CBI files report in apex court on spectrum probe

After the Supreme Court slammed it for not questioning former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Monday filed a report on its probe into the scandal involving allocation of spectrum to mobile companies.

The status report was filed in a sealed cover. The matter would come up for hearing Tuesday.

The status report is expected to shed light on the CBI’s position as to why the agency did not examine Raja, his then private secretary R.K. Chandolia and the then telecom secretary Siddartha Behura.

The investigating agency filed its status report in the case following its offer to the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly Nov 25.

The CBI offer was made in response to a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) seeking that the CBI monitor the CBI investigations.

On Nov 25, the apex court pulled up the CBI as to why Raja had not been questioned so far when there was material on his involvement in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on the scandal.

‘The CAG is an authority set up under the constitution. If such an authority gives such a report, any reasonable person will question the involvement of the telecom minister and the telecom secretary,’ the apex court said.

‘This was the minimal expected of the CBI,’ the court observed.

The CBI told the court that it did not go to a person unless it had a foolproof case.

Conditional practicing licence for Gujarat law graduates

The law graduates of Gujarat will now get licence to practice in courts without having to clear the professional test conducted by the Bar Council of India (BCI).

Bar Council of Gujarat president J.J. Patel Monday said that a resolution in this regard has been passed and licences will be issued after taking an undertaking from the graduates that they will appear for the test within two years.

Patel said that for now, the BCI has postponed its plans to conduct the test, the passing of which was to be a pre-requisite for getting a licence to practice. He said the BCI will take the exam in March 2011 instead of December 2010. The BCI’s decision to postpone the exam was due to lack of facilities necessary for the test, he said.

The BCI had earlier decided to make it compulsory for law graduates across the country to clear the test before they could get the licence. A petition challenging the BCI’s decision is pending before the Gujarat High Court.

Ratan Tata goes to court against publication of Radia tapes

Tata group chairman Ratan Tata moved the Supreme Court Monday seeking judicial restraint on the publication of transcripts of phone intercepts of top corporate lobbyist Nira Radia with leading business, media and political figures on the ground of right to privacy.

The petition was similar to what had been filed by Radia herself in the Delhi High Court that, in May, had declined to restrain the telecast of a similar set of wiretaps by a TV channel that had got possesssion of it on the ground that the people of the country had a right to know the truth.

Tata’s petition contended in the apex court that the publication of intercepts violated his right to privacy. The reference was to the transcript of 5,851 purported conversations Radia had with different people during the period of the wiretap. The calls were purportedly intercepted on the instruction of the Income Tax Department after approval from the home ministry.

Tatas’s petition made the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the director general of Income Tax and Union of India respondents. At the same time, the government’s right to intercept telephone calls was not being questioned, he said.

Seeking action against the people who were responsible for leaking the transcripts, Tata said that the recorded conversations could have been used for investigations only and not for publication in media.

The government has, meanwhile, ordered an inquiry into the unauthorised leak of the tapes that has set media and political circles abuzz.

Senior counsel Prashant Bhushan, who appeared in tha apex court for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, said it was considering moving an application to oppose any such curbs on the publication of the transcripts.

Bhushan’s client is also seeking court monitoring of the investigation into the telecom spectrum allocation scandal.

During the hearing of Radia’s petition in the Delhi High Court, Justice V.K. Shalli had observed that the people of India had the right to know the truth and the recordings were made by a government agency against which no challenge had been filed so far.

The “Radia tapes”, as the wiretaps are being called, refer to her conversations with then communications Minister A. Raja, some leading industrialists and journalists. The tapes were submitted as evidence in a litigation on the 2G spectrum row in the Supreme Court.

Raja had quit as communications minister Nov 15 due to the 2G spectrum controversy amid charges of large scale corruption in allotment of spectrum licenses.

Government planning to raise widows’ pension

The women and child development ministry Monday mooted various proposals to better the lives of widows in the country, including raising the pension to Rs. 1,500 a month.

Releasing a study on the condition of widows in the Braj area of Uttar Pradesh here, D.K. Sikri, secretary of the ministry, said the ministry was planning to raise the pension of widows from the paltry Rs.200-550 to Rs.1,500 a month. If she has children to support, the widow’s pension amount should be Rs.2,500 per month.

The study, conducted by the Guild for Services with the support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem), said that though 70 percent of the widows have heard of the pension scheme, only a quarter of them received the money.

Eighty-two percent of the widows said they knew about the scheme but didn’t know how to apply for it.

Sikri said: ‘We are thinking of special bridge courses for the widows, like vocational courses, which will empower them to earn a decent living for themselves, especially for those in the age group of 18-35.’

