Assault on the Rule of Law and Article 19 of the Constitution of India
04 July 2020
This statement by our group of former civil servants arises from our deep concern at the assault on the Rule of Law in India and on its citizens’ rights to free speech and dissent, basic elements of any democracy. The whole constitutional edifice is dependent on the Rule of Law, which implies the subjection of all the organs and instrumentalities of the state to the law and the absence of arbitrary power. The rights to Freedom of Speech & Expression, Freedom of Assembly and the like, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution, are a corrective to the plight of the poor and the disadvantaged across the axes of income, gender, religion, caste and community. To uphold the rule of law and enforce the rights to freedoms, the judiciary must be the vigilant sentinel guarding the values of constitutional propriety.
Scholars like Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen have established that the elimination of famine, a colonial legacy in India, came from the clamour of the media, the legislatures and the courts as also concerns of political parties seeking re-election. Public Interest Litigation has given voice to the suppressed on issues like bonded labour, child labour and the illiterate without work or food finding resonance in the corridors of power. Article 19 of the Constitution of India guaranteeing freedom of speech is the key in this struggle.
The rampant erosion of the rule of law in evidence today militates against the actualization of the freedom of speech which is the cornerstone of democratic functioning. The gulf between the Rule of Law rhetoric and reality is getting wider and wider. The police establishments across the country appear to have become proxies for the respective ruling parties. Independent experts like Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions associated with the United Nations, in referring to the arrest of eleven activists, including Kafeel Khan, Safoora Zargar, Akhil Gogoi and Sharjeel Imam, say succinctly: “These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.” Journalists like Gauri Lankesh, a free-spirited journalist writing in Kannada, have been murdered, shot in cold blood allegedly by right-wing groups.
According to the Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders, India stands at 142 out of 180 countries in 2020, falling 6 places since 2015. Flagrant misuse of draconian laws of sedition and the Unauthorized Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has led to the arrest of journalists, intellectuals, university students, film-makers, human rights activists and popular figures who dared criticise the present regime. When, as happened in Karnataka, in consequence of a school play critical of the CAA a primary school teacher and the mother of a student are charged with sedition and two young children aged 9 and 10 are questioned by police over many days, this becomes a theatre of the absurd.
Any criticism of government is considered “anti-national” and invites punitive wrath. The law of sedition, itself a colonial relic, is resorted to by a succession of governments, but its application has sharply increased. From 2016 to 2018, 332 persons were arrested under this law but only 7 convicted, exposing the absence of evidence and exercise of vendetta. The online portal Scroll.in reported that more than “10,000 Adivasis in Jharkhand have been accused of sedition and disturbing public order” in connection with the Pathalgadi movement.
In the case of UAPA, court proceedings drag on while detention continues. In the celebrated Bhima-Koregaon case several of India’s finest social and human rights activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen and Gautam Navlakha and public intellectuals like Anand Teltumbde languish in prison under the malevolent label of “urban Maoists”, which consigns such exemplars of civic life to the reviled category of “anti-national”. Attacks on students of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia recently choked the rights of students and faculty to voice their criticism of the existing state of affairs, including the CAA.
The corona pandemic has been an excuse for curbing freedom of speech across States. A report of the Rights and Risks Analysis Group has it that 55 journalists were singled out for writing on the mishandling of the Covid situation: threats, FIRs, assaults and arrests were amongst the intimidatory tactics used. Though the largest number was in UP, such cases also took place in States with governments of different political parties. Dhaval Patel in Gujarat and Rahul Zori in Maharashtra, with FIRs filed against them, and Major Singh Panjabi being beaten up in Punjab by the police are examples. Earlier in the year, one Dr Indranil Khan in Kolkata was interrogated, threatened with arrest and had his phone and SIM card confiscated for commenting online of deficiencies in the supply of PPE to doctors and nurses working with corona patients. In a rare defence of the freedom of speech, the Kolkata High Court in his case said: “Freedom of speech and expression which is granted under Article 19 of the Constitution of India has to be scrupulously upheld by the State. If an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion by subjecting him to prolonged interrogation, threatening arrest, seizing his mobile phone and SIM card and so on.”
