Skip to main content

Contempt petitions against Prashant Bhushan meant to intimidate critics: Top activists

Counterview Desk
More than 100 activists, academics and former civil servants have signed a statement expressing solidarity with leading human rights advocate Prashant Bhushan, against whom contempt petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court. The statement says, "Unfortunately, expressing an apprehension that the government might be misleading the apex court is being alleged to be contempt of court."
Signed, among others, by Aruna Roy, Wajahat Habibullah, Medha Patkar, Harsh Mander, Binayak Sen, Prabhat Patnaik, Anjali Bhardwaj, Prakash Singh, Shailesh Gandhi, Nikhil Dey, Syeda Hameed, Sandeep Pandey, Yogendra Yadav, Prafulla Samantara, EAS Sarma, Sucheta Dalal, and Aakar Patel, the statement insists, "We see this as a clear attempt to intimidate and silence one of the leading advocates in the country, who unflinchingly takes up issues of corruption and abuse of power and has relentlessly supported the struggles of the vulnerable and marginalized."

Text of the statement:

We are writing to express our concern and deep anguish at the filing of contempt petitions against well-known human rights advocate Prashant Bhushan. He was appearing in a matter challenging the appointment of the interim director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and seeking greater transparency in the process of appointment of the CBI director.
In October 2018, the central government had unilaterally, without the approval of the high powered selection committee, appointed Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI director.
This decision was quashed by the Supreme Court in January 2019 on the grounds that it was not made as per the procedure laid down in Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which mandates that the appointment can only be done on the basis of the recommendations of a high powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India (or any judge of the SC nominated by him) and the Leader of Opposition (or leader of single largest party in opposition).
Just two days after the judgment, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued an order again appointing Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI director. The order stated that this was done “as per the earlier arrangement" and did not, in any manner, indicate that it had the approval of the selection committee.
On January 14, 2019, a letter addressed to the Prime Minister by Mallikarjun Kharge, who is a member of the high powered selection committee, was published by the "Indian Express" and also put in the public domain.
The letter signed by Mallikarjun Kharge explicitly states that:
“9. Finally, we come to the vexing issue of the appointment of an interim director unilaterally by the government. The appointment of an interim director (a post that does not legally exist as per the DSPE Act) has once again been made without consulting the Selection Committee.
"10. The Government seemed to have made up its mind on appointing an Interim director and hence this was never placed before the selection committee in the 10th Jan 2019 meeting. This appointment of an interim director is illegal and against section 4A(1) and 4A(3) of the DSPE Act.”
In a hearing on February 1, 2019 in the Supreme Court, the Attorney General (AG) stated that the selection committee had taken a decision on interim CBI director and handed over minutes of the relevant meetings in a sealed cover to the bench. A copy of the minutes, when sought, was denied to Prashant Bhushan, with the AG claiming that the minutes were confidential.
Subsequent to the hearing, Mallikarjun Kharge confirmed to Prashant Bhushan that, as indicated in his letter, the issue of appointment of the interim CBI director was not discussed in the selection committee. This naturally raised serious doubts about the veracity of the documents presented in a sealed cover by the government to the apex court, and Prashant Bhushan raised this concern in his tweets, which are reproduced below:
“Today in CBI Dir appt case, the government made a startling new claim that Nageswara Rao was selected as the interim director in the HPC meeting on 11th January when they decided to transfer out Alok Verma! This seems to be at variance from LOP Kharge's version. https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/prashant-bhushan-vs-arun-mishra-j--142574 (sic)”.
“I have just confirmed personally from the Leader of Opposition Mr Kharge that no discussion or decision in HPC meet was taken re appt of Nageswara Rao as interim director CBI. The govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting! (sic)”.
“See the letter of LOP Kharge re the unilateral appointment of Nageswara Rao as interim director CBI by govt, w/o going through HPC of PM, CJI & LOP. Yet govt produced minutes of meeting saying that HPC approved appt. Seems govt gave fabricated minutes to court! Contempt of Court! (a photograph of the letter by Mr. Kharge was included in the tweet) (sic)”.
Subsequently, contempt petitions were filed against Prashant Bhushan alleging that the tweets amount to contempt of court. One of the contempt petitions included the redacted minutes of the meetings of the high powered selection committee, which had been handed over to the Court in a sealed envelope by the AG and denied to Prashant Bhushan on the grounds that they are confidential.
The redacted minutes state that the selection committee, with the dissenting view of Mallikarjun Kharge, decided that the Central government may post a suitable officer to look after the duties of the CBI director till the appointment of a new director of CBI.
If it was possible to make the redacted minutes of the selection committee public, it is inexplicable why they were kept secret earlier. If the minutes had been disclosed or shared with the petitioners, the doubts expressed by Prashant Bhushan in his tweets would never have arisen.
In fact, this is precisely the reason why greater transparency in the appointment process is imperative - undue secrecy erodes public trust and raises suspicion and doubts in the minds of people. Transparency is a pre-requisite to instil public confidence and faith in democratic institutions.
In the given circumstances, it is concerning that an attempt is being made to misconstrue doubts raised about the veracity of material handed over in a sealed cover by the government as contempt of court. Unfortunately, expressing an apprehension that the government might be misleading the apex court is being alleged to be contempt of court.
We see this as a clear attempt to intimidate and silence one of the leading advocates in the country, who unflinchingly takes up issues of corruption and abuse of power and has relentlessly supported the struggles of the vulnerable and marginalized.
We stand in complete solidarity with Prashant Bhushan.

