PUCL Bulletin, June 2001

Journalist receives 6 months imprisonment for contempt of court
- Y.P. Chhibbar, General Secretary

Also see, A correction by Rajendra Sail

Rajendra Sail, a journalist belonging to The Hhitvad, Nagpur and an important activist in the PUCL was sentenced (on 19 March 2001) to 6 months simple imprisonment, the maximum term, as "deterrent punishment". Rajendra Sail who is active on many friends was a close associate of Sankar Guha Niyogi the well-known labour leader of Madhya Pradesh and a leader of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha. Niyogi was assassinated on September 28 1991. The CBI investigated the case and charge sheeted three industrialists belonging to the Simplex Group of Industries, their goons, and a hired assassin Paltan Mallah. The trial court sentenced Paltan Mallah with capital punishment and 5 of the other accused with life imprisonment two of whom were industrialists. The Madhya Pradesh High Court however acquitted all the accused on 26 June 1998. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha held a meeting on July 1 1998 to observe the Martyrs day by way of homage to the 16 workers who died in police firing on July 1 1992. As this day was being observed barely 4 days after the above-mentioned judgement was delivered emotions were running high expressing shock and resentment at the acquittals. Anyone who is familiar with Niyogi's constructive role in giving a new direction of labour welfare to the Trade Union Movement would realize the dismay pervading in the atmosphere in Madhya Pradesh.

Rajendra Sail was convicted for the speech delivered and the 4 journalists were convicted for reporting the speech. Rajendra Sail's appeal against the judgement was admitted in the Supreme Court on April 4 and the High Court judgement was stayed.

The PUCL believes, as K.G. Kannabiran, its President, wrote in the April issue of the PUCL Bulletin, "administration of justice is an abiding concern of the people and courts, their institutions an instrument for bringing about an improvement in the quality and content of their lives, it may not lead to silencing of criticism". The PUCL is confident that the use of contempt powers will ultimately not be used as a shield by the judiciary to defend itself and between the competing claims of the citizens and the courts the citizens will not be the loser.

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