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The Indian Express: Top stories: Full story
Tuesday, April 24, 2001

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The Indian Express North American Edition


Roy, Patkar dare SC to take contempt action against them

Express News Service

New Delhi, April 23: ACTIVIST Medha Patkar and author Arundhati Roy today dared the Supreme Court to take contempt action against them as they asserted their right to criticise its judgment allowing the construction of the controversial Narmada dam.

The two had been summoned alongwith advocate Prashant Bhushan to appear today in connection with a contempt petition accusing them of participating four months ago in a demonstration against the judgment in front of the Supreme Court.

In their separate affidavits, Patkar, Roy and Bhushan denied the allegations made by the petitioners, a group of three lawyers, that they made derogatory remarks against the court during the demonstration.

A bench comprising Justice G.B. Patanaik and Justice U.C. Banerjee took umbrage, however, to the tenor of the affidavits. ‘‘The charges made in the petition against them have been denied, but the tenor of the affidavits may itself be contemptuous,’’ it said.

Adjourning the matter to August, the court asked additional solicitor general Altaf Ahmed to suggest by then what course it should adopt in the proceedings.
The court indicated that if the allegations made in the petition turn out to be baseless, the petitioners themselves may be ‘‘sent to jail’’. But Patkar, Roy and Bhushan, the court said, may also be punished if they are found to have committed a fresh contempt with their affidavits.

In her affidavit, the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, Medha Patkar, said she would continue to help the dam-affected ‘‘raise their voices in protest against this system even if I have to do so against the judiciary and the courts. I will continue to do so as long as I can, even if I have to be punished for contempt for doing that’’.

Mincing no words, Patkar said: ‘‘A judiciary which insulates itself from criticism by using the power of contempt is bound to become insensitive to the people that it is meant to serve. This does not bode well for the future of our republic.’’

In an equally scathing attack, the Booker Award winning Arundhati Roy said the admission of the contempt petition ‘‘indicates a disquieting inclination on the part of the Court to silence criticism and muzzle dissent, to harass and intimidate those who disagree with it. By entertaining a petition based on an FIR that even a local police station does not see fit to act upon, the Supreme Court is doings its own reputation and credibility considerable harm’’.

Roy said that as a writer, ‘‘I have the right to criticise any judgement of any court that I believe to be unjust.’’ Patkar was accompanied to the court complex by scores of ‘‘dam-affected’’ people, who even today raised slogans against the court and its judgement, which they said, threatened to deprive them of their homes and lands.

Police detained around 200 people, mostly peasants and tribals from the affected areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, about 100 metres from the court premises.

Patkar was later allowed to take along a group of eight persons, including social activist Swami Agnivesh, inside the premises.

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© 2001: Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd. All rights reserved throughout the world.