Narmada Samachar: 20 August 2001

Headlines


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Satyagraha 2001

Submergence Water Enters Narmada Satyagraha Hut on August 16;
Satyagrahis Firm for 6 Hours: People Chase Away Police
;
NBA Press Release - August 20, 2001

Jeevan Yatra at Bhopal. Search for Life and Livelihood ;
NBA Press Release - August 18, 2001

Jeevan Yatra Flagged off from Narmada banks
; SOS from Children of Narmada Valley to the President
;
NBA Press Release - August 16, 2001

Press Clippings

Narmada valley children to invite President ;
The Hindu - August 18, 2001



State of Resettlement in the SSP

Press Releases

Maharashtra Government officials agree that 90m affected families
resettlement is still due in front of Narmada Control Authority officials
;
NBA Press Release - August 16, 2001

Press Clippings

Now big dam reaches height of trouble ;
The Hindu - August 20, 2001

Politicians push project as oustees face submergence ;
The Hindu - August 20, 2001

Panel wants to resettle families before raising dam height ;
The Hindu - August 19, 2001



General SSP News

Digvijay's nod for dam ;
The Hindu - August 20, 2001

NEW DELHI, AUG. 19. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Digvijay Singh,
has agreed for the construction of the controversial dam on the Sardar Sarovar
in the interests of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. 

The Chief Minister gave his assent at the ninth meeting of the Narmada Control
Review Authority, which was held here on Saturday under the chairmanship of
the Union Water Resource Minister, Mr. Arjun Charan Sethi. The Gujarat
Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, also attended the meeting. 

A Madhya Pradesh Government release here today said Mr. Digvijay Singh made
it categorically clear that as per the Narmada Nyayadhi Karan Award, the
cost of rehabilitation of those whose agricultural land and buildings have
been submerged, would be borne entirely by the Gujarat Government. 

The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister also emphasised that after the construction
of the dam till the approved height, no humps should be made as this would
lead to further displacement. He said since his Government was unable to pay
its share of the project, the rest of the amount should be made available
by the Union Power Ministry. 
Water for Rajasthan by June 2004 ;
The Hindu - August 20, 2001

JAIPUR, AUG. 19. Rajasthan will get its share of water from the Sardar Sarovar
dam by June 2004. The construction of a bypass tunnel in the Narmada project
for supplying irrigation water to Rajasthan and Gujarat will also be completed
soon. 

These were some of the decisions taken at a meeting on the Narmada project,
chaired by the Union Water Resources Minister, Mr. Arjun Charan Sethi,
in New Delhi on Saturday. Rajasthan was represented by the State Irrigation
Minister, Mrs. Kamla.

An official release here today stated that the meeting decided in favour of
increasing the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam from the present 90 metres
to 100 metres. The issue has already created much controversy with the
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) stoutly opposing the move. 

The bypass tunnel under construction for providing water to the irrigation
areas in Rajasthan and Gujarat would be completed shortly. 
Narmada level receding ;
The Hindu - August 19, 2001

Dams & quakes ;
The Hindu - August 19, 2001



Other related news

Bhel bags Rs 540-cr Maheshwar project contract ;
Economic Times - August 20, 2001

WCD report: a framework for underdevelopment? ;
M.S.Menon, Former Chief Engineer, Central Water Commission; The Hindu - August 14, 2001



Feature Article: Of contempt and legitimate dissent - V.Venkatesan, Sukumar Muralidharan

Frontline - Volume 18 - Issue 17, Aug. 18 - 31, 2001

THE contempt of court case involving the Booker Prize winning novelist
Arundhati Roy has invited the attention of another writer similarly
honoured. Writing in The New York Times on August 7, Salman Rushdie
suggested that the Supreme Court of India stood arraigned before the
"court of world opinion" for the manner in which it was pursuing the
charges. "Can it be," he asked, "that the Supreme Court of the world's
largest democracy will reveal itself to be biased against free speech and
be prepared to act at the bidding of a powerful interest group - the
coalition of political and financial interests behind the Narmada Dam?"

Arundhati Roy, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar and
advocate Prashant Bhushan received contempt notices for having organised a
demonstration in December 2000 against the Supreme Court's majority
judgment in the Narmada case. Widely criticised by development experts and
water resource management specialists for being inattentive to facts and
insensitive to the needs of the project affected, the majority judgment
rendered last October cleared the way for raising the height of the Sardar
Sarovar dam on the Narmada to its full proposed height.

In April, Roy, Patkar and Bhushan filed their affidavits in reply to the
contempt notice. When hearings resumed in the case on August 2, the court
was urged by Altaf Ahmad, Additional Solicitor-General of India and amicus
curiae, to hold the respondents in contempt for the tone and tenor of
their replies. Initiated on the basis of a complaint filed by five
lawyers, the scope of the contempt case has now been enlarged to embrace
the subsequent conduct of the respondents. And while the Supreme Court has
reserved its ruling on the original complaint, it has retained the option
to initiate fresh proceedings for contempt against Patkar and Roy in
particular.