Comments

TRENDING

Mystery around Gujarat PSU 'transfer' of Rs 250 crore to Canadian firm Karnalyte

By AK Luke, IAS (Retd)*
While returning from a Board meeting of the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Ahmedabad some time in 2012, two officers of the Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GSFC), Nanavaty and Patel,  saw me off at the airport. They said they were proceeding to Canada in connection with a project GSFC had entered into with a company there. As we were running late, I hastily wished them the best.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

J&K continues to be haunted, as parts of India 'degenerate' into quasi-Kashmir situation

By Rajendran Narayanan*, Sandeep Pandey**
“Jab har saans mein bandook dikhe toh baccha kaise bekhauf rahe?” (How can a child be fearless when she sees a gun in every breath?) remarked Anwar, a gardener from Srinagar, when asked about the situation in Kashmir. On November 30, 2019, a walk through an iron gate in a quiet neighbourhood of Srinagar took us inside a public school. It was 11 am when typically every school is abuzz with activity. Not here though.

Indians have made 119 nations their ‘karma bhumi’: US-based Hindu NGO tells Rupani

Counterview Desk
In a stinging letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, the US-based Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), referring to the report citing his justification for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – that “while Muslims can choose any one of the 150 Islamic countries in the world (for residence), India is the only country for Hindus" – has said, he should remember, Hindus have made several countries, including USA, their home.

What about religious persecution of Dalits, Adivasis, asks anti-CAA meet off Ahmedabad

By Rajiv Shah
A well-attended Dalit rights meet under the banner “14 Pe Charcha” (discussion on Article 14 of the Indian Constitution), alluding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi well-known campaign phrase of the 2014 Parliamentary elections, “chai pe charcha” (discussion over cup of tea), organized off Ahmedabad, has resolved on Wednesday to hold a 14 kilometres-long rally on April 14 to oppose the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), enacted on December 10-11.

Tata Mundra's possible closure? Power ministry's 'pressure tactic' on consumer states

By Bharat Patel*
Tata power has announced to the Union Ministry of Power that Tata Power may be forced to stop operating  its imported coal-based Mundra Ultra-Mega Power Project (UMPP) after February, 2020. It is not only unfortunate but also criminal that irreversible damage has been caused to the fragile ecosystem of Mundra coast for a project that will have a running life of only seven years.

Upendra Baxi on foolish excellence, Indian judges and Consitutional cockroaches

By Rajiv Shah
In a controversial assertion, top legal expert Upendra Baxi has sought to question India's Constitution makers for neglecting human rights and social justice. Addressing an elite audience in Ahmedabad, Prof Baxi said, the constitutional idea of India enunciated by the Constituent Assembly tried to resolve four key conflicting concepts: governance, development, rights and justice.

Population control? 10% Indian couples want to delay next pregnancy, but fail

Counterview Desk
Shireen Jejeebhoy, director at Aksha Centre for Equity and Wellbeing, previously senior associate at the Population Council, India, argues that the debate on the country's population was fuelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address to the nation, where he drew attention to “concern” about the challenges posed by this ‘exploding’ population growth, needs to centre around the promotion of rights and education, instead of the language of explosion and the threat of coercion that this term implies.

Kerala governor turned History Congress into political arena, 'insulted' Prof Irfan Habib

Counterview Desk
In a signed statement, office bearers of the Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology (ASHA), Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi (president), Prof Jabir Raza (vice-president), Prof Manvendra Kumar Pundhir (secretary) and Prof Farhat Hasan (joint secretary), have said that Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan had sought to insult veteran historian Prof Irfan Habib, 88, at the 80th session of the Indian History Congress, even as turning it into his “political arena”.