Sunday, August 12, 2007

Seal the shops, seal the lips

In 2006, the Supreme Court declared that shops in residential areas of Delhi were in violation of the master plan, and mandated sealing all offending shops.

In May this year, Mid-Day posted an article alleging that the sons of the then Chief Justice, Y. K. Sabharwal, had business links with mall developers. (I posted on that news here.) If true, it seemed highly improper of Sabharwal to have presided over that case: he should have recused himself citing conflict of interest.

In June, Mid-Day published reactions from a cross-section of the legal community, expressing shock at the news. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan demanded an investigation. Another top lawyer, R. K. Anand (who has since come under a cloud himself), said that if true, Sabharwal must be prosecuted.

On August 3, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms -- an organisation whose patrons include Prashant Bhushan, former law minister Shanti Bhushan, Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Admiral R H Tahiliani -- held a press conference alleging that, according to government documents, when Sabharwal issued his sealing orders, his sons had already tied up with big mall owners; the registered business address in 2004 for one of their companies was Sabharwal's official residential address (note the irony -- it means his official residence was being used for a commercial purpose, which was the precise reason for sealing those shops); and in the two years since 2004, the junior Sabharwals grew rapidly from a small import-export business to a multi-crore commercial development business.

Tehelka carries a cover story, an editorial, and an interview with Shanti Bhushan. (Hat tip - Abi, who cites V. Venkatesan.) It is all worth reading, and it is staggering.

The rest of the media says ... nothing. Silence. Blackout.

The news conference was on August 3 (and was reportedly packed, with all major newspapers represented), and I found exactly one report dated August 4, which credits UNI; however, none of the newspapers seem to have carried that report, or if they did, they have prevented Google from indexing it.

The only exception seems to be Outlook, which carries an article. But note that this article is written by three members of the campaign (Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Bhaskar Rao), not by a journalist.

Even Mid-Day seems to have been silent, if Google is any indication.

Why the silence? Is it a fear of our contempt laws? Is that why Outlook did not ask their own journalists to write about it? One can understand that if the members of the campaign cannot prove what they say, they risk a contempt case against them; but does a newspaper that reports what they say also risk it? Do I, or Abi or Venkatesan, risk contempt by writing these blog posts?

Tehelka: If a common man has a genuine grievance against a sitting judge, what recourse does he or she have?

Shanti Bhushan: None. Because as soon as he makes an allegation he will be guilty of contempt. Now Parliament has amended the contempt law and truth has been made the defence.

Exactly. Truth is now a defence, and even if the allegations are not true, it is true that Shanti Bhushan and others are making these allegations. So why not report them?


Anonymous said...

The small thing all the papers forget to mention is that Sabharwal ordered the sealing of the big properties run by the Land Mafia don who allegedly had an understanding with his sons.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

anonymous -- who is this "Land Mafia don"? Kabul Chawla? Purshottam Bagheria? These are the two developer names I have seen linked with the Sabharwal sons. Or someone else, an underworld character? Which "don" had an understanding with the sons? Which property was sealed? Some links would be nice.