He argues that compensation paid to Erendro and Kishorchandra should be of “very handsome amount” so that the DM thinks twice next time when his Political Master asks him to put a man behind bar, said former SC judge
Expressing surprise at detention of an activist and a journalist from Manipur under NSA charges for saying cow urine and cow dung are not cure for Covid, former Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta on Saturday asked whether we were living in a police state.
Describing it as the “grossest” misuse of the law, Justice Gupta time has come when there has to be payment of compensation in lieu of illegal incarceration. The concerned District Magistrate must be made to pay the compensation amount from his pocket, he said.
It should be of a very handsome amount so that he thinks twice next time when his political master asked him to put a man behind bars. The court has also to be much stricter with law enforcement agencies, not with victims of the laws, he added.
Justice Deepak Gupta was speaking at a webinar on a topic “Democracy, dissent and draconian law – should UAPA and sedition law should have a place in the statute books?”
The webinar was organised by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) and Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA). Transparency activist Anjali Bhardwaj and advocate Prashant Bhushan moderated the discussion.
Former judges Justice Aftab Alam, Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Anjana Prakash and Gopal Gowda also spoke at the event.
The former Supreme Court judges unequivocally called for repeal of penal provision on sedition and stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) saying these are usually misused to stifle dissent and quell the voices which ask questions from the government.
While Justice Alam said the process of trial becomes a punishment for many in such cases, Justice Lokur was of the view that there should be a system of compensation for those who are wrongfully implicated and later acquitted.
On sedition, Justice Gupta said the law of sedition is an anathema to a democracy where every citizen has the right to ask questions from the government. Sedition law was introduced by a colonial power so that no Indian could raise their voice against British, he said, adding that Section 124A of the IPC in its current form must be struck down.
“Clarifications may come and go. Police will continue misusing sedition. The time has come to show the door to sedition law. No point retaining it on the statute books,” he said, referring to the filing of cases under Section 66A of the IT Act despite the section having been held unconstitutional in 2015.
Addressing the issue of the need for a system of compensation and reparation for those who are acquitted after long periods of incarceration under these laws, Justice Lokur said, “The sedition law and the UAPA are not going anywhere, they will remain where they are. And in fact, the NSA is now being added to it to stop people from talking.”
The former judge indicated the recent case of courts’ intervention securing release of political activist Erendro Leichombam and TFM journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem who were detained under the stringent National Security Act over a Facebook post that cow dung or cow urine will not cure COVID. “You have Manipur. And you have Uttar Pradesh, where the Allahabad high court struck down as many as 90 orders under the NSA”, said Justice Lokur.
He suggested that the only remedy is accountability and compensation for those who are acquitted after long periods of incarceration.
“In the Manipur case, the Supreme Court said you better release him by 5 o’clock! This is the state that we have come to? That Courts have to order release by 5 PM, 6 PM? This is the duty of the authority of the police to release the person! And there was no compensation in any of these cases!,” he said.
Further, Justice Gowda noted that massive reforms are necessary in special security legislations as they “reek of an authoritarian impulse which is dangerous in a constitutional democracy”.”Legal reforms are imperative. Provisions in these special laws that accord impunity to State excesses need to be repealed. Stringent guidelines need to be laid down for the exercise of these powers,” he said.