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25 February, 2008

Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan must rethink

Last week, the Supreme Court took strong exception to an article by noted human rights defender Teesta Setalvad sharply criticizing it for the delay in hearing the bail applications of a large number of persons who are languishing in jail in connection with the Godhra violence.

In the article, Teesta Setalvad had given a chronological account of court proceedings over the past year to show that there had been undue delay in disposing of the bail applications. (See article below)

According to the Press Trust of India, an anguished court took umbrage at social activists blaming it for delays. (See PTI report)

The words attributed by the agency to the bench, comprising Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan, Justice R V Raveendran and Justice Dalveer Bhandari, make sad reading. "Who is this Teesta Setalvad? Is she a spokesperson of these persons or petitioners?" the bench reportedly asked. It also said, "There is one article that appeared (written by her). If she is representing these persons (Godhra accused) we do not want to hear them."

If the judges spoke in anguish, so did Teesta Setalvad. “Has the Supreme Court of India lost its soul and is it turning a blind eye to cases related to fundamental rights violations?” She wrote. “If so, where then do we turn?”

Even if Teesta Setalvad were not a social activist who has done much to secure justice for the victims of the Gujarat violence, as a citizen and a journalist she is well within her rights in raising the issue she brought up in the newspaper article.

The remarks reportedly made by the honourable judges in open court send a wrong message, which needs to be corrected. The Chief Justice must take the earliest opportunity to review the matter and make amends.

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