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17 April 2017 Editorial


17 April 2017

Justice Karnan's outrageous defiance

Justice C.S. Karnan's continuance as a judge makes a mockery of the rule of law

He has brought the judiciary into disrepute, flouted all norms of judicial conduct and thrown an open challenge to the Supreme Court. His continuance as a judge makes a mockery of democracy and the rule of law. The case of Justice C.S. Karnan is no longer just strange or curious; it is disgraceful and intolerable. The Calcutta High Court judge's ‘order' summoning the Chief Justice of India and six judges of the Supreme Court to his ‘residential court' to face punishment under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is yet another unacceptable affront to the apex court's authority. Justice Karnan's conduct goes against the assurance he gave the Chief Justice of India last year that he would foster a "harmonious attitude towards one and all". At that time, he had expressed regret for passing a suo motu order staying his own transfer from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court, admitting that it was an "erroneous order" passed due to "mental frustration, resulting in loss of mental balance". The latest instance of his misconduct is in response to the contempt proceedings initiated against him by the Supreme Court for denigrating the judicial institution by making sweeping allegations, in a letter to the Prime Minister, against several judges. He had appeared in person before a seven-judge Bench on March 31, and was given four weeks to respond to the charge of contempt of court. It is quite apparent that he is only further damaging his own case.

The recalcitrant judge has a long history of alleging corruption among other judges, accusing some of caste discrimination against him, and often invoking his caste identity to take complaints against his peers and even Chief Justices to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. In the past, he has passed judicial orders on matters pertaining to the selection of judges, even after being barred by a Division Bench from hearing them. He had once barged into a court during a hearing, and on another occasion into the chamber of the Madras High Court Chief Justice, "hurling a volley of invectives". Public criticism, transfer to another High Court, being hauled up for contempt and being denied judicial work - nothing seems to restrain him. The only option left is impeachment, but it is a political process involving Parliament and is something he himself may want so he can give full play to his alleged grievances, including those based on his caste. Justice Karnan's case vividly exposes the inadequacies of the collegium system of appointments. Nothing makes a better case for the infusion of greater transparency in the selection of judges than his current presence in the High Court.


The rights thing

Army personnel using 'human shield'

The Army must act quickly on reports of the use of a human shield by its personnel

Reports of Army personnel using a young man as a human shield in Jammu and Kashmir's Budgam district must not only invite a swift inquiry and justice, but also compel the Army and the government to issue clear statements on the unacceptability of this shocking practice. A short video clip that went viral on Friday showed a man tied to the bonnet of an Army jeep being driven through the streets, as it escorted election officials on polling day in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Heard in the clip, on what appears to be the public address system of the vehicle, are the threatening words, "Paththar bazon ka yeh haal hoga (this shall be the fate of stone-pelters)." The man has subsequently been identified as Farooq Dar, a 26-year-old who embroiders shawls, and the Army personnel are said to belong to the 53 Rashtriya Rifles. There is a lack of total clarity on exactly what happened, including how long Mr. Dar was tied to the bonnet - he says he was subjected to this humiliation as the vehicle passed through 10 to 12 villages, while Army sources have been quoted as saying it was for just about 100 metres. But such questions relating to distance are hardly the issue. The larger point here is that if he was indeed forcibly strapped on to the bonnet, it amounts to an instance of gross human rights violation, and must officially be called out in clear terms.

Human shields have often been used cynically by terrorist organisations - the Islamic State uses civilians as shields in its battles, and the LTTE used them in the closing stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka. To use a person as a human shield is to abduct him, to hold him hostage, and to potentially put him in harm's way. There is no argument that the Army, which is caught in a situation in which terrorists attempt to blend in with the civilian population, is fighting a difficult and unenviable battle. But the difficulties in fighting a hybrid war do not constitute a justification for the use of human shields, which is categorised as a war crime by the Geneva Conventions. Only a couple of days before the human shield video surfaced, another one - which showed CRPF personnel exercising admirable restraint as they were pushed and beaten by youth in Kashmir - had gone viral. It is ironic and hypocritical that some of those who commended such self-control are now defending the indefensible use of a human shield. It is true that the polling in Srinagar was held in a hostile environment, the abysmally low 7% turnout being a reflection of local alienation as well as intimidation by militants to keep people away from voting. But the security bandobast was aimed precisely to reassure the people and not to force an ‘us vs them' binary. The Army must expedite the inquiry and act against the erring personnel where warranted. Its response must also publicly affirm its Code of Conduct vis-à-vis civilians, which includes the clause, "Violation of human rights... must be avoided under all circumstances, even at the cost of operational success". To do any less would amount to being a party to rights violations.

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