COMMON CAUSE UPDATES
We are presenting here a recapitulation of the activities of Common Cause and the significant developments in its various initiatives during the period from September 17 to October 22, 2013, as this issue goes to the press.
Public interest litigation
a. New interventions
i. Investigation into Headlines Today's sting operation on Muzaffarnagar riots:
In the context of the sting operation on the Muzaffarnagar riots conducted by Headline Today, which revealed a gross interference by influential politicians in matters of routine policing, the following Press Release was issued at the end of a joint press conference held by Common Cause, FRNV and CHRI on September 18, 2013 to press for the resumption of the stalled process of police reforms:
JOINT PRESS RELEASE : September 18, 2013
1. FOUNDATION FOR RESTORATION OF NATIONAL VALUES (FRNV)
2. COMMON CAUSE
3. THE COMMONWEALTH HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE(CHRI)
A. MEMBERS OF THE PEOPLE'S POLICE CAMPAIGN
The recent Communal riots in Muzzafarnagar, and the revelations of a sting operation by a TV Channel, point to the critical and urgent need for Police Reforms in UP, and in States across the Country!
We strongly denounce the partisan manner in which the political establishment in the state of Uttar Pradesh has misused the police, in order to foment disharmony and communal discord in the state, rather than allowing the police to discharge its constitutional duties without let or hindrance, and ensuring public safety and security, and preventing the tragic loss of life and property. The avoidable riots and the loss of life in UP, are yet another glaring example of how the political executive misuses the police for its own narrow and partisan ends, even if it means working against the larger interests of the Citizens of India.
The police and political executive are both bound together in the common endeavour of preventing and investigating crime, maintaining law and order and ensuring that the people have a well-functioning essential service that protects life, property and liberty. However, for policing to work in an efficient, unbiased, and responsive manner, the roles, powers and responsibilities of each entity involved has to be properly articulated. A careful balance has to be struck between legitimate `supervision' of the police by the political executive and illegitimate interference and influence that has been so blatantly visible in Muzzafarnagar. Conversely, the police must always remain accountable to elected politicians for enforcing the law and to perform its duties in accordance with the law.
India is in need of 21st century policing, where the Police are Autonomous, Accountable and work as a Service to serve the diverse needs of a large and growing democracy. The time is ripe for urgent reforms in the Police Acts of States within our Union, to make the police service committed to the wellbeing of all citizens. It is time that as a country we stand together and ask for a People's Police instead of accepting the status quo of a Ruler's Police, governed by laws framed by the British to subjugate a nation.
We collectively urge the State Governments and the Centre to undertake in right earnest the long neglected task of transforming the police `force' from a coercive instrument for furthering the interests of the establishment to a service dedicated to protecting the life and liberties of the people and as the first step to this end, effect the speedy implementation in letter and spirit of the Supreme Court's directives issued in the landmark judgment of 26th September 2006 (Prakash Singh v/s Union of India) to bring about police reforms in a manner that ensures minimal political interference in policing, so as to strengthen policing in India.
Subsequently, Common Cause filed an Intervention Application in Supreme Court Bar Association's PIL on the riots. The application, which seeks an investigation into the veracity of the sting report and a full probe into the events covered by it, was taken up along with the main petition on September 26. The Supreme Court directed the respondents to respond to the IA and the averments made in the main petition. The matter has been listed for October 17, 2013.
b. Developments in earlier PILs
i. Reforming the procedure for CAG's appointment
In the last hearing on October 10, 2013, the Delhi High Court reserved its verdict on the petition seeking the quashing of Shri Shashi Kant Sharma's appointment as Comptroller and Auditor General of India on grounds of a serious conflict of interest.
ii. News broadcast by private radio stations
Our PIL praying for the quashing of the unreasonable and unconstitutional provisions in the policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements applicable to private FM and community radio stations came up for hearing in the Supreme Court on October 17, 2013. The apex Court issued a notice to the Centre and asked "why private radio stations and community radios were prohibited from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programme on the same footing as television and print media."
iii. Decriminalisation of politics
It may be recalled that in the hearing on August 19, 2013 the Apex Court had pulled up the Union of India for not filing its response even after two years of notice. The UOI finally filed its response on October 7. The matter is now listed for November 25, 2013.
iv. Intervention application in Ashok Chavan's SLP
Our IA in the SLP filed by Ashok Chavan, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, against the order of the Delhi High Court upholding the Election Commission's power to inquire into the correctness of the account of election expenses filed by a candidate has been listed for further hearing on October 22, 2013.
v. Irregularities in allocation of coal blocks for captive mining
In the hearing held on September 25, 2013, the Court asked the Central government to clarify as to who had the power to allocate coal blocks - the Centre or the states - and sought the details concerning the committee that had approved the applications for the allocation of coal blocks and the procedure followed by the government.The Attorney General informed the Court that after the 1973 Nationalisation Act all the coal mines belonged to the states and were governed by the Mines and Minerals Development (Regulation) Act, 1957. Moreover, the allocation recommendations emanated from the States concerned.
Subsequently, the AG argued that the issuance of allocation letter was only the first step towards the grant of mining lease and by itself did not confer any right on the allottee to commence mining. The allocation letter was a letter of intent which in no way impinged on the rights of the state governments under the 1957 Act.
After protracted arguments, the Supreme Court issued notices to the governments of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, A.P., M.P. and West Bengal to explain their position. The matter has been listed for October 29, 2013.
vi. Removal of Justice Balakrishnan from the chair of NHRC
We have mentioned that in the absence of a response from the UOI, we filed a PIL in the Supreme Court on August 2, 2013, seeking a writ of mandamus to the UOI to comply with the letter and spirit of the order of the Supreme Court dated May 10, 2012 by making a reference for holding an inquiry against the Chairman of the NHRC. Our contention was that the UOI is not in a position reasonably to conclude that the allegations of misbehaviour cited by us in the earlier petition were unworthy of any further action. In the hearing on August 26, 2013, the Court had given the government, three weeks time to file its reply.
The Union of India in its reply to our petition has asserted that it would not ask the Supreme Court to conduct an inquiry into the conduct of Justice K. G, Balakrishnan, Chairman, NHRC, under Sec 5 (2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, as it has not found any evidence of corruption by the former Chief Justice of India (CJI) either as a judge or as the head of the human rights watchdog. The matter was heard on October 17, 2013. The Court told our counsel "that the only question to be decided was whether we could ask the government to seek a reference to ourselves "since we [Supreme Court] will be the enquiry officer". "It is a serious issue…. we don't want to decide in a hurry....we will go through the judgments and decide." The Bench then posted the matter for final hearing on October 30, 2013.
vii. Undoing the mala fide favours to RIL in KG Basin:
After the recusal of Justice H. L. Dattu, the matter was heard by a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, which directed that notices be issued to Union of India, Director General of Hydrocarbons, CBI, RIL and Niko to file their responses within 4 weeks. The matter is listed for October 22, 2013.