Weighing in on the side of sting operations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of lawyer R.K. Anand caught discussing on videotape plans to influence a witness in the 1999 Sanjeev Nanda hit-and-run case.
Describing Anand as someone who should be “kept away from the portals of the court for a longer time”, the court told him to explain why he shouldn’t be given harsher punishment.
The Delhi High Court had in 2008 prohibited Anand, who was representing Sanjeev Nanda, and special public prosecutor I.U. Khan from appearing before it and the courts subordinate to it for four months.
The two lawyers had been caught discussing how they planned to influence a witness, Sunil Kulkarni, who was, in fact, the bait on offer to lure the two into a sting operation by TV news channel NDTV.
They took the bait. And found themselves in trouble soon after the news channel aired the sting. The Delhi High Court held both Anand and Khan guilty of contempt of court, for trying to influence the witness.
The Supreme Court let Khan off the hook by striking down his conviction. But it warned him that his behaviour was unbecoming of a public prosecutor, which will make Khan’s rehabilitation little less celebratory.
Anand refused to comment saying, “I have to read the judgement.”
Khan was obviously much relieved. “Today I am praying.. I am grateful to the Almighty and those who supported me.”
But the verdict on Wednesday was about sting operations. Not only has the Supreme Court upheld a conviction handed by the high court on the basis of a sting operation, it refused to regulate them.
There were suggestions before the court it should frame guidelines to regulate sting operations, which are investigations launched by media outfits/personalities without revealing their true identity.
“It is not our intent here to lay down any reformist agenda for the media,” the court said, adding, “Any attempt to control and regulate the media from outside is likely to cause more harm than good.”
“The norms to regulate the media and to raise its professional standards must come from inside,” said the bench comprising justices B N Agarwal, G S Singhvi and Aftab Alam.
They did not agree with Anand and Khan’s contention that the sting amounted to media trial. “The sting telecast by the NDTV was indeed in larger public interest and it served an important public cause,” said the court
“Leaving aside some stray remarks or comments by the anchors or the interviewees, the programme showed some people trying to subvert the BMW trial and the state of the criminal administration of justice in the country (as perceived by the TV channel and the interviewees).
“There was nothing in the programme to suggest that the accused in the BMW case were guilty or innocent,” the bench said.
The views of the bench are in sharp contrast to those of another bench headed by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, which is insisting on an apology from a Zee News reporter, who conducted a sting operation to expose alleged corruption in the subordinate judiciary in Gujarat in 2004.
The reporter had procured warrants of arrest against then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the then chief justice of India, a Supreme Court judge and a bar leader by bribing local lawyers. The expose was aired after bringing the matter to the notice of the Supreme Court.