Friday, September 28, 2007

Contempt of Court: The Mid-day case

The Supreme Court has stayed the Contempt of Court sentences of the four mid-day journalists. This comes as good news to those who thought the Delhi High Court acted in a hasty manner in passing sentences on those who published allegations against former Chief Justice YK Sabharwal once he had retired from office, even still when they had proof of the same.

The Delhi High Court judgment is a fascinating read. It is evident of the extent to which our Courts can go to protect themselves from any allegations. The judgment may be seen here

I wonder what is going to happen to free speech in this Country with the Courts taking such a stand.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Secrecy and Free Speech

On the 22nd of September, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the house of Maj Gen VK Singh, a retired RAW agent and his publishing agency for publishing his book, India's External Intelligence : Secrets of the RAW Revealed. The retired general has now been booked for violation of the Official Secret's Act. (See news clip)

The book spoke about alleged political interference and corruption in the intelligence agency, including claims about the purchase of sub-standard telecom equipment meant for VVIP security. The book claimed there were severe lapses on part of the government that facilitated the escape of senior RAW official Rabinder Singh, who is believed to have fled to the US.

The incident raised various questions about the boundaries of free speech in this Country. Infact, I just remembered reading a similar case in Alan Dershowitz's book, THE BEST DEFENSE. I read about an CIA Agent named Frank Snepp who published a book exposing the fallacies in Vietnam for which he was booked by the US Government. Dersh was to defend him in the case. The case is very very similar to the one that's come up in out Country. Unfortunately in this case, the US Supreme Court in US v. Snepp ruled against Snepp and secrecy has not become an anti-thesis to free speech there. I's afraid that if this case goes to Court then the Indian Supreme Court would do something like the same which would set a bad precedent in regard to cases of free speech and the right to privacy.

The following is a narrative given in Frank Snepp's site,

The narrative...

Among the last CIA agents to be airlifted from Saigon during the closing moments of the war, Frank Snepp returned to CIA headquarters in the summer of 1975 haunted by the loss of his Vietnamese son and lover—and determined to force his colleagues to assist other Vietnamese left behind. But this was the Season of the Reckoning with the CIA under investigation by Congress and unwilling to admit any more transgressions, least of all its final ones in Vietnam. So when Snepp attempted to prompt an internal after-action report to generate support for the abandoned, his colleagues resisted and reviled him, and finally hounded him out of the Agency in an effort to keep a lid on the truth. But Snepp would not be cowed, and for the next eighteen months, with the help of brave friends who risked both career and welfare for him, he carefully and discreetly assembled the report the CIA didn’t want, even as former fellow agents pursued him like a fugitive on the run, attempting to intimidate him into silence.

His expose, "Decent Interval", was published by Random House in total secrecy—the first American book to be brought out this way. But the firestorm of publicity it ignited, including a 60 Minutes exclusive and front-page coverage in The New York Times, drove the CIA and the White House to launch a campaign of retaliation unparalleled in the annals of American law.

While acknowledging that Snepp’s book had had compromised no secrets, the government’s lawyers insisted that its unauthorized publication alone had “irreparably harmed” the nation’s security by creating an impression of a breakdown in CIA internal discipline that could frighten off intelligence sources abroad. They also claimed that it violated an invisible trust and a secrecy agreement Snepp had signed with the Agency, and demanded, as penalty, that he be gagged for life and deprived of all his “ill-gotten gains,” every cent he had earned from his act of “faithlessness.”

They offered no proof to support their allegations of harm, ignored inconsistencies in the six secrecy agreements Snepp had signed, and glossed over the fact that other ex-agents, friendlier to the CIA, had routinely been allowed to publish unapproved books and articles without protest or censure. Even so, a scandalously prejudiced Federal judge succumbed to the CIA’s extravagant national security claims and ruled against Snepp at every turn, reducing him to an American version of Colonel Alfred Dreyfus, the Frenchman ruthlessly martyred for his beliefs.