The Supreme Court began its action on the basis of a petition filed by
R.K. Virmani, J.R. Parashar and three other lawyers. The substance of
their complaint is that on December 13 last year, they found their access
to the Supreme Court premises blocked by a noisy crowd outside the gates.
Finding to their consternation that the Supreme Court had become the arena
for a political demonstration, they berated the assembled crowd for an
inappropriate choice of venue. Upon this, the petitions claimed, they
faced grievous physical and verbal abuse and the possibility of
life-threatening injuries. Medha Patkar allegedly exhorted the crowd to
kill the lawyers. Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the NBA, allegedly tugged
one of the petitioners by the hair and promised him that his next
appearance in the Supreme Court premises would be his last. And Arundhati
Roy allegedly sought to incite the crowd into violence by branding the
Supreme Court a "thief" and the lawyer-petitioners as its unabashed
"touts".

This supposed factual narration of the events of December was appended to
the petition seeking contempt proceedings against Patkar, Roy and Bhushan.
At the first hearing of the case on April 26, the complainants were warned
that any element of falsehood in their petition would invite a term in
jail. It also emerged that the local police station had not taken
cognisance of the "first information report" made out by the complainants,
and that no case had been registered or investigations conducted. This
rather serious legal lacuna was again raised on August 3 by the Supreme
Court Bench comprising Justices G.B. Pattanaik and Ruma Pal. One of the
five lawyer-petitioners, Virmani, then flew into a paroxysm of simulated
rage, expressing his loss of faith in the Bench, and reproaching it for
not giving him an opportunity to explain his version of events.

It is an interesting sidelight to these events that Virmani was as
recently as February appointed a government pleader by the Union Law
Ministry. Yet by all accounts, the court-room demeanour of Virmani and his
fellow-petitioners has been consistent with the tenor of the original
complaint filed by them, with its mix of lurid fantasy and reckless
concoction. At the last hearing, senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, who
appeared for Patkar, pointed out that the respondents have denied all the
accusations made against them. Further, he argued, the petition was
seriously flawed in several respects and should not have been entertained
by the court registry in the first place. It did not carry the addresses
of the petitioners or respondents, and though it purports to represent
five persons, it has been signed by only one. Lastly, Attorney-General
Soli Sorabjee, whose concurrence is required by law for the Supreme Court
to take up a petition for contempt, had declined to do so for reasons
unspecified.

Despite these infirmities, the petition was entertained and notices were
issued. In the circumstances, Shanti Bhushan felt that the strong tone of
the affidavits filed by the respondents was fully warranted.

The Bench suggested that the technical flaws Shanti Bhushan had drawn
attention to could often escape detection, since an average of 62
petitions were received in the Supreme Court every day. This did not
constitute an adequate basis to condone the rather strong observations
made by the respondents in their affidavits. For instance, the Bench
considered a paragraph in Patkar's affidavit to be on the face of things
contemptuous: "The superior courts have recently shown a disturbing
tendency to use the power of contempt against persons who have been
criticising the courts and their judgments. 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."

Most legal experts agree that Patkar's assertions fall within the bounds
of legitimate dissent, as laid down by the Supreme Court itself in recent
cases. Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee makes this subtly clear in his
article in a recent anthology commemorating the golden jubilee of the
Supreme Court (Supreme But Not Infallible, Oxford University Press, 2000,
page 351): "It is a mistaken notion that an enforced silence by the
threatened use of the contempt power leads to enhancement of the public
image of the judiciary when corruption within some of its ranks is the
talk of the town." Sorabjee proposes the amendment of the contempt law to
provide for the defence of truth and the public interest. He also
advocates imposition of stiff civil and criminal penalties upon a person
who fails to substantiate his or her allegations.

Patkar's assertions seem unexceptionable in this context, since they do
not impute motives to any judge and are in the nature of a generalised
observation on the manner in which contempt powers have been invoked. Yet
as the law stands she cannot claim truth as a defence. And the court is
now seemingly tilting to the view that a mala fide has been read into its
decision to issue notice for contempt. It posed a rather pointed question
to Patkar: "Are we muzzling dissent?" Shanti Bhushan responded that this
was his client's perception, and that if it amounted to contempt she was
willing to serve her time in prison. He added for good measure that a
perception was growing that the judiciary was far removed from social
realities and had begun to use contempt powers to stifle criticism of its
judgments.

The Supreme Court Bench had a wider range of objections in the case of
Roy's affidavit. In a trenchant submission, Roy confessed herself rather
mystified by the conduct of the Supreme Court. On the one hand the Chief
Justice of India had refused to nominate a sitting judge to inquire into
the proliferating scandals in defence procurement that the Tehelka tapes
had laid bare. His plea then was that the Supreme Court was over-burdened
with cases and could not afford any such diversions. Yet when it came to
an "absurd, despicable, entirely unsubstantiated petition" urging the
initiation of contempt proceedings against critics of the Narmada
judgment, the Supreme Court showed a curious alacrity. This, said Roy,
"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." In acting with such seeming sense of purpose upon a case that
had failed to interest even the local police station, the Supreme Court,
said Roy, "is doing its own reputation and credibility considerable harm."

