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The Hindu on : NBA case: SC adjourns hearing on Gujarat plea

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, July 30, 1999

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NBA case: SC adjourns hearing on Gujarat plea

By T. Padmanabha Rao

NEW DELHI, JULY 29. The Supreme Court, in the `Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) matter', today adjourned, until August 5, further hearing on the interlocutory application (IA) from the State of Gujarat.

The application had complained of ``a consistent and persistent approach on the part of the petitioner (Narmada Bachao Andolan) in ignoring Apex Court's directions passed from time to time, more particularly, in relation with publication of various matters in different newspapers, journals and other media touching upon the matter under consideration of the court'' (in the main PIL petition from the petitioner).

The Chief Justice, Dr. A. S. Anand, Mr. Justice S. P. Barucha and Mr. Justice B. N. Kirpal, were on the Bench.

The Bench, at the last hearing, after perusing various statements and press releases by the NBA and also certain statements in an article (touching on the Narmada Dam controversy) by Ms. Arundhati Roy, Booker Prize winner, published in an issue dated May 24 of Outlook magazine, as well as the book ``The Greater Common Good'' written by her - observed that `prime facie' it appeared that there was an attempt ``to undermine the dignity of the court and influence the course of justice''.

The Bench had then appointed Mr. K. K. Venugopal, senior advocate and president, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), as an `amicus curiae' to assist the court in regard to any action required to be taken in this matter as well as the main petition.

Earlier, Mr. Venugopal contended that, on the basis of material annexed to the Gujarat IA, the petitioner NBA and its leader, Ms. Medha Patkar, had `contravened' the Apex Court's order dated April 11, 1997, which prohibited the parties from going to the press or taking recourse to any other forum or media.

He also pointed out that the court's order dated November 5, 1998 again directed that none of the parties to the litigation (main PIL petition) shall make any comment by any means whatsoever touching upon or concerning merits of litigation pending before the court ``save at its own risk of being punished for contempt of court''.

He contended that the NBA and its leader were ``in contempt of the Apex Court under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 for committing civil contempt by wilfully disobeying the orders of this Honourable Court dated April 11, 1997 and November 5, 1998.

In regard to the comments about the judiciary, it would appear to be the petitioner's (NBA's) right to freedom of speech in regard to a matter of great public importance and would bring the case within the protection of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution (freedom of speech) as the statements were ``not of a nature which is tantamount to scandalising the court,'' the amicus curiae submitted and added that one had to accept the sincerity of the petitioner and its leader, Ms. Medha Patkar.

On certain comments of Ms. Arundhati Roy vis-a-vis the Apex Court in her article in Outlook magazine and the book `The Greater Common Good', Mr. Venugopal submitted that she who had passionate concern for the tribals had done greater disservice to her cause and also to the Apex Court which, in a number of cases, intervened to ensure that basic rights and human rights of common man, underprivileged, illiterate masses were protected. One course of action that the court consider could be to hold her responsible and warn her, counsel submitted.

The appropriate course to be followed by the court against the NBA and its leader was not by way of punishing Ms. Medha Patkar and other organisers of the NBA by a jail sentence or fine, for `contempt' but on the other hand, the more appropriate course would be to remove the petitioner (NBA) from the array of parties as petitioner in the main PIL writ petition and to substitute any other petitioners in the very same batch of PIL petitions, to continue the main PIL proceedings with the existing pleadings from the present stage, Mr. Venugopal submitted.

The court might even consider, in the first instance, to warn the petitioner once again of the consequences, on the very cause it sought to espouse, before deleting the petitioner as a party to the case, the amicus curiae submitted.

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