Can’t gag a democracy: The court’s gag order on Amaravati land FIR is unfortunate

By: |
September 18, 2020 5:20 AM

Should such powers not be used in the rarest of the rare cases, this will encourage politicians to try and lobby the courts to simply stop investigations in cases involving them.

In Sahara vs Sebi, the Supreme Court had made it clear that injunctions to uphold a free trial by curbing the freedom of the press could only be given “in cases of real and substantial risk of prejudice”.In Sahara vs Sebi, the Supreme Court had made it clear that injunctions to uphold a free trial by curbing the freedom of the press could only be given “in cases of real and substantial risk of prejudice”.

To be sure, high courts have the power to both stay an investigation as well as to issue gag orders on the reporting of events, but such powers are to be used very carefully and only under exceptional circumstances such as political vendetta. It is difficult to see this being the case in the matter of the FIR that was filed on alleged irregularities involving land purchases in Amaravati, the greenfield legislative capital of Andhra Pradesh. It this case, too, the current dispensation is alleging corruption by the previous government, but it is difficult to argue these are really exceptional circumstances; such charges are made by most governments, and the cases get reported and investigated. In this case, too, had the investigation been carried out, it is very much possible that the Andhra Pradesh High Court (HC) would have found there was no substance in the charges and it could simply have quashed them. By not allowing the investigation to go on, or the media to report the details, no one will be any wiser on whether there was corruption in the land deals or not. Should such powers not be used in the rarest of the rare cases, this will encourage politicians to try and lobby the courts to simply stop investigations in cases involving them.

In Sahara vs Sebi, the Supreme Court had made it clear that injunctions to uphold a free trial by curbing the freedom of the press could only be given “in cases of real and substantial risk of prejudice”. The Andhra HC’s order comes even before any such reporting had taken place. Courts have indulged parties, including many influential individuals and corporates, under investigation or alleged to have been involved in irregularities with omnibus injunctions against the publication of any news relating to them. But, the impact of this can be quite chilling. Keep in mind that, more often than not, good journalists bring out a lot of facts that, under normal circumstance, are not made public. This then forces prosecutors to come up with even more compelling arguments to bolster their case in court or goads them into more thorough investigations. A free press helps transparency and acts as a check against a poor investigation by the government or an attempt to frame innocent persons. A gag on the media, by its very definition, prevents the media from performing this role.

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