Assault on the Rule of Law and Article 19 of the Constitution of India

This statement by our group of former civil servants arises fromour deep concern at the assault onthe Rule of Law in India and on its citizens’rights to free speech and dissent,basic elements of any democracy. The whole constitutional edifice is dependent on the Rule of Law, which implies the subjection of all the organs and instrumentalities of the state to the law and the absence of arbitrary power. The rights to Freedom of Speech& Expression, Freedom of Assemblyand the like, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution,are a corrective to the plight of the poor and the disadvantaged across the axes of income, gender, religion, caste and community. Touphold the rule of law and enforce the rights to freedoms,the judiciary must bethe vigilant sentinel guarding the values of constitutional propriety.

Scholars like Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen haveestablished that the elimination of famine, a colonial legacyin India,came from the clamour of the media, the legislatures and the courts as also concerns of political parties seeking re-election. Public Interest Litigation has given voice to the suppressedon issues like bonded labour, child labour and the illiterate without work or food finding resonance in the corridors of power. Article 19 of the Constitution of Indiaguaranteeing freedom of speechis the keyin this struggle.

The rampant erosion of the rule of law in evidence today militates against the actualization of the freedom of speechwhich is the cornerstone of democratic functioning. The gulf between the Rule of Law rhetoric and reality is getting wider and wider. The police establishments across the country appear to have become proxies for the respective ruling parties.Independent experts like Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions associated with the United Nations, in referring to the arrest of eleven activists, including Kafeel Khan, Safoora Zargar, Akhil Gogoi and Sharjeel Imam,say succinctly: “These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.”Journalistslike Gauri Lankesh, a free-spirited journalist writing in Kannada, have been murdered, shot in cold blood allegedly by right-wing groups.

According to the Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders, India stands at 142 out of 180 countries in 2020, falling 6 places since 2015.Flagrant misuse of draconian laws of sedition and the Unauthorized Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has led to the arrest of journalists, intellectuals, university students, film-makers, human rights activists and popular figures who daredcriticisethe present regime. When, as happened in Karnataka, in consequence of a school play critical of the CAA  a primary school teacher and the mother of a student  are charged with sedition and two young children aged 9 and 10 are questioned by police over many days, this becomes a theatre of the absurd.  

Any criticism of government is considered “anti-national” and invites punitive wrath. The lawof sedition, itself a colonial relic, isresorted to by a succession of governments,but its application has sharply increased. From 2016 to 2018, 332 persons were arrested under this law but only 7 convicted, exposingthe absence of evidence and exercise of vendetta. The online portal Scroll.in reported that more than“10,000 Adivasis in Jharkhand have been accused of sedition and disturbing public order” in connection with the Pathalgadi movement.

In the case of UAPA, court proceedings drag on while detention continues. In the celebrated Bhima-Koregaon case several of India’s finest social and human rights activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen and Gautam Navlakha and public intellectuals like Anand Teltumbdelanguish in prison under themalevolent label of “urban Maoists”, which consigns such exemplars of civic life to the reviled category of “anti-national”. Attacks on students of Jawaharlal Nehru University  and Jamia Milia Islamia  recently choked the rights of students and faculty to voice their criticism of the existing state of affairs, including the CAA.

The corona pandemic has beenan excusefor curbing freedom of speech across States. A report of the Rights and Risks Analysis Group has it that 55 journalists were singled out for writing on the mishandling of the Covid situation: threats, FIRs, assaults and arrests were amongst the intimidatory tactics used. Though the largest number was in UP, such cases also took place in States with governments of different political parties. Dhaval Patel in Gujarat and Rahul Zori in Maharashtra,with FIRs filed against them, and Major Singh Panjabi beingbeatenupin Punjab by the police are examples.Earlier in the year, one Dr Indranil Khan in Kolkata was interrogated, threatened with arrest and had his phone and SIM card confiscated for commenting online of deficiencies in the supply of PPE to doctors and nurses working with corona patients. In a rare defence of the freedom of speech, the Kolkata High Court in his case said:“Freedom of speech and expression which is granted under Article 19 of the Constitution of India has to be scrupulously upheld by the State. If an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion by subjecting him to prolonged interrogation, threatening arrest, seizing his mobile phone and SIM card and so on.”

When Siddharth Varadarajan, founding Editor of The Wire, faced criminal charges for reporting that the UP Chief Minister attended a religious event after the lockdown was announced, more than 4600 signatories protested,amongst them eminent academics, a retired Supreme Court Judge, a former National Security Adviser, a former Chief of Naval Staffandwell-known persons connected with the arts. “A medical emergency should not serve as the pretext for the imposition of a de facto political emergency” they wrote.

The detentions in Kashmir of hundreds of political activists and the suspension of communications for several months after the revocation of its special status is a blot on India’s democracy, withKashmir described by the International Press Institute as amongst the “world’s most repressive spotsfor the press.” In many parts of India, Section 144 is imposed for extended periods of time to prohibit the assembly of people despite the Supreme Court ruling that such curbs be restricted to emergencies.

