Sunday, September 18, 2011


Justice P N Bhagwati

And the matter is virtually buried by the media, but for a couple of articles in the Indian Express and But here also the grouse of the authors seems to be more on the 35 years’ delay! Are we not missing the real issues?
What are the issues? Why does he feel sorry now?

Year 1976. Emergency had been declared in India. Emergency meant suspension of fundamental rights, including the right to life and personal liberty as mentioned in Article 21. Many political leaders, journalists and others were arrested all over the country on frivolous charges. High Courts across the country were flooded with habeas corpus petitions seeking the production of those arrested. The Government argued that right to personal liberty has been suspended and as such High Courts cannot entertain habeas corpus petitions. In other words the relatives and friends of those arrested could not do anything but to wait helplessly for their release. Most of the High Courts (barring Andhra, Kerala and Madras) rejected the Government’s arguments and upheld the citizens’ right to file habeas corpus petitions. Government preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court. A five member bench comprising of Justices  A N Ray, P N Bhagwati, M H Beg, Y V Chandrachud and H R Khanna heard the case. Except for H R Khanna all other judges rejected the verdict of the High Courts! Citizens of India had lost their right to life and personal liberty, held the Supreme Court. Justice Khanna differed from the rest of the judges.

Now P N Bhagwati says he is sorry for this judgment! He says he ‘yielded’ to his colleagues; he was not in favor of the majority view initially; he was persuaded! Yielded to whom? Persuaded by whom? By the other judges? Or by anyone else? Is the persuasion not a crime- perhaps as serious, if not more, as ‘yielding’? Also what was the motivation for the other 3 judges to ‘persuade’ P N Bhagwati to change his verdict? Who or what motivated them? While Bhagwati’s apology itself is being forgotten, does anyone- the Government or the Supreme Court- have the time to look into the role of other judges?

And who are the other judges?

Justice A N Ray, who was promoted as Chief Justice of India by the Indira Gandhi Government in 1973- just three years before the ADM Jabalpur- superseding 3 senior-most judges.

Justice M H Beg became the Chief Justice of India in 1977 and Y V Chandrachud in 1978!

Let us revert to P N Bhagwati. He welcomed Indira Gandhi when she assumed power in 1980 after the defeat of 1977.He was promoted as the CJI in 1985. He was hailed by media as one of the “progressive” judges! He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2007.

Justice H.R. Khanna did not get his promotion.

The vital question still remains.

Does a simple apology wipe out all the sins?


  1. What happened to the folks who were arrested? Do you have the details about the same? I would like to read please.

    Thank you Hari ji. I like to read about politics and this is quite a dose for me.

  2. It happens in our country. I have read few articles about Emergency. And, apology doesn't wipe sins, it gives you a 'face saving'.

  3. Not sure how many more such truths have been hidden in this country... :(

  4. I guess high courts listening to state governments and supreme court listening to central government happens even today. Sorry can't wipe it but the guy suddenly becomes good man from bad man!

  5. Rather saying this as POST, can tell this as MINI research,, good one sir :)

  6. Thanks Chintan,Saru,Bharathiraja,Gowtham and Deepak for your comments.
    CHintan, to answer your question, while political prisoners were released later, it is not clear how many of the ordinary citizens were released, whether they were tortured, etc. One prominent case which caught the headlines in 80s was that of P Rajan, an engineering student who died in police custody.Please follow this link for details.

  7. oh my god, i had no idea about all this. its sad. i followed the link - P Rajan & read that too.
    no, one sorry, 3 decades too late, doesn't wipe out the sins. wonder how he lived with the guilt for so long?
    very good post Sir

  8. Its amazing to know how we claim to survive in a democracy where "Democracy seems the only right way to do wrong!" The social concepts seem utterly farcical.
    Very informative and thought-provoking. Thanks for uploading such a post.

    Indie :)

  9. Many nasty things happened during dynasty politics.
    Sorry can never wipe away all sins. I was unaware of this incident. I would like to share this link to my friends who share political. Hope you don't mind.

    Btw, good post. :)

  10. Unfortunately these things still happen in this country. Even with the Supreme Court being far more active & people supporting corruption is eating in the very backbone of this country.

  11. Thanks Sujatha- You have looked at it from Bhagwati's side- how he lived with the guilt? Good point. I missed this.
    Thanks Indiana Amrita- I liked the "Democracy seems the only right way to do wrong"
    Thanks Spicy Sweet- Please share with your freinds.It will be an honour.
    Thanks Rituparna-Prashant Bhushan filed a petition before the Supreme Court sometime back that 16 judges were corrupt! Some of them were Chief Justices!

  12. I guess it takes a lot to be at the helm in such a responsible position. I admire Justice H R Khanna for sticking to his opinion. Looking at the positive side, Justice P N Bhagwati at least repented by pleading guilty.

    It's sad, but there are so many other examples of willful misconduct by people in responsible positions, probably in spite of their conscience telling them otherwise, and not feeling guilty at all.

  13. Thanks Seema. Thanks Tanmay. You have a point. There are many others who don't feel guilty at all.

  14. there are dark secrets in every country, and we too have our share...and a simple 'sorry' isn't enough...

    great post...


  15. these kinda things keep happening and sir reading from bloggers like you keep us informed....politicos and media are so very interlinked....

  16. A saying in Hindi loosely translated is "British left but left sorry behind" Good post. But I think we cannot wipe the sins by saying Sorry but prevent it in future. Justice Bhagwati had no need to say sorry after so many years but he did which may serve as a lesson to others.

  17. Good you brought it up Hari, the younger generation might not even know. Incidentally, NYT carried an Edit on that particular judgement saying 'They should erect a statue of Justice Khanna in every town square of India...'. People forget, but it is great that people like you will not let them.