Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, coming out in support of the
journalists sentenced for contempt of court, has appealed to the judiciary to give up its “over-sensitive attitude” in matters directly related to it. He also advocated an early end to the “unnecessary conflict” over the rights of the media and the general public.
Speaking to the
, the Speaker said, “I have the highest regard for the judiciary, but if somebody thinks that the judiciary is above any criticism, well, then it is an unacceptable situation in a democracy. We cannot be guided by any form of dictatorship — either of the legislature or the executive or the army or the judiciary”. In a clear reference to the
case, he appealed to the judiciary to examine the truthfulness of the issue in hand.
“Many articles were written about certain activities of a judge, who happened to be the chief justice of India at that time. Documentary evidence was also there. But instead of going into the truth of these charges, which the judiciary can do with its means and mechanisms, it looks like orders are being passed as if to terrorise these people. Such orders are full of question marks," Chatterjee said.
Rejecting the argument that the contempt law was applied in the journalists’ case to protect the integrity of the judiciary, the Speaker said, “Nobody needs to be oversensitive in these matters. The test of interference in the judiciary is hardly applicable to a former chief justice. He is an ordinary citizen and so are his relatives. Journalists raised questions on his contacts and activities... there appeared to be some prima facie basis. Where will this be tried? Who will decide on this important matter?”
“Does it mean that if there are questions about a learned judge, nothing can be done ? Attempts to scotch efforts in the very beginning does not do justice to either the judiciary or the public,” Chatterjee remarked. Asked about his views on the freedom of the media, he said, “I feel unnecessarily conflicts are coming up between the rights, the undeniable rights of the media and the people. A well meaning citizen has a right to inform, if he has any information, while the fellow citizens have a right to react. Nobody needs to be oversensitive.”
Chatterjee said no interference in the independence of the judiciary can be tolerated. “The test is very simple —does any act interfere with the due discharge of judicial duties and functions ? Every constitutional authority must be allowed to function for the very purpose for which it was evolved. If there is interference and the judiciary is not allowed to function, one may say that the judiciary has lost its moorings,” the Speaker said.
Recalling the restraint with which Parliament dealt with cases of breach of privilege (by journalists), the Speaker said, “It is important how you deal with those who have committed any contempt and have crossed the line. A feeling of realisation has to be instilled in them. (But) if you are trying to put fear in their minds by sending them to jail, then we are heading towards a dangerous situation.
“Contempt proceedings are not initiated to extract a pound of flesh from those who seem to have crossed the line. Public disapproval of misconduct is sufficient to give a clear signal to those who have been hauled for contempt,” Chatterjee said.
Meanwhile, some political parties have demanded an inquiry into the allegations against former Chief Justice Y. K. Sabharwal. CPI(M) Politburo member Sitaram Yechury said in an article in People’s Democracy that inquiry would clear all doubts .
For his part, Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav demanded a CBI inquiry. “It is a clear case of corruption, which threatens to tarnish the image of the judiciary. The family of a former Chief Justice has benefited from his actions. The Supreme Court should order a probe. I that does not happen, the Centre should initiate a CBI inquiry,” he said.