June 21, 2021
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'We Are Equally Guilty..'

'...of supporting the Freedom of Press which the Court has punished,' say 18 eminent personalities, protesting the Delhi High Court holding the editors, publisher and cartoonist of Mid Day guilty of contempt of Court.

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'We Are Equally Guilty..'

The Delhi High Court has held the editors, publisher and cartoonist of Mid Day guilty of contempt of Court. What was their crime? That they carried investigative reports about how the former Chief Justice of India, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal passed orders for sealing lakhs of commercial establishments operating from residential areas, while his sons had got into partnerships with Shopping Mall and commercial complex developers who stood to benefit from his sealing orders. 

The stories were based essentially on documents obtained from the website of the department of Company affairs. The matter was thereafter investigated by eminent members of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and reforms who issued a very serious and damaging Press Release about the judicial misconduct involved in Justice Sabharwal dealing with the sealing cases (where he had a conflict of interest) and on the need to investigate the aspect of his having conspired with the Mall and Commercial complex developers to pass the sealing orders, particularly in the context of the manner in which Justice Sabharwal came to deal with the sealing case, the timing of his orders, and the cementing of partnerships between his sons and the commercial complex developers. 

Though Justice Sabharwal has responded to the charges, the Campaign for Judicial Accountablity has issued a rejoinder [see the bottom of this page] which shows that the matter needs to be thoroughly investigated. Eminent judges like Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer and J.S. Verma have endorsed the need to have a thorough investigation into the charges. 

The Delhi High Court has held the Mid Day staff guilty of Contempt without disputing the factual accuracy of the their reports, only on the basis that such reports about a former Chief Justice functioning in his judicial capacity, where he was also sitting with other judges, brings the entire judiciary into disrepute and therefore amounts to Contempt. This view if accepted, would make the amendment in the Contempt of Courts Act, making truth a defence, irrelevant, and more importantly, make it impossible to ever bring judicial corruption to public view. We are firmly of the view that preventing exposure of Judicial corruption by using the threat of contempt will only bring the judiciary to greater contempt and disrepute in the eyes of the common people. 

We believe that Mid Day was only doing its duty, namely reporting on the facts of an important case which is a part of freedom of expression and which is crucial for the healthy functioning of democracy anywhere in the world.

We therefore urge the Court to immediately recall the orders against Mid Day. We believe since a prima facie case has been established against Justice Sabharwal, there needs to be a thorough investigation, and further follow up action as required. Only that will restore public confidence in the judiciary. This is a great moment for the judiciary to establish its credentials as being impartial and show to the public that it stands apart from the other institutions of society that are under a cloud of corruption and declining credibility in the eyes of the public. 

Punishing the staff of Mid Day who performed a valuable public service by investigating and exposing the matter, will not only be unjust, but will send an improper signal to the media and the citizens in general that the judiciary is aiding in covering up wrong doing within its ranks. If that be the ultimate decision of the High Court in this matter, then we the signatories of this statement by supporting the action of Mid Day in publishing the report are equally guilty of supporting the Freedom of Press which the Court has punished. 

We also appeal to the public at large and members of the judicial fraternity in particular to come out in support of the Freedom of Press and an immediate stop to the misuse of contempt of court proceedings to curtail such freedom. 

Signed by:

Admiral R.H. Tahiliani (former Naval Chief and Chairman of Transparency International, India)
S.P. Shukla (Former Finance Secretary, and Member Planning Commission, Govt of India)
Ramaswamy Iyer (former Water Resources Secretary, Govt of India)
Romilla Thapar (Historian)
Aruna Roy (Founder MKSS and former Member, N.A.C.)
Medha Patkar (Founder Narmada Bachao Andolan)
Arundhati Roy (Writer)
Vandana Shiva (Environmental campaigner, founder Navdanya)
Swami Agnivesh (Social reformer)
Rajendra Singh (Water Campaigner, Magsaysay awardee)
Tarun Tejpal (Editor, Tehelka)
Madhu Bhaduri (IFS, Former Ambassador of India)
Amit Bhaduri (Former Professor of Economics, JNU)
Arun Kumar (Professor Economics, JNU)
Praful Bidwai (Journalist)
Shailesh Gandhi (Convenor, National Campaign for People’s Right to Info)
Nikhil De (Social Activist and RTI Campaigner)
Arvind Kejriwal (RTI Campaigner, Magsaysay awardee)

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