An upright police officer, who bravely took on the crooked Establishment and exposed its misdeeds, has been castigated by the Supreme Court in sweeping language which seems calculated to please the ruling party. The Court observed that Sanjiv Bhatt had not come with clean hands, had not acted bona fide, and described him as ‘a tool in the hands of rival parties, activists and vested interests’.
The bench further observed that Bhatt was in active touch with “top rival political leaders of Gujarat” in the background of the 2002 riots, and his actions were orchestrated by them to ambush the then Gujarat government. “Petitioner (Bhatt) probably forgot he was senior IPS Officer,” said the bench. It said he should have “kept away from all politics and activism of creating pressure”. It accused Bhatt of exploiting the media, and even more damagingly, of pressuring the Supreme Court’s three-judge bench monitoring the Godhra riots cases, the court-appointed Special Investigation Team investigating the cases and the amicus curiae.
“It is apparent that the petitioner (Bhatt) acted in deliberation and consultation with the leaders of rival political party and NGOs. Petitioner in spite of being a senior IPS officer was interacting with the top rival political leaders of Gujarat. He had exchanged e-mails with rival political party leaders and was being tutored by the lawyer of NGO and its activists. Ghost questions and answers were also prepared as to what the petitioner was required to speak before Justice Nanavati Commission.”
All these are serious sweeping and intemperate allegations against Bhatt’s character, and so it was incumbent on the Supreme Court to have issued a notice to Bhatt asking him why strictures be not passed against him, as has been repeatedly observed by the Supreme Court itself in earlier cases.
In the State of Maharashtra vs. Public Concern for Governance ( 2007) the Court had observed: “In our opinion, when an authority takes a decision which may have civil consequences and affects the rights of a person, the principles of natural justice would at once come into play. Reputation of an individual is an important part of one’s life. This is observed in the 1955 American LR 171 DF Marion vs. Minnie Davis and reads as follows: “The right to enjoyment of a private reputation, unassailed by malicious slander is of an ancient origin, and is necessary to human society. A good reputation is an element of personal security, and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty and property.”
In Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs. Dilip Kumar Raghavendranath Natkarni 1983 (1) SCC 124 the Court has observed that right to reputation is a facet of right to life of a citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is thus amply clear that one is entitled to have and preserve one’s reputation and one also has a right to protect it. In case any authority in discharge of its duties fastened upon it under the law, travels into the realm of personal reputation adversely affecting him, it must provide a chance to him to have his say in the matter. In such circumstances, right of an individual to have the safeguard of the principles of natural justice before being adversely commented upon is statutorily recognized and violation of the same will have to bear the scrutiny of judicial review.
In Dilip Kumar Deka vs. State of Assam the Supreme Court observed: ” We need only remind that the higher the forum and the greater the powers, the greater the need for restraint and the more mellowed the reproach should be.”
Intemperate language unnecessary
Recently, in Abani Kanti Ray vs. State of Orissa & Ors. 1990 the Court has made the following observations after referring to the earlier cases of this Court, including R.K. Lakshmanan (supra) and Niranjan (supra): “What we have said above is nothing new and is only a reiteration of the established norms of judicial property and restraint expected from everyone discharging judicial functions. Use of intemperate language or making disparaging remarks against anyone, unless that be the requirement for deciding the case, is inconsistent with judicial behaviors. Written words in judicial orders are for permanent record which make it even more necessary to practice self- restraint in exercise of judicial power while making written orders.”
Many more such decisions of the Supreme Court can be referred to which repeatedly call for moderate language by the superior courts. Bhatt was being attacked by the entire Establishment, which included not only BJP politicians but even his own fellow police officers who shamelessly denounced him to please their political masters. Where else could he appeal to but politicians of other parties, NGOs, activists, etc?
Moreover, in Sanjiv Bhatt’s case, there was not even a requirement to make such observations of rebuke against him, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that strictures should not be passed against anyone unless that is absolutely essential. Bhatt had filed his appeal in the Supreme Court alleging he was being targeted by the Gujarat government for disclosing certain facts about the post-Godhra killings of Muslims. At most the Supreme Court could have rejected his plea, but where was the need for berating him and hauling him over the coals?
Markandey Katju is a former Justice of the Supreme Court