Along the way an outraged U.S. Senator took further vengeance on the ex-agent-turned-author by blocking his father’s appointment to the federal bench, thus effectively stalling his judicial career and forever souring his relations with his son.

But young Snepp’s ordeal wasn’t over. Months later, in late February 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court took up his case on appeal—and used it to savage both the defendant and the First Amendment.

While upholding the most draconian of the earlier rulings against Snepp—a lifetime gag and confiscation of every penny he’d made from "Decent Interval"—the Court lowered the standard by which the government can gag you or any other American in the name of national security. With its landmark ruling in The United States v. Snepp, the nation’s highest tribunal made it possible for the CIA or any other government agency to silence critics simply by convincing a court that they’re imperiling the “appearance” of airtight official secrecy, whatever that means.

And don’t suppose that genuine national security interests need be at stake. Remember: Frank Snepp was persecuted, prosecuted, gagged and wrecked financially even though the CIA conceded in court that nothing he had made public exposed any official secrets.

Reverberations from the ruling quickly spread through the government and private industry and continue down to the present. Successive presidents from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton have used it to justify placing millions of government workers, from FBI agents to park rangers, under censorship rules that prevent them from writing even novels without official approval. The Reagan administration invoked it to limit the reach of the Freedom of Information Act. The Bush administration used it to discourage government workers from blowing the whistle on bureaucratic waste and abuse, claiming that any such disclosure violates an implicit obligation of trust. The Clinton White House relied on the Snepp to try to squelch an early expose of the president’s romantic peccadilloes and to keep criticism of its mid-east policies out of print. The cigarette maker, Brown & Williamson, turned Snepp against whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and CBS’ 60 Minutes to discourage them from airing the firm’s dirty secrets.

“An unprecedented vote for censorship” is how The Los Angeles Times described the ruling against Snepp. “No court decision in our history,” observed columnist Nat Hentoff, “has so imperiled whistleblowers and thereby the ability of all citizens to find out about rampant ineptitude.”

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Gaza Burning

Israeli authorities have declared Gaza a 'hostile area'. For those who read the papers they would know that the reason is the activities of the Hamas in that area. Israel has totally cut of fuel supplies to gaza and people in the area are not allowed to leave even if they go for medical reasons. Condolezza Rice on the other hand promises to keep supplying aid to the Palestinians there. As a result of no fuel, there is not power in 80% of the city and people are dying in the hospitals because of the impossibility of performance of surgeries and medical attention. The action to allegedly tackle the Hamas, is one that affects the common gazan population. I am myself touched to read and get to know the ground story of such action. Dr. Mona El Farra writes;

Gaza today
I am extremely worried about the power cut off . more than 50%of Gaza electricity is AlAwda hospital , we have enough of fuel to run our alternative electrical generators for one week . all hospital are threatened to stop of its surgical operations and diffrent medical services .if the situation will continue .Many essential medications are lacking on the hospital shelves, I expect the poverty level to increase to unprecedented level. Ordinary Palestinian people pay the price of the occupation , their democratic choice and bewilderment of their leaders.

I promise u that i shall work hard with my team to help people . with your support and solidarity we can do a lot.

Mona elfarra

I recommend all of my readers to read her blog. It's touching. Every time I read it my heart goes out to the palestinians and support for their struggle.

Elie Wiesel, a jew himself commented in 1986 that to be indifferent then is a sin. The greatest concern that one can have is not of security but that of humanity. While the above is preached to the whole world, Israel certainly doesnt seem to be following that. When can we realise the man can live together in harmony and peace rather than fighting over land occupied by themselves.

The problem I have with Israel is that in the 1950's they asked for the sympathy of the world to what Hitler did to them and now seem to be doing the same to the Palestinians. It is a struggle against suppression that the Palestinians pursue and what we can best do is to support people like Dr Mona Elfarra and others in their endeavour.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


My friend Kruttika had the following signature attached to her email;

“After the war, there is a plan to divide Iraq into three parts: regular, premium and unleaded. “
Jay Leno.

