The recent edition of India Legal show talked about the latest criticism heaped on the army and the Election Commission of India (ECI). The show argued that do words such as ‘General Dyer’ and ‘Dhitrashtra’ which have been used against institutions violate the freedom of speech and expression? And whether it demoralizes the institutions. The show said that to rein-in such criticisms, the ECI had written a letter to the law ministry to bestow it with contempt powers.
Justice VK Mathur, former judge, Allahabad High Court; Justice Ravinder Singh, former judge, Allahabad High Court and chairman, UP law commission; KTS Tulsi, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, Lt. General (Retd.) AK Bakshi and Haryana Human Rights Commission chairman Justice Vijender Jain formed part of the eminent panellists on the show. The show was anchored by Rajshri Rai, Editor-in-Chief, APN.
Rai started the discussion by putting the first question to Justice VK Mathur. Justice Mathur was asked how that the ECI has asked for contempt powers. Does that mean the ECI has gone too deep?
Justice Mathur replied: “The thing is, when there is a permanent law in society, simple changes just cannot be made because of a transient situation. Secondly, the power of contempt resides with superior courts. Subordinate courts do not hold this power. All they can do is to refer the situation to higher courts. So, I think, according to me, it would be dangerous to give such a power to ECI.”
Justice Mathur continued: “ECI has the power to blatantly argue back and reply to the allegations that are made against it. Which is why, according to me, giving such a power to EC is not necessary. And also, if such a power is given to EC, then there are a lot of agencies which will also ask for the same power.”
Justice Ravinder Singh agreed with the comments of Justice Mathur and said “ECI make rules, and in such a democracy the way they act and make rules and conduct them is bound to have some sort of comments. But the criticism needs to be on the procedure. Nobody has the power to make any personal comment. A limit needs to be understood when someone is passing a comment. We can only attack a system when it has a foundation. If our only aim is to pass a comment which causes harm, then some sort of protection should be given”.
Justice Singh further added: “There is no need to give the power of contempt. If ECI is holding the elections, it has executive powers, so they cannot have contempt powers.”
The show now centered the question on the army and how should it tackle the criticism. “There should be criticism, I agree. And to say that you can criticise the government and not the army would be wrong. Army is different in two ways: a) it is not public service, which is why it is not correct for them to absorb the criticism by public, and b) there is a sensitivity involved because they deal with our enemies,” said Lt. General (Retd.) AK Bakshi.
Senior Advocate, KTS Tulsi said: “Criticism is a part of democracy. If one person criticises the Army there are hundred others who are in support of it. There was a time when Punjab was at the verge of separation from the country but it was because of the police, the armed forces and the paramilitary that the conditions there are normal today.”
Bakshi said: “There would be criticism and it can also be indecorous but the army will not get in to a public spat. Army doesn’t answer with words but actions. Definitely the negativity strikes our army personnel but there comes our management to handle that discouragement.”
“So, it is difficult and the negative comments do have an affect but the leadership and their attitude matters. And these comments should not be taken so lightly because the soldiers would think that they are calling my chief a goon. Nowadays the trend is to oppose whatever you see without even thinking,” added Bakshi.
We present bytes/views of some of the panellists below:
Lt. General (Retd.) A K Bakshi
Justice Ravindra Singh
Justice VK Mathur
Senior Advocate KTS Tulsi
—Compiled by Lily Paul and Mrinal Verma