following the threat to the Dera sect in Punjab. If the Court could intervene in the former, they could do so in the latter also with justification.
Update: In the comments section, Mr.Harish points out the inconsistencies in the Court's intervention. Just one instance would suffice to show why I find Justice Pasayat's judicial philosophy, with utmost respect to him, wholly puzzling. In the AIIMS Doctors' strike during the height of their anti-reservation stir, he had extracted a promise from the ASG that the striking medicos would not be deprived of their salary during the strike period, even though they were not entitled to it in accordance with the principle, no work no pay, as a court-mediated solution to end their stir. The striking doctors caused immense chaos to the health services during the strike period, still the court was keen to condone their action, and even reward them for their strike. The contrast with Gujjars needs no explanation.
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