The Iraq war has raised eyebrows of many around the world. Won’t comment about it. Just was amused to see it in her email.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

State Sponsored Armed Conflict: The Salwa Judum and the State of Chattisgarh



Joseph Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. Human emotion does not seem to ponder about the deaths occurring in numbers but seems highly passionate about the death of one being. The story of the Salwa Judum in the State of Chattisgarh is no different. Every month more than 300 people die as a result of fighting between two groups and till date more than 40,000 are displaced. The idea of violations and crimes in numbers just seems to baffle us.

The ‘Salwa Judum’ in Chattisgarh is termed by the government to be an anti- maoist force formed by the common man himself. For those sitting in the seats of government power, it is an alternative to tackling the Maoists and anti- naxalite factions in the state. But there is something more to it. In December 2005, a fourteen member team from five organizations all over the country conducted an investigation and the revelations were shocking. What the Chattisgarh government calls an anti- naxalite force seems to be more of a state sponsored private army supplied with guns, ammunition and basic supplies to deal with the Maoists.[2] On the basis of the fact-finding, three facts stood out strongly, First, that the Salwa Judum is not a spontaneous people's movement, but a state-organized anti-insurgency campaign. Second, the situation is not one where the ordinary villagers are caught between Maoist- State clashes. Rather than questioning its own nonperformance on basic development, the government has resorted to clearing villages on a large scale. Tens of thousands of people are now refugees in temporary roadside camps or living with relatives with complete disruption of their daily lives. Prospects for their return are currently dim. Third, the entire operation, instead of being a peace mission as it is claimed, has escalated violence on all sides.[3]

The Salwa Judum is a force in the State of Chattisgarh led by elitist landowners, traders and trained by State police personnel. Not only that but these personnel are paid salaries out of State funds.[4] The facts in this regard are disturbing. There are child soldiers prevalent amongst the armed people. More than 40,000 tribal people have been displaced till date and 80% of the population in DanteWara district in Chattisgarh have been victims of the clashes.

There is no doubting the fact that atrocities and human rights violations have been committed. More importantly, the problem is that it is a state sponsored armed conflict. To tackle the naxal menace, the state seems to have formed a private army and removed the burden from state forces. In most territories, civilians belonging to the Salwa Judum are seen carrying around guns and ammunition and not even a single state police group is within the area. The problem does not stop here; both the forces are known to kill civilians who should not be a part of this conflict. There is evidence of torture techniques being used, rapes and a host of other human rights violations.

Questions need to be answered. Can the state sponsor a private army to handle an internal disturbance? Can the state discharge its constitutional duty to protect, if any and hand it over to private groups? The idea of state sponsored conflicts is clearly in violation of UN principles[5] and other international obligations. Protocol II of the Fourth Geneva Convention categorically puts forward the rights of victims in non- international armed conflict. These include the provisions of basic needs, health and compensation.[6] Furthermore, without doubt, the State has a primary constitutional duty to protect its citizens from any disturbance; external or internal.[7] The maintenance of law and order in the territory of the state is a constitutional obligation that states must follow. The Supreme Court has used this explanation in the cases of terrorism as in Kartar Singh v. Union of India[8], and AN Ray C.J. in ADM Jabalpur v. Sivakant Shukla[9] used this obligation to justify the violation of rights during emergency. If such explanation has been used in these cases then certainly they are applicable in this instance too and no exceptions can be created.

The discharge of such an obligation is inherently related to the power- responsibility equation. If power is to be delegated, which in this case is to deal with naxal factions, so must responsibility and both of them can’t be separated. Not surprisingly then, no one seems to be taking responsibility for the violations and deaths of civilians in Chattisgarh while the power seems to have been conspicuously discharged and frequently used and abused.