‘Convergence of welfare schemes to benefit the widows is also important. For instance, the women and child development ministry has recently introduced a scheme for the health welfare of adolescent girls and women and that can be extended to widows,’ he added.

Petition inquiring Sonia Gandhi’s religion dismissed

The Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday dismissed a petition which sought details on the religion of Congress president Sonia Gandhi from the Registrar General of Census Operations. A division bench of the high court dismissed the petition of former Haryana police chief P.C. Wadhwa, on whether the registrar general is bound to provide details on the religion and faith of Gandhi and her children under the the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed the plea and ruled that information sought regarding the religion of an individual is ‘entirely personal’.

Wadhwa had sought information on the religion followed by Sonia Gandhi and her children, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi. He contended that these people were public figures and it was important to know what religion they practiced.Earlier, his application was rejected by the central public information officer (CPIO) of the census department.

Wadhwa later put another appeal before the chief information commissioner (CIC). The application was again rejected by the CIC in 2008.The high court order is likely to clear the air on what information about individuals comes in the private domain, lawyers here said.

Court moved over ‘anti-India’ speech by Kashmiri separatist

A human rights activist Saturday filed a petition in a local court demanding registration of a case against Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for his alleged anti-India speech at a seminar here earlier this week.

Judicial Magistrate Paramjeet Kaur fixed Dec 1 for the hearing.

‘Separatist leaders like Mirwaiz should not be allowed to move freely in public as they can severely disturb law and order situation of the country,’ petitioner and lawyer Arvind Thakur, chairman of an NGO Global Human Rights Council (GHRC), told IANS.

‘We strongly condemn his speech and want Chandigarh police to book him,’ he said.

‘It was very unfortunate that Mirwaiz gave a provocative speech in which he said that Kashmir was never a part of India, and easily went away. We want our judiciary to take serious note of this incident and direct police to book him.’

The Mirwaiz was also roughed up by displaced Kashmiri pandits and Hindu right-wing activists, who objected to his alleged anti-India and anti-Kashmir comments, at a seminar here Thursday.

During the seminar, protesters climbed tables and attacked the separatist leader. After the incident, Chandigarh police rounded up 21 people, including seven women.

The local unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also demanded action against the Mirwaiz.

‘We will not remain a silent spectator to these anti-national activities. A delegation of the BJP would meet Punjab Governor and Chandigarh Administrator Shivraj Patil on Nov 29 and demand a probe in the whole episode,’ said Sanjay Tandon, president of Chandigarh BJP.

‘We also demand that a case registered against our party activists should be withdrawn failing which we will start an agitation,’ he added.

Demand for details on judges goes to constitutional bench

The Supreme Court Friday referred to the constitution bench whether details including file notings and correspondence in pursuance to the appointment of judges to higher judiciary could be accessed under the Right to Information Act.’We are of the considered opinion that a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the constitution is involved in the present case which is required to be heard by the constitution bench,’ said the apex court bench of Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar.

Justice Reddy said the case raises the question relating to the position of the ‘Chief Justice of India under the constitution and the independence of the judiciary in the scheme of the constitution on the one hand and on the other fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression’.

The judgment said: ‘Right to information is an integral part of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the constitution. The Right to Information Act merely recognizes the constitutional right of the citizens to freedom of speech and expression.’

The independence of judiciary forms part of the basic structure of the constitution. The independence of judiciary and the fundamental right to free speech and expression are of great value and both are required to be balanced, the judgment read.

Framing the question for consideration of the constitution bench, the judges asked if the concept of independence of judiciary required the prohibition of furnishing of the information sought? Whether information sought amounts to interference in the functioning of the judiciary?

The case relates to the impugned order of Nov 24, 2009 of the Central Information Commission (CIC) whereby the CIC directed the Central Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court to furnish to Subhash Agarwal information sought by him on the appointment of judges H.L. Dattu, A.K. Ganguly and R.M. Lodha as judges of the apex court.

The three judges, it was said, were appointed by superseding Justice P. Shah, Justice A.K. Patnaik, and Justice V.K. Gupta. It is said the Prime Minister’s Office had allegedly objected to such suppression.

Agarwal had sought the copy of the complete file including the copies of complete correspondence exchanged between concerned constitutional authorities with file noting relating to the appointment of Justice Dattu, Justice Patnaik and Justice Lodha.The Central Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court moved the apex court, challenging the said order of the CIC.

Don’t interfere in governance, CJI tells courts

Supreme Court Chief Justice SH Kapadia on Friday urged the courts to refrain from interfering in the governance of the country as otherwise they would become like a bull in a china shop. Chief Justice Kapadia, who touched on several issues in the course of his address on the National Law Day, told the courts to be “careful and strict” in entertaining public interest litigations. He said that frivolous PILs should be discouraged.

