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Does The Judiciary Really Care About Personal Liberty?

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Supreme Court of India once again landed in the storm of controversy. The top court has been in the controversy for last six years since Narendra Modi government came to power at Centre. This time, it has landed in the controversy not because of any wrong doings but because of making positive observations and steps.

In a suicide case, the Supreme Court granted bail to Republic TV Arnab Goswami after his bail plea was rejected by the Bombay High Court. While granting bail to him, the apex court made an interesting observations about the personal liberty. Justice Chandrachud said “We must send a message today to the High Courts as well: Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty”.

This emphasis on the personal liberty in the case of Arnab Goswami drew massive reactions from the experts. This gives impression that the court really cares about the personal liberty of the citizens. However, the recent record of the court shows that it is not the case. In the last few years, human rights activists, dissenters, protesters and political leaders were jailed under the draconian acts like UAPA, NSA and PSA. But the court overlooked these matters.

In just the case of Kashmir, the Central government imprisoned most of the political leaders including three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir before the revocation of article 370 in August 2019. They were kept in the jail for months and years for no crimes. Some of them were released and some of them are still in the jail. This entire process of jailing and releasing was arbitrary. But the judiciary including Supreme Court overlooked the matter. The court overlooked habeas corpus pleas of the imprisoned leaders. It did not ‘exercise its jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty’ of the Kashmir’s political leaders. The government imposed restrictions on the communications – internet and telephone. The government curtailed all kind of freedom of citizens of Kashmir. But the court overlooked it for months and years.

The Central government as well as BJP-led governments imprisoned anti-CAA activists under the draconian laws UAPA and NSA. Meeran Haider, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Gulfisha, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Shifa ur Rahman, Khalid Saifi, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and many others are languishing in the jail because they took part in anti-CAA protests. But no judiciary care about their personal liberty. No court is upholding their liberty. In some of their cases, the court itself observed that there is no evidence against them for the charges levelled against them. But they are not being given bail. They are behind bars even though they have not been convicted for any crime. Then, for which crimes they are being punished? In a case of anti-CAA protesters of Karnataka, the Supreme Court even stayed the bail given to them. Did not the court curtail the personal liberty of those protesters?

The government also imprisoned elderly human rights activists – Sudha Bharduwaj, Varavara Rao, Stain Swami, Anand Teltumbde, and other many prominent activists in the Bhimakore Gaon Case. Some of them are even sick. Varavara Rao is even bed-ridden. But yet, he was not given bail. Recently, the Bombay High Court ordered to shift Varvara Rao to the hospital but not granted bail. There are journalists like Siddique Kappan and Asif Sultan who was imprisoned by the government. But they are not getting bail.

What is the explanation of this contradiction that the judiciary talks about the personal liberty in Arnab Goswami case while in other cases, it ignores? Are there different laws for different citizens? Are all citizens equal before law?

The case is not just limited to granting bail but also hearing. The Supreme Court showed extra-urgency to hear the case of Arnab Goswami. The court listed the case for hearing few days after the bail plea of Arnab Goswami case was filed. On the other hand, many sensitive issues like the cases of electoral bonds, CAA, the revocation of article 370 are pending in the court. They are not being heard on the urgent basis. This is why Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Dusyant Dave accused the Court of selective listing of the cases.

“While thousands of citizens remain in jails, languishing for long periods while their matters before the Supreme Court are not getting listed for weeks and months, it is, to say the least, deeply disturbing, how and why every time Mr. Goswami approaches the Supreme Court, his matter gets listed instantly. Is there any special Order or Direction from Honble the Chief Justice of India and the Master of the Roaster in this regard?” Dave has asked in a strongly worded letter written to the Secretary General of Supreme Court.

The question arises that are the court concerned about the liberty of Arnab Goswami because he is a BJP supporter and ignore other’s liberties because they are critical to the BJP? This seems to be a pattern to everyone who is critically looking at the courts.

The contradictory observations of the Supreme Court about the Article 32 of the constitution in recent days underline the leanings of the court. Article 32 gives citizens right to move to the Supreme Court when their rights are violated. It’s a fundamental right. On November 6, the Supreme Court issued a contempt notice to the Assistant Secretary of Maharashtra Assembly because he had questioned Arnab Goswami for approaching the top court against breach of privilege notice. The Court said that the citizen should not be deterred from approaching to the top court. On 16 November in Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan’s case, the Chief Justice SR Bobde said that the Court seeks to discourage article 32 petitions.

What does the contradictory observation by the court about the article 32 point to? Does it suggest that the Court really care about the personal liberty? Or does it point to the fact that the court care about the liberty of some government-friendly people?

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