In May, 2007, Nandini Sunder and Ramchandra Guha filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the Constitution of the Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh. While the case is still sub judice, I would like to put forth an observation of the Court in this regard. Initially the Bench consisting of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice Raveendran asked counsel that when the Central Government in its assessment to control naxalites menace permitted local restraint groups to be armed, “should the court interfere in such a policy. You must understand that naxalites go on killing innocent people in villages. The police are not coming to the rescue of these people. What is wrong in arming the local people to counter the naxal menace.”[10] (Quoting the Court)

Only after the atrocities and human rights violations were bought to the notice of the Court did it issue a notice to the Government of Chattisgarh to respond it. It is interesting to note the observation of the Court in this regard. With all due respect, the Court has commented that the formation of a state sponsored army is justified to meet the end of handling the naxalites. In doing so, the Court has again given sanction to a means- end approach. That is, state action is to be held valid if it is purposeful in nature and meets a desired end. Such is the approach taken by the Court in the case of terrorism and emergency. The Naxal problem just got itself temporarily added to the list. This seems to attract Jhering’s notion of law serving as a means to an end[11]. Accordingly, in such a purposeful evaluation of law, even if it sacrifices individual liberty, it will be valid[12]. To quote from Kartar Singh’s case[13] ;

“that it has been felt that in order to combat and cope with such activities effectively, it had become necessary to take appropriate legal steps effectively and expeditiously so that the alarming increase of these activities which are a matter of serious concern, could be prevented and severely dealt with.”

With this application of this approach, the Court seems to discount the fact that rights and constitutional obligations are inalienable and cannot be discarded to meet an particular end. The point needs to be noted here that not only has the state outsourced its duty to protect its citizens but also has given them a free hand do commit human rights violations and not hold them accountable for killing people. Such state action cannot be justified at any cost. It is hoped that the Supreme Court would take note of such rights violations, disband the Salwa Judum and concentrate on the welfare of the lakhs of tribals in the State who have fallen victim to the clashes. The law has been violated and someone has to be held accountable for it and the State cannot get away with this.

[1] Aditya Swarup, B.A.L.L.B. (hons.), NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

[2] The Study was conducted by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Chhattisgarh, People’s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) Jharkhand, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) Delhi, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) West Bengal, and Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL). The details of the Study can be found at (last visited 12th May, 2007).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “War in the Heart of India: An Enquiry into the ground situation in Dante Wara District, Chattisgarh”, Independent Citizen’s Initiative, 20th July 2006.

[5] UN General Assembly Resolution 49/60 of 1995,Measures to eliminate terrorism : UN Security Council Resolution 1373/ 2001. Also to be noted is the Lockerbie Case (UK v. Libya), 1992 ICJ Rep. 3 where Libya’s sponsoring of activities was held in violation of International Law.

[6] Protocol II, Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 75 U.N.T.S. 287. Though India is not a party to this Convention, it still has a customary obligation to protect such people.

[7] Article 355, Constitution of India. A reading can also be inferred from the Directive Principles of State Policy.

[8] Kartar Singh v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 569.

[9] ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla, (1976) 2 SCC 521.

[10] “Constitution of Salwa Judum Challenged”, THE HINDU, 20th May 2007.

[11] R. Von Jhering, “Law as a Means to an End”, MDA Freeman, (ed.), Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence, 7th Ed. 2001, p. 703.

[12] I. Jenkins, “Jhering”, (1960-61) 14 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 169.

[13] Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, (1994) 3 SCC 596. The approach was further upheld by the Court in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 580.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Salwa Judum: A State's response to Maoist Terror

A year ago, the State of Chattisgarh in Central India seemed to me to be a peaceful state. Rich in minerals and a huge tribal population. Little did I know that the political situation in this State would turn out to be one of the most dreaded this country ever witnessed.

