‘Liberty Can’t Be Sacrificed At Altar Of Conjectures’

Justice D Y Chandrachud on Friday dissented against the majority verdict of CJI Dipak Misra and Justice A M Khanwilkar and said Pune police’s “disconcerting” attitude in besmirching and maligning the arrested rights activists through deliberate media leaks warranted a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) monitored by the Supreme Court.

Citing a recent case where the SC had awarded compensation to Isro scientist Nambi Narayanan for being framed by Kerala police in a false spy case, Justice Chandrachud said, “Payment of compensation 24 years after the wrongful arrest is a grim reminder about how tenuous liberty can be and of difficulty in correcting wrongs occasioned by wrongful arrest. There can be no manner of doubt that deprivation of human rights seriously impinges upon an individual’s dignity for which even compensation may not constitute adequate recompense.”

The minority judgment, though of academic interest, will evoke huge traction among rights activists as Justice Chandrachud said, “The court must be mindful of the need not to thwart a criminal investigation leading to the detection of unlawful acts. Equally, the court has to be vigilant in the exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 32 to ensure liberty is not sacrificed at the altar of conjectures.

“Individuals who assert causes which may be unpopular to the echelons of power are yet entitled to the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy. Voices in opposition cannot be muzzled by persecuting those who take up unpopular causes.”

Criticising Pune police, Justice Chandrachud said its conduct “in utilising the agency of the electronic media to cast aspersions on those under investigation fortifies the need for an investigation which is fair”.

“When the JCP and the additional DGP cast aspersions against persons whose conduct is still under investigation, and in disregard of proceedings pending before a judicial forum, it is the duty and obligation of this court to ensure that the administration of criminal justice is not derailed,” he added.

Justifying his decision to differ, Justice Chandrachud said, “The purpose… is to ensure the basic entitlement of every citizen who is faced with allegations of criminal wrongdoing: that the investigative process should be fair. This is an integral component of the guarantee against arbitrariness under Article 14 and of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. If this court were not to stand by the principles, we may witness a soulful requiem to liberty.”

Minority judgment may help in bail

Legal experts claimed the five activists arrested on June 6 in the Elgar Parishad case might benefit from the dissenting opinion. Activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, lawyer Surendra Gadling, former PMRD fellow Mahesh Raut and academician Shoma Sen were held on June 6. Gadling and Sen’s bail plea will be heard in a Pune court on October 6. “The dissenting judgment has questioned the credibility of the evidence collected by the Maharashtra police,” Nihalsingh Rathod, one of their lawyers, said.