PUCL Bulletin, January 2002

PUCL, Delhi state convention 2001 report

The convention of PUCL- Delhi was held in Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi on 22 November 2001. The programme began on a solemn note amidst the news of the death of Dr. Sudesh Vaid, a well known human rights activist. A two minutes' silence was observed as a mark of respect to the departed soul. N. D. Pancholi described Dr. Vaid as a committed human rights activist who continued to work till the very last of her life for a better human rights environment in the country.

The discussion on the slated topic `Implication of Judicial Contempt on Human Rights was initiated with the keynote paper of N. D. Pancholi. N. D. Pancholi, while distinguishing civil judicial contempt from the criminal contempt underlined that criticizing the court's decision should not be construed as the contempt of the court. He identified such a criticism with the fundamental right of free statement of one's opinion guaranteed in the constitution. In the light of recent contempt notices issued by the Supreme Court to some individuals in Narmada Court Case, he disagreed with the court's interpretation of the contempt of the court and stated that the criticism is not contempt. He advocated the repeal of the criminal contempt power of the courts.

A.K. Panda, noted Supreme Court lawyer maintained that the contempt powers of the courts per se must be respected and there should not be two opinions that these powers should stay with the court. He, however, regretted that the courts have invoked these important powers in rather inconsistent manner. He referred to the cases of E. M.S Namoodripad and Congress leader Shiv Shankar in this regard who were judged differently by the court while contempt proceedings were initiated against them.

Justice R. B. Mehrotra agreed that the civil contempt is there to stay. However, he argued, there is need to have a debate on the powers of criminal contempt proceedings of the court in light of Narmada Bachao Case involving Arundathi Roy.

Justice Rajindar Sachar regretted that the Supreme Court has used its contempt powers beyond a limit. He wondered that as the court doubted the truthfulness of the FIR against the accused who were charged with the contempt, why has it not initiated any action against the lawyers who filed a false report. He also spoke about some of the contempt cases that came before him as a judge of the high court. He underlined that the courts must take in view the motive and the spirit of the individual or the institution before invoking its contempt powers. He said that the courts must not treat themselves above criticism. They must permit fair criticism that forms part of right to free statement of the individual guaranteed under the Indian constitution.

Dr. R.M. Pal criticized the courts for selectively invoking their power of contempt. He said that the courts have particularly been lenient when the powerful and well-connected persons have been involved. He referred to a case of a national daily editor who got away with an apology for writing many an unsavory things about the judges of the Supreme Court. He opined that in the light of selective discrimination in invoking the right of contempt proceedings and in view of the courts' tendency to scuttle fair criticism the powers of the court regarding the criminal contempt must be taken off the statute book.

Surender Mohan, the well-known socialist ideologue, felt that the court has done damage to its own credibility by persisting with the contempt proceedings in Narmada Bachao Case. He emphasized the need of the codification of the contempt powers of the courts as the fundamental rights of the citizens are codified in the constitution.

Later in the day General Secretary, Gopa Joshi read out the General Secretary's report enumerating several programs, seminars and discussions that the state units initiated in the course of the preceding two years.

After this the treasurer's report was read out by the treasurer, Asmita Kabra. She expressed concern over the fund crunch that the organization faced for running its day to day activities. She stressed the need for mobilization of resources for the organization in the wake of the PUCL money being blocked in UTI's units and their consequent devaluation.

In the end the new office bearers were elected for the next two years. Dr. R. M. Pal was elected as the President, Shri. N. D. Pancholi and Shri. Anup Saraya was elected as the Vice Presidents, Shri Pushkar Raj was elected as the General Secretary, Shri Joseph Gathia and Shri R.L. Singh were elected as Secretaries and Shri Mahipal was elected as the treasurer. -- Pushkar Raj, General Secretary, Delhi PUCL

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