Saturday, June 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

HC upholds right to know
Ban on media disclosure set aside
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 31
Lifting the veil of secrecy, a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court today ruled that “there was no valid reason for imposing any restriction, much less a ban, on the publication of news items and reports on the progress of investigation being conducted by various agencies of the Punjab Government into what is being described as the Punjab Public Service Commission recruitment scam”.

Delivering the verdict in the open Court, the Bench, comprising Mr Justice G.S. Singhvi and Ms Justice Bakhshish Kaur, also held that “the reports appearing in the press and the electronic media about a case involving PPSC chairman Ravinderpal Singh Sidhu, suggesting that he had amassed wealth running into crores of rupees by corrupt means and polluting the progress of selection leading to the recruitment of various persons to Class I and II services in the state of Punjab, do not in any manner violate his fundamental right to free and fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.

Dismissing his application alleging “selective disclosure” to the media, the Judges further held: “The officers of the Punjab Vigilance Bureau, impleaded as respondents in the case, are not guilty of unauthorised or premature disclosure of material collected during the investigation of first information report number seven dated March 25 registered by Punjab Vigilance Bureau at Mohali under the Prevention of Corruption Act and have not committed contempt of Court. Therefore, no action is called for against them”.

The Judges also ruled that Common Cause Forum — a social organisation which had earlier filed a public interest litigation in the matter — had the right to seek information and material facts supporting their prayer. In their detailed order, the Judges observed: “As a matter of prudence, the officers connected with the investigation must resist the temptation of being media savvy, else there was a danger of the investigation being derailed”.

They also observed that the envelopes, containing documents pertaining to the case, produced by a Senior Deputy Advocate-General, were being taken on record. “These shall be kept in a sealed cover which may be opened under the Court’s order as and when required”. The other cases will now come up for further hearing on July 29.

Sidhu, it may be recalled, in his petition had earlier sought directions to the state of Punjab and other respondents to hold an independent inquiry into the unauthorised, premature and selective disclosure to the media regarding the material collected by the investigating agency. He had also sought initiation of proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act against the respondents.

Taking up his petition, a Single Judge of the High Court had ruled: “It is in the interest of fair and impartial investigation, besides trial, that the respondents are completely prohibited from disclosing the contents of the statements of the witnesses recorded under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure or the contents of the statements and confessions, if any, recorded under Section 172 of the Code”.

Common Cause Forum — a social organisation — had, on the other hand, sought directions to the respondents for holding the investigation of the case relating to Sidhu in a “transparent manner”. They had also demanded that the progress of the investigation must be made public from time to time to inspire confidence. Counsel for the petitioner had added that the forum had moved several applications before the investigating agency for the supply of two FIRs, besides other information relating to the investigation of the case, including the details of the persons arrested till date. He had added that no orders were, however, passed.


Stand vindicated

Minutes after the judgement on the “right to information” was pronounced by a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, members of the Bar started calling up The Tribune office to “congratulate the newspaper on vindication of its stand”.

“The High Court has upheld the stand taken by The Tribune in its front page editorial ‘No, My Lord’,” said advocate Bhim Sein Sehgal, also the Chairman of the All-India Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association. “It was The Tribune which first raised the issue,” he added. Other advocates also called up to describe Friday’s verdict as “The Tribune’s victory”.

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