Stop arbitrariness, follow the law
The State must crack down on violators, but respect fundamental rights and libertyUpdated: Aug 13, 2019 12:58 IST
Last week, the founder-promoters of the New Delhi Television (NDTV), Radhika and Prannoy Roy, were stopped from flying out abroad from the Mumbai airport. This was based on a request issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is pursuing a case against them for a financial transaction, involving a loan from the ICICI bank and its repayment. The merits of the case need not detain us here, and the legal process must be allowed to take its own course, irrespective of the background and credentials of those accused. If banks have been defrauded, then the perpetrators must be brought to book.
But what is a matter of concern is both the process and the underlying message. To be sure, India has recently seen incidents of high-profile bank defaulters (Vijay Mallya) or those accused of bank fraud (Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi) escape the country. This has elicited considerable criticism against the government, for having either not acted not fast enough or being complicit. The process to get such individuals back is a long, arduous one, involving both diplomacy and law, as can be seen in the court proceedings against Mallya and Modi in UK.
But this cannot and must not become the basis for arbitrary action against individuals who are cooperating with the law. It cannot also be the basis for denial of fundamental rights of citizens to travel, when even charges have not been framed. Authorities must also exercise better judgment in recognising the bonafides of individuals - and differentiate between those who may actually flee, and those who are expected to return to the country. In this specific case, the Roys have cooperated with agencies; the case is in court; charges have not yet been framed; and they had a return ticket to India for this week. If at all any lookout circular is issued, which prevents an individual from flying abroad, then it is also important for the authorities to inform the individuals in advance, rather than detain them at the airport.
The government’s actions, back in 2015, in the case of activist Priya Pillai should be a cautious reminder. Scheduled to speak in UK in environmental issues, the government stopped her from flying; she went to court, which then upheld her right to free expression. She was an activist. Roys are entrepreneurs and journalists. But what ties them is they are Indian citizens, protected by constitutional rights. The government must crack down on wrongdoers, while respecting individual liberty and rule of law.