When Siddharth Varadarajan, founding Editor of The Wire, faced criminal charges for reporting that the UP Chief Minister attended a religious event after the lockdown was announced, more than 4600 signatories protested, amongst them eminent academics, a retired Supreme Court Judge, a former National Security Adviser, a former Chief of Naval Staff and well-known persons connected with the arts. “A medical emergency should not serve as the pretext for the imposition of a de facto political emergency” they wrote.
The detentions in Kashmir of hundreds of political activists and the suspension of communications for several months after the revocation of its special status is a blot on India’s democracy, with Kashmir described by the International Press Institute as amongst the “world’s most repressive spots for the press.” In many parts of India, Section 144 is imposed for extended periods of time to prohibit the assembly of people despite the Supreme Court ruling that such curbs be restricted to emergencies.
Finally, the investigations into the riots in north-east Delhi have betrayed an institutional bias against the minority community. Dr M.A. Anwar, the proprietor of Hind Hospital in New Mustafabad, whose prompt action in providing help to injured people during the targeted violence in North East Delhi in late February 2020 was praised by many, including the Delhi High Court, is now named in a charge-sheet filed in a murder case and for instigating local people against the government on the issue of CAA-NRC. The UAPA has been used against activists who opposed the CAA through peaceful protest. People like Harsh Mander and Yogendra Yadav have been named in charge sheets even though they are not amongst the accused. Harsh Mander’s speech, which called for peace, was made in December, 2019, weeks before the outbreak of any violence. Yet there are rumours of his intended arrest which, were it to occur now, would make a travesty of the law. Meanwhile, Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, BJP leader and Minister respectively, who had openly called for violence, widely projected in the media, which followed almost immediately thereafter, face no action.
All Indians must unite in defence of the Rule of Law and Article 19, the repository of the democratic right to freedom of speech and to dissent.
Constitutional Conduct Group (99 signatories as below)
|1.||Anita Agnihotri||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Department of Social Justice Empowerment, GoI|
|2.||Salahuddin Ahmad||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan|
|3.||S.P. Ambrose||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI|
|4.||Anand Arni||R&AW (Retd.)||Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI|
|5.||G. Balachandhran||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal|
|6.||Vappala Balachandran||IPS (Retd.)||Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI|
|7.||Gopalan Balagopal||IAS (Retd.)||Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal|
|8.||Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Coal, GoI|
|9.||Sharad Behar||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh|
|10.||Aurobindo Behera||IAS (Retd.)||Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha|
|11.||Madhu Bhaduri||IFS (Retd.)||Former Ambassador to Portugal|
|12.||Ravi Budhiraja||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI|
|13.||Sundar Burra||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra|
|14.||Rachel Chatterjee||IAS (Retd.)||Former Special Chief Secretary, Agriculture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh|
|15.||Kalyani Chaudhuri||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal|
|16.||Anna Dani||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra|
|17.||Surjit K. Das||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand|
|18.||Vibha Puri Das||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI|
|19.||P.R. Dasgupta||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI|
|20.||Pradeep K. Deb||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI|
|21.||Nitin Desai||IES (Retd.)||Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI|
|22.||Keshav Desiraju||IAS (Retd.)||Former Health Secretary, GoI|
|23.||M.G. Devasahayam||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana|
|24.||Sushil Dubey||IFS (Retd.)||Former Ambassador to Sweden|
|25.||A.S. Dulat||IPS (Retd.)||Former OSD on Kashmir, Prime Minister’s Office, GoI|
|26.||K.P. Fabian||IFS (Retd.)||Former Ambassador to Italy|
|27.||Prabhu Ghate||IAS (Retd.)||Former Addl. Director General, Department of Tourism, GoI|
|28.||Gourisankar Ghosh||IAS (Retd.)||Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI|
|29.||Suresh K. Goel||IFS (Retd.)||Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI|
|30.||S.K. Guha||IAS (Retd.)||Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI|
|31.||Meena Gupta||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI|
