Sunday, September 09, 2007

Chhattisgarh: End of democracy?

I wrote this in Feburary 2006, when the CSPS bill was still being 'debated' in the house. I am posting it on the blog in the wake of arrest of PUCL activist Dr.Binayak Sen who was arrested on May 5th 2007 under the CSPS act.

This article was carried by the Times of India and Central Chroncile.

The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security legislation 2005 (CSPS) which has been sent to the president for his approval is being seen as an instrument which will surely strangulate democracy in the state. The legislation which has been formulated to tackle the rising incident of naxalism has virtually given blanket power to the state so as to curb naxalism.

The legislation which contains 18 sections is being seen as the start of the series of laws which will be formulated in the country all in the name of combating terrorism, naxalism and communalism. If not repealed this legislation will be set a very bad precedent for the other states to follow suit.

Section 3 of this legislation authorizes the government to declare any organization as unlawful, and in some cases the government is even exempted from giving the reasons for declaring an assembly unlawful. When will our country realize that this is not an authoritarian or an anarchical state where you just do whatever you wish and go away with it. The more you try to justify your illegal legislation, the more illegal it will become.

Unlawful activity as defined in the legislation includes uttering words, writing or making visual representations that may “create risk or danger” for public order, peace and public tranquillity or create an impediment in the administration of law or institutions.

This definition can only mean one thing, either the government wants the state to be free from naxals or it wants to curb freedom of expression. This is up to the people and of chhattisgarh who reside in the naxal affected area to decide that the government is restraining whom , the naxals or the media..

All these years, the BJP government headed by Raman singh has said that naxal problem is socio-economic in nature, and it should be dealt in that way only. Bringing black cat commandoes and NSG troopers is not a socio-economic answer to a socio-economic problem, not by any farthest stretch of imagination.

The Legislation bans media from carrying reports of any kind of 'unlawful act'. Media is perhaps the most important party to democracy; and one cannot just stop them from doing what they are required to do, that is to report.

Media is the only front which has stopped the ever susceptible government from being draconian, and it’s the media that the politicians fear. By barring media from reporting, the government of Chhattisgarh is giving a message that they themselves are not sure that how would they tackle naxalism. Behind a closed door anything can happen.

Similarly under section 14 of the legislation any order or legislation by the government or the district magistrate or any other officer authorised by the government shall not be challenged in any court and no injunction shall be granted by any court or any other authority. First you gag the media then you cripple the judiciary. By doing this the government has conferred itself with an absolute power, one with no checks and balances. The judiciary through its several decisions has earned the respect of being the sole repository of the constitution and democracy in this country, and it remains to be seen whether the court will apply the same thinking that it had applied in various cases like Keshavnanda Bharti, Maneka Gandhi, V.G Row or N.B.khare?

It needs to be mentioned here that when the bill was being debated, the main opposition party, the congress was boycotting the assembly and was out of the House. Now it’s up to us to decide that whose blame is it, Congress’s or BJP’s?

The purpose of the Bill as mentioned is to safeguard people's lives and property and to maintain public order, peace and tranquillity. This has always been the reason advanced, be it the case of POTA, or MISA, the argument of safeguarding public peace and welfare has always been taken by the state to justify its policies. The state must realize that Constitutional rights and liberties just cannot be bypassed or ignored under the garb of combating militancy and naxalism

Just months ago the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s in his speech at the Conference of Chief Ministers had said that the democratic government should make a distinction between the genuine and legitimate expression of dissent and disaffection and the manifestations of anti-national, anti-social and anti-people threats to our democratic way of life. He pointed out that while citizens are free to choose the particular brand of politics they wish to follow, they have the freedom to take recourse to collective activity to achieve the social, political or economic changes that they desire, but no one is either permitted or expected to resort to violence to achieve these ends. At the same time, the PM also recognised that “Extremism is not merely a Law and Order issue, Development; or rather the lack of it, often has a critical bearing, as do exploitation and iniquitous socio-political circumstances. This speech sums up the situation of chhattisgarh. This is what is happening in chhattisgarh, but is passing such legislation the answer to the problems? Its not.

Right to freedom has been inscribed under article 19-22 of the constitution. Personal liberty is the most important and the backbone of fundamental rights, without personal liberty a human is not a human. Article 19 provides for six freedoms, viz., freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to form associations, freedom to movement, freedom to reside and to settle and freedom of profession and occupation. Freedom dismisses fear and empowers people against oppression of all hues; you take away freedom , and this gives oppression more opportunity to thrive.

In AK gopalan case, J. Patanjali Shastri had rightly said that the guarantee of each of the freedom rights is restricted by the constitution, its not an absolute right and the state can impose reasonable restriction as may be in the larger interest of the society, but one crucial aspect that needs to be understood is that the restrictions must not be arbitrary, and its upon the court and not the legislature to decide what is arbitrary.

In Indian express case the court said that the purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions, without which a democratic society cannot make responsible judgements. Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse.

Freedom of press has always been a cherished right of all the democratic nations, and press has always played a very vital role in shaping the democracy, and this freedom cannot be taken away.

Democracy is all about freedom. Freedom of speech, association, participation, expression, you decapitate these freedom, you have beheaded democracy

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