Wednesday, 2 September 2009

SC notice to Gujarat on Jaswant book ban

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN 2 September 2009, 03:14am IST
NEW DELHI: It was a mixed bag for former Union minister Jaswant Singh in the Supreme Court on Tuesday as it issued notice to the Gujarat government, advanced hearing on his petition by four days but refused to stay the order banning the controversial book, `Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence'.

Legal stalwarts Fali Nariman and Soli J Sorabjee's erudition in terming the ban as an assault on Singh's fundamental right to freedom of expression more than adequately answered a query -- "why have you come straight to the SC instead of moving the Gujarat High Court" -- from a Bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph.

Nariman continued, "It was not a bonafide attempt to ban a publication as the government appears to have not read even a paragraph of the book that could be termed offensive to public or national integrity."

But, the Bench was reluctant to stay the August 19 decision of the Narendra Modi government to ban the sale and circulation of Singh's book, which was given as the main reason for his expulsion from BJP on the same day.

"Giving you an ex-parte order amounting to final relief without hearing the respondent would not be proper," the Bench remarked and refused to be persuaded further.

It was fixing the next date for hearing on September 11 but the loud exclamation of the counsel in unison, "it's too late", made it do a quick rethink and post it for hearing on September 8. Gujarat counsel Hemantika Wahi accepted notice on behalf of the state and was told by the Bench to respond to the petition by the next date.

Sorabjee would not let go without some say. He stood up and offered two copies of Singh's book to the judges with an innocent query -- "Would My Lords like to read the book which would be quite a departure from reading the petitions?"

The offer was attractive given the good response the book has stirred riding the controversy, both about its contents and the author. But, the Bench politely declined with a matching query -- "Would it not prejudice us? We will like to read it after deciding the case."

Singh and his publisher Rupa & Co had moved SC on Friday with a writ petition accusing the Narendra Modi government of infringing his fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

The petitioners had accused the Modi government of having not read a single paragaraph of the book before coming to the conclusion that the contents of the book could be prejudicial to maintenance of harmony (Section 153A of IPC) and national integration (Sec 153B of IPC).

The book released on August 17 had created a stir in BJP, which promptly expelled him from its primary membership at its Shimla `chintan baithak' on August 19. Within hours of his expulsion, the Modi government banned the book in Gujarat though other BJP-ruled states did not follow suit.


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