Looks like the government is beginning to share the worry of the industry that the high-profile accused in cases like the 2G scam must not be denied bail indefinitely, just because there’s public and media pressure to highlight corruption.
A few days ago, AICC general secretary Digivijay Singh was the first leader who said CWG scam accused Suresh Kalmadi must get bail even while certifying him as ‘innocent.’
Now, the new law minister has come out into open. For the first time, he has urged the Supreme Court to speak in one voice and reform in the direction of consistency, an oblique suggestion that the high-profile individuals arrested in the 2G spectrum scandal and other corruption cases deserve to get bail.
In an interview to ET, Salman Khurshid pointed to the precedent of the judiciary giving bail to industrialist Lalit Mohan Thapar in 1986.
Khurshid, 58, took over as law minister from Veerappa Moily , during whose two-year tenure the government suffered a series of legal reverses.
That brings us to the question why is the government worried about the accused not getting bail?
One version is that the industry circles are not taking kindly to what’s being seen as a “persecution” approach of the agencies and the courts towards the sleaze accused — before they are held guilty.
But Opposition leaders suspect that the Congress leaders fear that the accused may turn against them and drag them in “unnecessarily” if they are not able to get out of prison.
But, privately, even they admit that denial of bail itself should not be held as punishment when the accused have not been pronounced guilty.
Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh was the first Opposition leader to say Rajya Sabha MP kanimozhi should be given bail “because she is a woman”. In fact, his son, Manavendra Singh, went to visit her in Tihar jail.
Other BJP leaders do not want to come on record to support this view.
If Khurshid is serious about what he feels, the government must tell the CBI to take a lenient view about the bail pleas of the accused when they come up in the special court.
Will the government do that or be scarred of public mood?
A bail should not be normally denied only if the prosecution suspects the accused may tamper with evidence. Otherwise, the granting of bail should be a routine, say some jurists.
Khurshid said in the ET interview that “I can’t say all those judges were wrong, starting from Krishna Iyer. Lalit Mohan Thapar was given bail at the judge’s residence. Now you may not like it but the point remains that that was the law of the land. That you must go the extra mile to ensure that the person does not suffer before you are able to finally, institutionally condemn him. This is not my view but the view of the Supreme Court. The judges can change their mind and there is nothing wrong with it. But my question is: Is it the position of the court or is it one of the positions it has taken?”
The relentless media attention and pressure could have played a part in courts denying bail to those accused of involvement in corruption scandals, Khurshid said.
“Media pressure is very great and not every judge can withstand media pressure. Forget a judge, not any minister can withstand media pressure.”
Khurshid admitted the government’s shortcomings, but said the judiciary, too, has failings it must correct. “They must have their own internal norms and codes which allow for a greater reflection of a collective opinion rather than an opinion of one or two benches,” he said.
The minister’s remarks, made in the backdrop of uneasy relationship between the government and the judiciary, presage a more assertive attitude towards the Supreme Court by the centre.
Just in recent weeks, as ET reported, the country’s top court annulled the appointment of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner and declared unconstitutional the government- backed anti-Maoist militia group Salwa Judum.
In the case of Salwa Judum, the Union Home Ministry and BJP-run Chattisgarh government want to file a review petition.
The apex court is monitoring the probe into the 2G spectrum scandal and has taken over the investigation of the black money by appointing a special team, leading to the government’s concern that the judiciary is encroaching into the domain of the executive.
The government has already asked the Supreme Court to review its decision to appoint the special investigation team in the black money case.
The voice of the Supreme Court, not just that of a judge or a bench, should be heard, Khurshid, who is a senior advocate of the court, said.
He cited the examples of Pakistan, the US and Canada, where all the judges of the top court sit together to hear cases, but not in India.
“People say it is now too late for us to turn back the clock. But how can we say we can’t do this but we can clean up black money? Cleaning up black money is as hard as reforming the Supreme Court, not in order to get something of an advantage over them but to actually give them an advantage they need,” he said.
“I am not happy that we don’t get to know the vision and the view of the entire court.” (end)