Sunday, October 14, 2007

Masooda Parveen's review petition dismissed

Dear Friends,

It is with regret that I inform you that the review petition which was filed by Masooda Parveen against the judgment dated 2.5.2007 passed by the Supreme Court came up before Justices Dalaveer Bhandari and H.S. Bedi today (11/10/07), and has been dismissed.

I may remind you that Masooda Parveen had filed a writ petition under Article 32 and 21 for compensation for the death of her husband, an advocate, in the custody of 17 Jat Regiment in Pulwama, Kashmir, as far back as February 1998. While initially the petition was for compensation and for compassionate employment to the wife, later its scope had been expanded to get the court to lay down some safeguards from the army that enjoys "special powers" in J&K under the J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It was hoped by us that the Supreme Court would use this opportunity to apply the safeguards in the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights case to J&K.

In the judgment dated 2.5.2007 handed down after nearly 9 years of its filing (reported in 2007(6) SCALE 447; copy enclosed) the Supreme Court has inexplicably overlooked crucial facts which pointed to glaring inconsistencies and contradictions in the version of 'accidental death' put forward by the state. It also ignored the fact that despite the closure report in an investigation under s. 174 CrPC being rejected by the District Magistrate, Pulwama, and Rule Nisi being issued by the Supreme Court, the local administration "lost" the inquest file and all the critical documentation contained in it.

In the judgment, the Supreme Court has unquestioningly accepted the army's bald version that the deceased had been a 'militant', when not a scrap of evidence exists for such a serious allegation. It has further observed that the petitioner has not been able to show her version of events was true. Placing the burden of proof squarely on the petitioner, the judgment contradicts the body of existing law where the burden lies on the state to show how the death occurred in incidents of custodial death. Such burden must for obvious reasons be even higher where death occurs in Army custody in a disturbed area where the Armed forces are, theoretically, operating under the supervision of the 'civil authorities'.

A further disturbing aspect of the judgment is that it proceeds to carve out an exception to directions made by a 5 judge Constitution Bench in the NPMHR judgment ((1998) 2 SCC 109). According to that judgment, the Army is bound by the Constitution of India as well as by the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to produce any person arrested by it before the nearest police station with "least possible delay". In that judgment the Supreme Court had also observed that "least possible delay" could not exceed 2-3 hours, since after being handed over at the nearest police station, the arrestee has to be produced before the Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.

However, the judgment in Masooda Parveen's case chose to ignore evidence before it that the deceased was in illegal Army custody for at least 30 hours before his death, and instead observes:

" We are also not un-mindful of the fact that prompt action by the army in such matters is the key to success and any delay can result in the leakage of information which would frustrate the very purpose of the army action."

The Government of India had attempted to get just such an exemption in the petition seeking clarification of the NPMHR judgment, and this had been negatived by a 5 judge bench of the Supreme Court by order dated 7.8.2001.

The petitioner widow who has in the intervening years raised her children single-handedly and also been under surveillance by the state, is heartbroken to get this verdict that labels her husband a militant, and therefore by extension herself and her children as well.

But the implications of the judgment go far beyond the private heartbreak of one family. This is probably the first judgment of the Supreme Court interpreting the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Not only has the Supreme Court lost an opportunity to hold the Armed forces accountable for increasingly heinous excesses against the Kashmiri people, the Supreme Court has also sent out a message virtually endorsing the impunity of the Armed Forces for such acts.

All this, and more, had been placed before the Supreme Court in the Review Petition filed by the petitioner-widow in July 2007 (copy attached), in the hope that the Court would recognise the impact of the judgment dated 2.5.2007 on the petitioner, as well as its larger implications for the people of Kashmir, and therefore reverse it. The Supreme Court has, however, chosen today to dismiss the review petition filed by the petitioner.

With regards,

Shomona Khanna


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