In May 2007, I had the good fortune of hearing Nandini Sinder speak at the India International Centre. She spoke about the armed conflict in the state of Chattisgarh and the ill fated consequences of forming the Salwa Judum.

Salwa Judum (translates as "peace mission") is a civil militia formed by the people to resist the Maoist violence. It was formed in 2005, to bring the area dominated by Naxalites under control .The Salwa Judum was alleged by some communist sympathisers to be a government backed organisation that it was supported by the Chhattisgarh government. Even now, the State of Chattisgarh supplies the force with guns, ammunition and basic supplies.

While she did speak of the social consequences of the movement and its impact on political governance, briefly touching upon that, I would like to emphasize its character as non- international armed conflict. What was proposed by the State to be a Counter insurgency program has now resulted in a mass humanitarian situation. In Dec 2006, more than 80 % of the residents in Dante wada distrcit of Chattisgarh were victims of the conflict between the Salwa Judum and the Maoist forces. The atrocities committed are horrifying. Apart from the rapes and indigenous torture techniques, young children are joining the forces and creating a menace of child soldiers in the State.

In the first three months of 2007, more than 280 civilians were killed as a result of the clashes and 60-70 armed personnel killed from each side. more than 48,000 tribals have been displaced from their homes with no basic facilities, education and medical needs.

From a legal point of view, this is in clear violation of the II Protocol of the fourth Geneva Conventions. Protocol II relates to the protection of victims in Non- International Armed Conflict. India, sadly is not amongst the 167 states that have signed this protocol. However, it does have a duty under International customary law not to sponsor such activities. Salwa Judum is a classic example of a situation where the State lets go of its responsibility to protect and 'out sources' it. It then results in a situation of power without responsibility into whose hands the responsibility is devolved. Such usage of power leads to rash consequences on the Rule of Law and democracy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated earlier that the Naxalite problem is one of the biggest problems the country is facing. But does the above justify the formation of a private army by the State itself? Nandini Sunder and Ramchandra Guha did file a PIL in the Supreme Court in late May and here's what happenned;

A Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran issued the notice on the petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha and E.A.S. Sarma, after hearing senior counsel T.R. Andhyarujina, who brought to the notice of the court the killings and atrocities committed by the `Salwa Judum' in the guise of countering the naxal movement.

Initially the Bench asked counsel that when the Central Government in its assessment to control naxalites menace permitted local restraint groups to be armed, "should the court interfere in such a policy. You must understand that naxalites go on killing innocent people in villages. The police are not coming to the rescue of these people. What is wrong in arming the local people to counter the naxal menace."

It is but astonishing to notice that way the Court has reacted to this issue. It did however issue a notice to the Chattisgarh Government to give an answer for the atrocities that are committed. The 'atrocities being committed' are only a part of the problem in Chattisgarh. The Court did not seem to take note of the devolution of constitutional responsibilities and stuck to the age old line taken in Kartar Singh v. Union of India, that the situation calls for such action and is thus valid. The non- interference and concern shown by the judiciary towards such issues is disturbing to think of.

State sponsored armed conflict is one of the worst forms of humanitarian disasters. The Constitution of India puts a duty on the State to protect its people and in my opinion, the formation of the Salwa Judum is unconstitutional as it devolves this very primitive responsibility of the State. Not surprisingly the State of Chattisgarh is not showing any reactions to the situations prevailing in the State, however it is a shame that the Centre is not asking a reply for the same. The State has kept away from a situation that has gone out of its control.

Till the last few months, this conflict had'nt attracted much attention. It is only of late, that I see regular articles in News papers and Magazine related to the issue. The matter has gone out of control and all we can do now is to wait and see the course that it takes.


Some articles on the issue are here;

1) The Backlash - PS Tripathi

2) When State makes war on its own people - A PUCL Report

3) Salwa Judum and International Humanitarian Law - S Varadarajan (The Hindu, 8th September 2007, Editorial)

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