Judiciary Versus the Media

It seems like a tussle for supremacy between the pillars of democracy. The stage was held by the ongoing legislature-judiciary pulls and pushes and recently the considered fourth pillar of democracy, the media, has been drawn into the tangle.

The sentencing of the High court of the four journalist of the Mid-day newspaper has drawn the battle lines between the judiciary and the media-men. The High court had sentenced these four journalists to an imprisonment of four months for committing a contempt of court against their publishing of certain reports in Mid-day against the former chief justice of India, Y.K. Sabharwal, alleging that he had passed certain orders during his tenure which were intended to benefit his sons and their builder friends. 

There have been a wide range of protest from eminent journalist and citizens of the country against the verdict of the High court in the matter. They feel that the right of freedom of expression has been suppressed and that the reports based on truth and facts do not amount to the contempt of court. The court on the other hand, many feel, has neglected the truth as a defense against the contempt of court. Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chaterjee in his remarks has expressed the need for probe into the matter. Eminent former CJI, V.N. Khare, former CJI, Verma, former CJI, P.N. Bhagwati & former CJI, G.B. Pattnaik also stated in their views that there should be an enquiry initiated in the matter so that the image of the judiciary can be held in high esteem in the eyes of common man. The political parties have played smart. None of them have reacted against the matter and have chosen to remain silent on the issue.

Where actually the 'Lakshmanrekha', as regards the contempt of court & the conduct of judges and former judges, be drawn remain unanswered. In 2002 the Supreme court of India had directed that the vacancies in the subordinate courts at all levels be filled by the end of March'2003. Directions of the Supreme Court have not been implemented and the vacancies still exist in the subordinate court. As on March 31, 2007, there were 2768 posts of subordinate court judges lying vacant across the country. Does this delaying and disobedience of court's order not amount to contempt of court? Will the judiciary take contempt of court action against the central and state governments for not implementing these orders?

There has been a notable incident involving the former judges of Allahabad High court in Uttar Pradesh. A judge colony welfare association from Ghaziabad has approached the Supreme Court against the alleged illegal allotments made by the GDA to the former Allahabad High court judges, who later sold their plots to private builders. The builders have not constructed flats on those flats in Vaishali that were originally earmarked for green use. This incident questions the conduct of judges in upholding the laws and regulations when it comes to self.

Recently, ruling DMK leader Karunanidhi, in Tamilnadu had called for a statewide 'Bandh' to demand the speedy implementation of the 'Setusamudram' project. The Supreme Court on Sunday had stopped the ruling DMK front from going ahead with the state-wide 'Bandh'. The Supreme Court even said that the non-compliance of the court orders will amount to a breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state and the court will not hesitate to direct the Central government to impose the president's rule in the state. Karunanidhi, however observed a symbolic fast on Monday. Even, this led to almost to a total closure of the state public transport, trains and long distance trains were worst hit, number of flights were delayed and cancelled and people gave up going to their work. The effect of this 'fast' could be seen in the state. Does this not amount to the contempt of court? Will the court do anything in this regard?

In another issue involving the DMK leader in march this year when a two member bench refused to vacate the stay on 27 percent reservation for the OBCs in higher education, Karunanidhi said 'we need to let the world know that a situation in which two or three persons can decide the fate of 100 crore people of this country was extremely harmful and damaging to the democracy' (HT, October 2, 2007). The DMK had gone further and observed a state-wise 'Bandh' on March'31 to protest against the Supreme Court ruling. Does this also not amount to the Contempt of Court? What has the court done against this?

Are not the above cases attracting the contempt of court in one way or other? Why these have not been dealt with by the concerned courts?

There has to be mechanism for judicial accountability where the judiciary itself should draw the line and keep a check on the conduct of judges including the former judges. As of now, the matter involving former CJI, Y.K.Sabharwal, is of great public importance and complete transparency has to be observed as he is considered to be one of the finest judges the country has ever had.

Judges are human beings themselves. They too can commit mistakes. What's wrong in facing an enquiry in such a case when the prestige of the entire judiciary has been under scanner in front of the people? The truth and facts does not amount to the contempt of court. The decision against the journalists, many feel, has overseen this golden rule.

The journalists have demanded that the proceedings be initiated keeping in mind the facts presented by them. What's wrong in that? If the facts are later found to be incorrect then they should be ready to face the iron hand of the law. Former CJI, Y.K. Sabharwal, the man in question, should come out and volunteer himself for a probe in the matter and make a strong statement by upholding the laws and constitution of the country. The matter is under question by people throughout the country and may have repercussions as regards the functioning of independent judiciary of the world's largest democracy.   


More by :  Peeyush Khandelwal

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