Finally, the investigations into the riots in north-east Delhi have betrayed an institutional bias against the minority community.  Dr M.A. Anwar, the proprietor of Hind Hospital in New Mustafabad,whose prompt action in providing help to injured people during the targeted violence in North East Delhi in late February 2020 was praised by many, including the Delhi High Court, isnow named in a charge-sheet filed in a murder case and for instigating local people against the government on the issue of CAA-NRC. The UAPA has been used against activists who opposed the CAA through peaceful protest.People like Harsh Mander and Yogendra Yadav have been named in charge sheets even though they are not amongst the accused. Harsh Mander’s speech,which called for peace, was made in December, 2019,  weeks before the outbreak of any violence. Yet there are rumours of his intended arrest which,were it to occur now, would makea travesty of the law. Meanwhile, Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, BJP leader and Minister respectively, who had openly calledfor violence, widely projected in the media, which followed almost immediately thereafter,face no action.

All Indians must unite in defence ofthe Rule of Law and Article 19, the repository of the democratic right to freedom of speech and to dissent.

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

Constitutional Conduct Group (99 signatories as below)

1 Anita Agnihotri IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Social Justice Empowerment, GoI
2 Salahuddin Ahmad IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
3 S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
4 Anand Arni R&AW (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
5 G. Balachandhran IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
6 Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
7 Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
8 Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
9 Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
10 Aurobindo Behera IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha
11 Madhu Bhaduri IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
12 Ravi Budhiraja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI
13 Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
14 Rachel Chatterjee IAS (Retd.) Former Special Chief Secretary, Agriculture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh
15 Kalyani Chaudhuri IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
16 Anna Dani IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
17 Surjit K. Das IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand
18 Vibha Puri Das IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
19 P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
20 Pradeep K. Deb IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI
21 Nitin Desai IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
22 Keshav Desiraju IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
23 M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
24 Sushil Dubey IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
25 A.S. Dulat IPS (Retd.) Former OSD on Kashmir, Prime Minister’s Office, GoI
26 K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
27 Prabhu Ghate IAS (Retd.) Former Addl. Director General, Department of Tourism, GoI
28 Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
29 Suresh K. Goel IFS (Retd.) Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI
30 S.K. Guha IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI
31 Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
32 Ravi Vira Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
33 Wajahat Habibullah IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
34 Deepa Hari IRS (Resigned)  
35 Sajjad Hassan IAS (Retd.) Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
36 Siraj Hussain IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI
37 Kamal Jaswal IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
38 Najeeb Jung IAS (Retd.) Former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi
39 Vinod C. Khanna IFS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, MEA, GoI
40 Rahul Khullar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
41 K. John Koshy IAS (Retd.) Former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal
42 Ajai Kumar Indian Forest Service (Retd.) Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
43 Brijesh Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
44 Sudhir Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal
45 P.K. Lahiri IAS (Retd.) Former Executive Director, Asian Development Bank
46 Aloke B. Lal IPS (Retd.) Former Director General (Prosecution), Govt. of Uttarakhand
47 Subodh Lal IPoS (Resigned) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
48 Amitabh Mathur IPS (Retd.)

Former Director, Aviation Research Centre and Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

49 Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
50 Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
51 Dalip Mehta IFS (Retd.) Former Secretary to GoI & Dean, Foreign Service Institute
52 Shivshankar Menon IFS (Retd.) Former Foreign Secretary and Former National Security Adviser
53 Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
54 Sunil Mitra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
55 Avinash Mohananey IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim
56 Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
57 Shiv Shankar Mukherjee IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
58 Pranab S. Mukhopadhyay IAS (Retd.) Former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
59 Nagalsamy IA&AS (Retd.) Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
60 Sobha Nambisan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka
61 P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
62 Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
63 Mira Pande IAS (Retd.) Former State Election Commissioner, West Bengal
64 Niranjan Pant IA&AS (Retd.) Former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, GoI
65 Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
66 R. Poornalingam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI
67 R.M. Premkumar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
68 T.R. Raghunandan IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
69 N.K. Raghupathy IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
70 V.P. Raja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
71 C. Babu Rajeev IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI
72 K. Sujatha Rao IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
73 Vijaya Latha Reddy IFS (Retd.) Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI
74 Julio Ribeiro IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
75 Aruna Roy IAS (Resigned)  
76 Manabendra N. Roy IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
77 Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
78 G. Sankaran IC&CES (Retd.) Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal
79 Shyam Saran IFS (Retd.)

Former Foreign Secretary and Former Chairman, National Security Advisory Board

80 S. Satyabhama IAS (Retd.) Former Chairperson, National Seeds Corporation, GoI
81 N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
82 Ardhendu Sen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
83 Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
84 Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
85 Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
86 Navrekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
87 Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
88 K.S. Sidhu IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
89 Padamvir Singh IAS (Retd.) Former Director, LBSNAA, Mussoorie, GoI
90 Sujatha Singh IFS (Retd.) Former Foreign Secretary, GoI
91 Tirlochan Singh IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI
92 Jawhar Sircar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, &former CEO, Prasar Bharati
93 Narendra Sisodia IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
94 Thanksy Thekkekera IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt. of Maharashtra

95 P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
96 Geetha Thoopal IRAS (Retd.) Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata
97 Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir
98 Ashok Vajpeyi IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi
99 Ramani Venkatesan IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra