Committing contempt and taming the Judiciary – DMK Style!
by B R Haran on 05 Apr 2009 2 Comments

A Supreme Court Bench comprising Mr. Justices BN Agrawal and GS Singhvi on 1 April 2009 dismissed a contempt petition filed by the AIADMK against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Union Minister TR Baalu, Tamil Nadu Minister of Transports KN Nehru, former Chief Secretary LK Tripathi, DGP P Rajendran and Transport Secretary D Sarangi, which alleged willful disobedience of the Apex Court’s order dated 30 September 2007, restraining the State of Tamil Nadu from organizing a bandh on 1 October 2007 in support of an early implementation of the Sethu Samudram Project. 

The bench said, “on coming to know of the restraint order passed by this court, Chief Minister Karunanidhi had made a statement for withdrawal of resolution dated 24 September 2007 by which a call was given by five political parties for cessation of work.” It added, “it is borne out from the affidavit of Chief Secretary that on 24th itself he had issued instructions to all officers to ensure the maintenance of law and order and essential services, so that the general public was not inconvenienced at all. So, it is evident that the respondents 1 to 5 did not disobey this court’s restraint order and they have taken all steps to prevent any disruption of public services. With regards to the issue of Respondent 6 (TR Baalu) making insulting remarks against the judiciary publicly, charge cannot be framed against him as the petitioners have not produced any legally admissible evidence to prove the contents of speech allegedly made by him.”  

This judgment exposes the loopholes in our laws and the judiciary’s lackadaisical attitude in dealing with the ‘powers- that-be.’ Looking back at the events which unfolded then, we are surprised that the Supreme Court which was severely castigating the Tamil Nadu government has refrained from punishing it and dismissed the petition! 

When the Rama Sethu Protection Movement was at its peak, the ruling Democratic Progressive Alliance of Tamil Nadu on 24 September 2007 called for a statewide bandh on 1 October 2007. When the same was stayed by the Supreme Court on 30 September 2007, the DPA formally changed its protest to a day-long fast but went ahead with the statewide bandh through its cadre strength, though the leaders stayed put at the venue of the hunger strike. The Chief Minister, who sat ‘fasting’ till afternoon, rushed to the Secretariat to show that he had attended office and that the TN government had been functioning.

Truth of the non-bandh

The reality was of course, totally different! Public transport went for a six and transport workers belonging to the union of the opposition parties were not allowed to operate the buses; the general public was severely inconvenienced. The railways also operated only skeletal services and even airline companies cancelled many flights. Government offices ‘worked’ with almost nil attendance, and educational institutions remained closed. Commercial establishments were forced to close by unruly DPA cadres. The entire state was brought to a standstill and the same was widely reported by the media, both print and electronic. The Chief Minister even went to the extent of saying that he had not received the order of restraint from the Supreme Court and that the fax message didn’t reach him in time! 

The so-called instructions issued by the Chief Secretary on 24 September, as mentioned in his affidavit which was referred by the Supreme Court Bench in its current judgment, was only for the sake of formality. The fact remains that the Chief Secretary had not given any such instructions after the issuance of the restraint order by the SC on 30 September 2007.

Actually, when the AIADMK approached the apex court on Sunday 30 September with a Special Leave Petition requesting a stay on the bandh, the Court in a rare move of sitting on a Sunday, was categorical in its order of staying the bandh called by the TN government. The special bench comprising Justices BN Agrawal and PP Naolekar held the bandh “unconstitutional.”

The court said a bandh that paralyses public life violates the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Terming the ‘perceived defiance of law by the political parties’ as a problem plaguing this country, the bench in a tone of scathing criticism said, “We have to deal everything with an iron hand. Otherwise things do not work. Every organ, be it the legislature, executive or judiciary, has to be dealt with an iron hand.”

High Court indifferent

At this juncture, the Madras High Court refused to stay the bandh when the AIADMK approached it on Friday 28 September 2007. The High Court declined to interfere and allowed the bandh provided normal life was not disrupted! But the Supreme Court had stayed the bandh. One wonders if there are separate laws for the High Court and the Supreme Court! 

While issuing the restraint order staying the bandh, the Supreme Court referred to the DPA resolution and said, “Your resolution says it is cessation of all activities and work. You want to show your popularity. Why do you want to close down all educational institutions and commercial activities? For getting people for your meetings?” 

All these dialogues landed on deaf ears and finally the general public suffered immensely due to the state-sponsored bandh. While unruly DPA cadres focused on implementing the bandh, DPA leaders waxed eloquent, criticizing the judiciary at the ‘fast’ venue. TR Baalu was the most vocal of all, and he exhibited his arrogance saying, “Are the Supreme Court Judges infallible? What is the urgency to hear the case on a Sunday?” 

Supreme Court turn-around!

AIADMK wasted no time and rushed to the Supreme Court with a contempt petition against the State government. Immediately admitting the petition, the Court came down heavily on the state government for failing to comply with its order of restraint. It warned the Tamil Nadu government of initiating contempt of court proceedings and said if necessary, it would not hesitate to summon the Chief Secretary and the Chief Minister.

The State Government’s non-compliance irked the Supreme Court so much that it suggested that President’s Rule be imposed by the Centre, as the case warranted the same. “Is this the government? Is this the Tamil Nadu government? Is it the DMK government, a strong ally of the United Progressive Alliance government? If this is the attitude of the DMK government, the UPA government should not feel shy of dismissing it and impose President's Rule,” the Court observed.

Though the Supreme Court issued notices to the respondents, including the Chief Minister and the Union Minister, the case was adjourned several times and now the petition filed by the AIADMK has finally been dismissed.

Considering the scathing observations made by the Apex Court, no one could have expected it to come out with such an insipid judgment. What made the Court forget its own observations and forgive the State Government? What has happened in the last one year that has made the Supreme Court dismiss a petition based on its own severe indictment of the state government just a year ago?

It seems the judiciary believes in the theory that people have short memories. It would do well to understand that it has started losing the trust and confidence of the people. The recent happenings in the Madras High Court and the consequent actions of the High Court and Supreme Court leave a lot to be desired, and the sooner the judiciary regains its supremacy in the eyes of the people, the better for the nation. 

No comment 

On 1 April 2009, 14 judges were sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. These included two who had felt it necessary to take the blessings (sic) of the Chief Minister just three days before. 

The author is a senior journalist; he lives in Chennai

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