Sunday, May 5, 2002, Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L   E D I T O R I A L

No, My Lord!
Hari Jaisingh

LAW is said to be an ass. The judiciary keeps it on the right course. That is the reason why even ordinary persons not familiar with the legal tangles of scams and scandals proclaim faithfully: let the law take its course.

This basic faith in the judiciary, by and large, remains unshaken, notwithstanding occasional aberrations. In the face of complexities, the wheel of justice moves on. In the polity, of course, there are wheels within wheels and no one is often sure which wheel is running for whom.

Along with the judiciary the Press, too, has been contributing its mite as a watchdog of public interests. The latest, and most important, examples are the affairs concerning the former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala, and the Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission.

There might have been a bit of dramatisation in a section of the Press in what is called L'affaire Ravi Sidhu. But most newspapers have responded well to the tremendous public interest in the shocking revelations of wheelings and dealings. This is no joking matter. The citizens of Punjab as in the rest of the country are outraged at the auctioning of jobs for tens of lakhs, if not crores of rupees.

We in The Tribune believe that the people's right to information cannot be compromised with. We will be damned if we deny them their rightful due.

We certainly do not believe in trial by the media. But it is our duty to tell the public about what is what and who is up to what. We believe that only a well-informed society ensures healthy working of democratic institutions.

Moreover, credit must belong to those who have earned it and really worked for it. The problem arises when credit is hijacked by those who have had nothing to do with the painstaking exercise that went into the building up of the highly complex and risky case against the PPSC chief.

Never before has such a massive exercise lasting nearly two months been undertaken to unearth explosive facts and lay the "trap" to net in Mr Ravi Sidhu and his gang of touts. The whole operation was professionally planned, organised and handled by Mr Sumedh Singh Saini and his team in Punjab's Intelligence Wing. Something rare in the Indian setting.

Every bit of information based on investigation and confessions was chilling. There was nothing political about the revelations. Nor was the flow of information about corrupt practices in the PPSC the result of the judiciary's intervention. The ground was well laid by the executive for the judiciary to take charge and take matters of corruption to a logical conclusion.

But, suddenly, what a blow now! Everything has come to a screeching halt so far as the people's right to information goes.

On Friday (May 3) Mr Justice K.S. Garewal virtually put a stop to information flow in this vital corruption case by a summary order on a petition filed by Mr Sidhu in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

What has prompted the honourable judge to come out with the order is baffling. Looking at the importance of information flow, the order does not stand the test of logic. It does not involve any point of law. Nor can it be justified on grounds of natural justice.

Transparency and public accountability are the very essence of democracy. Public visibility of the case was being maintained without being prejudicial to the accused. The whole operation seemed to be completely fair and clean. Why then, My Lord, this retrograde step? It virtually amounts to the muzzling of the Press. This is not acceptable to us as it goes against the spirit of democracy and freedom of the Press as well as fairplay and transparency in the judiciary.

As I have said earlier, the public has the right to information. To deny the Press the right to report honestly and faithfully the investigation in the Sidhu affair goes against the freedom of the Press. The order is neither fair nor reasonable. For, this denial throws a veil over the investigation and leaves the field open to manipulators to possibly tamper with the case quietly or manage the evidence under the cover of secrecy.

Why should, My Lord, the judiciary have to be afraid of transparency or the truth being brought out in full public view and under media watch? Let us not forget the fact that only after the bank lockers were opened in the presence of the print and electronic media that the nation suddenly woke up to the skeletons in the cupboard of the PPSC Chairman.

We live close to the raw reality of growth and decay. Only in an open system, My Lord, the sluice gates of misinformation and disinformation can be identified, exposed and closed, whether they are operated by state agencies or by non-official agencies.

No, My Lord. Pause and think again. This is not a matter of judicial non-activism. This is a matter of a decadent system. This is a matter of public betrayal. This is a matter of building a just and fair order. This is a matter of our unemployed youngsters who cannot get jobs on merit. This is a matter of public honour. This is a matter of freedom of the Press. This is a matter of the people's right to information. This is a matter of a few suspect persons vis-a-vis the honour and dignity of Punjab and the people.

My Lord, we have to think not only of the present generation but also of the generation next. They will judge us by our functional norms and the standards we set today. At stake is the question of dharma ó judicial dharma!

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