Roy has had an earlier brush with the Supreme Court's sense of offended
majesty. While hearing the NBA's public interest petition against the
Sardar Sarovar Project, the Supreme Court Bench had taken note of certain
rather sharp comments made by Roy in her 1999 essay, "The Greater Common
Good" (Frontline, June 4, 1999). The court's order - rendered without
giving her an opportunity to explain herself - then held out a warning to
her to curb her "objectionable writings".

To the evident displeasure of the Bench hearing the case, Roy has in her
affidavit characterised this admonition from the highest court as
"insulting". Appearing on August 3 without the aid of counsel, Roy by all
accounts was both straightforward and crystal clear in her response to
this expression of judicial displeasure: "I find the issuance of notice
insulting to me. I stand by my affidavit. If you think it is inappropriate
and contemptuous, please proceed against me."

Justices Pattanaik and Pal assured Roy that though her credentials as a
writer were not in question, she was not at liberty to impute motives to
the court. Nor would she be justified in assuming that any judge harboured
a "personal hysteria" against her. The sole purpose of the judges was to
ensure respect for the rule of law.

Extended video recordings of the December 13 demonstration have since been
circulating, as also interviews with the petitioners Parashar and Virmani,
which call into question their credentials. The two lawyers, for instance,
have admitted that they met the Supreme Court Registrar on the day of the
demonstration, seeking some action from him. They were then referred to
Chief Justice Dr. A.S. Anand and later to Solicitor-General Harish Salve.
While the Registrar pleaded his inability to disperse the demonstrators,
the Chief Justice, according to their own claims, "advised" the
petitioners to meet Salve, who in turn, suggested that a complaint be
filed which could be the basis for a contempt petition. If in pursuing
this course of action the petitioners embellished the events of the day
with generous infusions of fantasy, they could soon be called to account.
Justices Pattanaik and Pal, in reserving judgment on their plea, have kept
open the option of ordering an inquiry into the events of December 13.

There is universal agreement today among legal experts that fair criticism
of judicial acts is not contempt. In a landmark case in 1971, the Supreme
Court said that "justice is not a cloistered virtue and she must be
allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though outspoken
comments of ordinary men." What borders on scandalisation of court is
perhaps imputing motives or mala fide on the part of the court in the
performance of its duties. Even these, however, may not constitute
contempt, if there is no "clear and present danger" to the administration
of justice. This is the most enlightened and liberal position on contempt,
as laid down in various rulings in the United States and the United
Kingdom.

Curiously, the judiciary in India seems immune to these winds of
liberalism. In a recent case the Supreme Court sentenced S.K. Sundaram, a
Madras High Court advocate, to six months' imprisonment, for questioning
the authenticity of Chief Justice Anand's age testimonials. It later
suspended the sentence for five years on the condition that the accused
would refrain from repeating his offence. Sundaram gave the undertaking as
required but died shortly afterwards. In this case, the court arrived at
its verdict without the benefit of concluding its own probe into the
document that was widely circulated, showing a discrepancy in the official
records on the age of the Chief Justice.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court recently sentenced civil liberties activist
and trade unionist Rajendra K. Sail to six months' imprisonment, for
terming the acquittal of all the accused in the murder of Shankar Guha
Niyogi as "rubbish". Four journalists who reported Sail's comment were
also convicted along with him. All five contemners have since secured bail
and appealed against their conviction in the Supreme Court.

The case of Vineet Narain, editor of www.kalchakra.org - an occasional
investigative journal published from New Delhi - is also curious. Best
known for his persistent litigation in the Jain hawala case, Narain faces
contempt proceedings for publishing a story alleging that a judge of the
Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice T.S. Doabia, had favoured the wife
and mother-in-law of Chief Justice Anand in a land acquisition case in
Madhya Pradesh. This refers to the year 1995, when Justice Doabia was
serving on the Gwalior Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

Narain has sought to be excused from personal appearances at the Jammu and
Kashmir High Court in Srinagar on grounds of personal safety. He has been
unable to respond to summons from the Jammu Bench of the court because of
the unsettled conditions there and the prospect of frequent disruptions
and adjournments. As a final recourse he has questioned the jurisdiction
of the High Court. But rather than deal with these questions, the High
Court recently declared Narain a "proclaimed absconder" and ordered
non-bailable arrest warrants against him. He now faces the threat of his
property being confiscated and auctioned by the court and leads the
precarious life of a fugitive. "Even during the hawala days, I had never
faced such harassment, tension and persecution", he says. "The court's
objective seems to be to harass and humiliate, rather than ascertain the
truth".