|32.||Ravi Vira Gupta||IAS (Retd.)||Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India|
|33.||Wajahat Habibullah||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner|
|34.||Deepa Hari||IRS (Resigned)|
|35.||Sajjad Hassan||IAS (Retd.)||Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur|
|36.||Siraj Hussain||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI|
|37.||Kamal Jaswal||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI|
|38.||Najeeb Jung||IAS (Retd.)||Former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi|
|39.||Vinod C. Khanna||IFS (Retd.)||Former Additional Secretary, MEA, GoI|
|40.||Rahul Khullar||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India|
|41.||K. John Koshy||IAS (Retd.)||Former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal|
|42.||Ajai Kumar||Indian Forest Service (Retd.)||Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI|
|43.||Brijesh Kumar||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI|
|44.||Sudhir Kumar||IAS (Retd.)||Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal|
|45.||P.K. Lahiri||IAS (Retd.)||Former Executive Director, Asian Development Bank|
|46.||Aloke B. Lal||IPS (Retd.)||Former Director General (Prosecution), Govt. of Uttarakhand|
|47.||Subodh Lal||IPoS (Resigned)||Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI|
|48.||Amitabh Mathur||IPS (Retd.)||Former Director, Aviation Research Centre and Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI|
|49.||Lalit Mathur||IAS (Retd.)||Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI|
|50.||Aditi Mehta||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan|
|51.||Dalip Mehta||IFS (Retd.)||Former Secretary to GoI & Dean, Foreign Service Institute|
|52.||Shivshankar Menon||IFS (Retd.)||Former Foreign Secretary and Former National Security Adviser|
|53.||Sonalini Mirchandani||IFS (Resigned)||GoI|
|54.||Sunil Mitra||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI|
|55.||Avinash Mohananey||IPS (Retd.)||Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim|
|56.||Deb Mukharji||IFS (Retd.)||Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal|
|57.||Shiv Shankar Mukherjee||IFS (Retd.)||Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom|
|58.||Pranab S. Mukhopadhyay||IAS (Retd.)||Former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI|
|59.||Nagalsamy||IA&AS (Retd.)||Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala|
|60.||Sobha Nambisan||IAS (Retd.)||Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka|
|61.||P.G.J. Nampoothiri||IPS (Retd.)||Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat|
|62.||Amitabha Pande||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI|
|63.||Mira Pande||IAS (Retd.)||Former State Election Commissioner, West Bengal|
|64.||Niranjan Pant||IA&AS (Retd.)||Former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, GoI|
|65.||Alok Perti||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI|
|66.||R. Poornalingam||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI|
|67.||R.M. Premkumar||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra|
|68.||T.R. Raghunandan||IAS (Retd.)||Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI|
|69.||N.K. Raghupathy||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI|
|70.||V.P. Raja||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission|
|71.||C. Babu Rajeev||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, GoI|
|72.||K. Sujatha Rao||IAS (Retd.)||Former Health Secretary, GoI|
|73.||Vijaya Latha Reddy||IFS (Retd.)||Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI|
|74.||Julio Ribeiro||IPS (Retd.)||Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania|
|75.||Aruna Roy||IAS (Resigned)|
|76.||Manabendra N. Roy||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal|
|77.||Deepak Sanan||IAS (Retd.)||Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh|
|78.||G. Sankaran||IC&CES (Retd.)||Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal|
|79.||Shyam Saran||IFS (Retd.)||Former Foreign Secretary and Former Chairman, National Security Advisory Board|
|80.||S. Satyabhama||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairperson, National Seeds Corporation, GoI|
|81.||N.C. Saxena||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI|
|82.||Ardhendu Sen||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal|
|83.||Abhijit Sengupta||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI|
|84.||Aftab Seth||IFS (Retd.)||Former Ambassador to Japan|
|85.||Ashok Kumar Sharma||IFS (Retd.)||Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia|
|86.||Navrekha Sharma||IFS (Retd.)||Former Ambassador to Indonesia|
|87.||Raju Sharma||IAS (Retd.)||Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh|
|88.||K.S. Sidhu||IAS (Retd.)||Former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra|
|89.||Padamvir Singh||IAS (Retd.)||Former Director, LBSNAA, Mussoorie, GoI|
|90.||Sujatha Singh||IFS (Retd.)||Former Foreign Secretary, GoI|
|91.||Tirlochan Singh||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI|
|Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati|
|93.||Narendra Sisodia||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI|
|94.||Thanksy Thekkekera||IAS (Retd.)||Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt. of Maharashtra|
|95.||P.S.S. Thomas||IAS (Retd.)||Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission|
|96.||Geetha Thoopal||IRAS (Retd.)||Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata|
|97.||Hindal Tyabji||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir|
|98.||Ashok Vajpeyi||IAS (Retd.)||Former Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi|
|IAS (Retd.)||Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra|
8 thoughts on “STATEMENT OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONDUCT GROUP”
A sustained campaign is needed to enforce the present Govt. to review all these draconian laws which have throttled the democratic voices in the country. It will not be an exaggeration if I say that demoncracy has substituted for democracy and all democratic values and fundamentals of our constitution have been badly mauled by continued onslaught of this autocratic Govt. The Parliament has been taken for a ride on many occasions when important bills having far reaching consequences are tabled in the morning and passed in the evening without any parliamentary debate just by brute majority of the ruling party. The present petition/resolution is a step in the right direction taken by our elite class from different regions of the country.👌👌👌👌👌👌👏👏👏👏👏
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I appreciate the concern of 99 of eminent people who have opted for civil service as a career and served with distinction the country to the best of your ability.
My question to you is with all the expertise available among you and with your network, do you think this is the only thing you can do – just conducting conclaves and publishing the proceedings and the open letters. You are privileged to get pensions for the services you have put in when majority of Indians cannot afford to retire or even if they retire they are not entitled to pensions.
Can you do a yeoman service in the fag end of your life by doing a different discourse in public life and bring to the public attention why India is lagging in the areas of health and literacy even after 70 years of Independence. Admit it is just governance failure or lack of resources or lack of delegation of powers or lack of empowerment at the field level.
Or better still can you atleast let the citizens know your view point what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for the country to realize its full potential.
And to what extent the civil service, so called iron framework of the country, is inhibited to bring in changes to the ground reality in our country be it social or economic conditions, the less said about ecological conditions the better it is.
Otherwise why should certain areas in our country like Veerappan earlier in the forests bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu or now prevailing tribal areas constituting more than seven or eight states from Maharastra/Telangana/Chattishgarh to Andhra Pradesh/Orissa/Jharkhand/ Bihar have naxal problems where rule of law does not exist.
I am not mentioning areas which are in border areas like NE or Kashmir where you can always blame infiltration of people or enemies from other countries
Or do you want to open your mouth when the rest of the country also becomes lawless or the seven cities – the four metros + bangalore, hyderadad, pune, reportedly suck all the wealth of the hinterland as population migrate to these cities to serve the elite – be it business or bureaucrat or babus or the politician for better future for their children.
White I wait for your esteemed group, who have opted for civil service as a career after coming through a tough competitive level at the country level and served the country with distinction, to respond to my earlier Leave a reply post, I now bring to your attention one news item I just read about illegal occupation of government accommodation in the Capital by some of your brethren.
Is it a reflection of how the rot in the system exists at all levels and in all the organs of the government at the national level and is it now irreversible or is it also part of the fake news, paid news we see all around us..
Respected Ranganatham Sir,
I agree with you there are lot of problems which are in want of attention from Govt. and people.
To raise voice for all these problems conducive environment is required for which there are provisions in our Constitution like Article 14,19.
During service, Service Code don’t allow civil servants to say anything in public contrary to government’s position.
What these retired civil servants should do in your opinion? They could have praised the Govt and get positions in commissions and committees then their stay in the Capital will remain legal and acceptable.