On another count, Justice Kapadia said that “judicial review is a tool box that should be opened in genuine cases only”.

There should be a “correct and coherent” interpretation of the constitution, the Chief Justice of India said in an obvious reference to Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati who had pointed to the increasing tendency of courts to reopen old judgments by referring them to the larger bench.

At the function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Justice Kapadia said that while 300 million people were benefited by the high economic growth, the other 700 million people were in difficulty. In a growing economy, competition was welcome but the matter gets derailed when greed coupled with corruption comes into play, he added.

Expanding on the subject of the rule of law, Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily said that for a stable society the rule of law is like what oxygen is to atmosphere.

The rule of law ensures that its violators are made to account for it, said Moily. The minister said the rule of law does not come from one quarter but from all quarters of the state and that makes it a system.

He said that three components of the rule of law are that it provides stability to society, environment for economic activities and in the settlement of disputes.

In his welcome address, SCBA president Ram Jethmalani said the rule of law is wholly repugnant to the rule of scam.While on one hand 37% of the population has to go without proper food, shelter sand healthcare, billions and billions of rupees are stashed away in tax havens, he said.

Jethmalani said that $1,500 billion were illegally stashed away outside the country. If that money is brought back, it would wipe out all the debts of the country, each family would get Rs 2.5 lakh and there would be a tax-free budget for the next 30 years.

He urged the courts to demonstrate their anxiety in making the government to recover and bring back the ill gotten money.Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati said that the country was passing through troubled times and the rule of law was under stress. He described the situation as “grim”.

He said this strain could be seen in the working of the executive, legislature and judiciary. Every one of these institutions was reeling under intra-institutional pressure, the attorney general said.

Vahanvati said that for preserving the rule of law, “there should be a respect for law by the government and respect of the lawful government by the citizens”.

Police to patrol ‘unsafe’ areas after BPO staffer’s gangrape

Two days after a northeastern woman working in a BPO was abducted and gangraped in the capital, Delhi Police on Friday agreed to the demand of a northeast delegation that special patrolling will be done in ‘unsafe’ areas of the city.

Madhu Chandra, spokesperson of the Northeast Support Centre and Helpline, who led a delegation of activists and lawyers and met a top Delhi Police official on Friday, said: ‘The Delhi Police commissioner directed the Joint Commissioner of Police (southern range), Amulya Patnaik, to meet us today and discuss the matter of safety of the northeastern community in Delhi, especially the women.’

‘He assured us that there will be night patrolling in the unsafe areas of the city. That was one of our primary demands. We also gave him a list of the places in Delhi which we think are unsafe since a lot of crimes against northeastern people and otherwise are reported from there,’ Chandra said.Among the areas identified by the Northeast Support Centre as unsafe are Munirka, Mahipalpur, Moti Bagh, Mohammadpur, Nanakpura, New Friends Colony and Delhi University campus.

‘We will nevertheless visit those areas ourselves to see if the patrolling is being done. You know, we keep getting assurances and promises, but no good comes out of it. Even last year Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and others promised a helpline for the northeastern people here, but it has not yet been done,’ Chandra said.

The delegation also asked the police to book the BPO company where the 30-year-old victim used to work in Gurgaon. This step, they said, will serve as an example for all other companies in making safety a priority, especially for their female workforce.

‘But he (Patnaik) was not very sure on that. He said that he will look into it,’ Chandra said.Women and Child Development minister Krishna Tirath Thursday said she will write to the Delhi Police commissioner and the union home minister to gender sensitise the police to curb such crimes in the city.

She also said that her ministry will write to the BPOs to issue strict guidelines for the safety of women employees. A hostel for women of the northeast will be inaugurated in south Delhi by the minister Dec 27.

Chandra said the victim, who is being taken care of by the Mizoram Welfare Association, is coping with the trauma with ‘steely grit’. She is also being counselled.The victim was abducted by five men from Dhaula Kuan in south Delhi after she was dropped near her home by her office cab late at night. She was then gangraped in a moving tempo goods carrier early Wednesday.

The men drove all the way to Mangolpuri in northwest Delhi and dumped her there. A case has been registered at the Dhaula Kuan police station and investigations are going on in the matter.

Plea on appointment of judges referred to larger bench

The Supreme Court Friday referred to the larger bench a petition seeking details of the apex court collegium on the appointment of judges in higher judiciary.

Using the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the petitioner Subhash Agarwal had also sought information on the correspondence between the chief justice of India and the government on such appointments, including transfer of high court judges.

The apex court bench of Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar framed the issues to be addressed by the larger bench.