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The Hindu on : SC unhappy with NBA leaders, Arundhati Roy

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Saturday, October 16, 1999

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SC unhappy with NBA leaders, Arundhati Roy

By T. Padmanabha Rao

NEW DELHI, OCT. 15. The Supreme Court has held that the Narmada Bachao Andolan (petitioner) and its leader, Ms. Medha Patkar, through press interviews, newspaper reports and press releases - given after the apex court permitted an increase in the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to RL 85 metres - ``have knowingly made comments on pending proceedings and have prima facie disobeyed the interim injunctions issued by the court on April 11, 1997 and November 5, 1998'' (against making comments on the merits of the pending proceedings).

The court also expressed its displeasure today at the action of the writer, Ms. Arundhati Roy, in making ``distorted writings'' in her book ``The Greater Common Good'' and in her article in the magazine Outlook (vis-a-vis the court's orders in the NBA case).

``Prima facie the threats held out by the petitioner and its leaders also appear to be an attempt to prejudice or interfere with due course of judicial proceedings.''

The Chief Justice, Dr. A.S. Anand, who pronounced the orders speaking for himself and Mr. Justice B.N. Kirpal, keeping in view the importance of the issue of Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Project Affected Families (PAFs) - which the court had been monitoring for the last five years - said that the court was, however, not inclined to initiate ``contempt proceedings'' against the NBA, its leaders and Ms. Arundhati Roy.

The Chief Justice said that, in the larger interests of the issues pending before the court, it ``need not pursue the matter any further''.

Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, in his separate order, noted ``while I record my disapproval of the statements that are complained of, I am not inclined to take action in contempt against Medha Patkar, Shripad Dharmadhikari and Arundhati Roy because the court's shoulders are broad enough to shrug off their comments and because the focus should not shift from the resettlement and rehabilitation of the oustees''.

The Chief Justice expressed the hope that ``the petitioner and its leaders would hereafter desist from acting in a manner which has the tendency to interfere with the due administration of justice or which violates the injunctions issued by this court, from time to time.''

The Bench was disposing of an interlocutory application from the State of Gujarat urging court to issue suitable directions and also initiate suitable action against those who allegedly defied its (earlier injunction) orders.

``Litigants must realise that courts cannot be forced by pressure tactics to decide pending cases in the manner in which the concerned party desires,'' and ``it will be a negation of the rule of law if the courts were to act under such pressure,'' the Chief Justice cautioned. ``While hypersensitivity and peevishness have no place in judicial proceedings - vicious stultification and vulgar debunking cannot be permitted to pollute the stream of justice,'' he observed.

The Chief Justice wished ``to emphasise that under cover of freedom of speech and expression no party can be given a licence to misrepresent the proceedings and orders of the court and deliberately paint an absolutely wrong and incomplete picture which has the tendency to scandalise the court and bring it into disrepute or ridicule''.

``Courts are not unduly sensitive to fair comment or even outspoken comments being made regarding their judgments and orders made objectively, fairly and without any malice, but no one can be permitted to distort orders of the court and deliberately give a slant to its proceedings, which have the tendency to scandalise the court or bring it to ridicule, in the larger interest of protecting administration of justice.''

``The action of the petitioner and its leader, Ms. Medha Patkar, as well as the writings of Ms. Arundhati Roy have caused us much anguish and when we express our displeasure of the action of Ms. Arundhati Roy in making distorted writings or the manner in which the leaders of the petitioner, Ms. Medha Patkar and Mr. Dharmadhikari, have, after giving assurances to this court, acted in breach of the injunctions, we do so out of anguish and not out of anger,'' the Chief Justice said. ``Maybe the parties were overzealous in projecting their point of view on a matter involving a large segment of tribal population, but they should not have given to themselves the liberty of acting in the objectionable manner,'' the Bench said.

The court was ``unhappy at the way the leaders of NBA and Ms. Arundhati Roy have attempted to undermine the dignity of the Court,'' it ``expected better behaviour from them''.

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