Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
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An apology & applause: The eventful hearing of a PIL on Ram Rahim in Punjab & Haryana HC

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Proceedings in the hearing of a PIL on godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh were way more dramatic than expected. 

As the Punjab and Haryana High Court heard a public interest litigation (PIL) regarding security for the hearing of the Ram Rahim case Tuesday, the proceedings were anything but dull.

The court witnessed scenes that are unusual to any court in the country. The bench issued a clarification about its remark about the PM that made national headlines Saturday and advocates in the courtoom applauded and shouted slogans like ‘shame shame’ during proceedings.

The almost three-hour long hearing in the packed court room began with the acting Chief Justice S S Saron, who is heading the three member bench, clarifying that they had not made any statement about the Prime Minister. The acting Chief Justice said the bench had been misquoted by the media.

Addressing additional solicitor general Satya Pal Jain, Justice Saron said he was sorry that a wrong impression had been created by such reporting.

However, senior advocate Anupam Gupta objected to the bench offering a clarification.

“This clarification is wholly unnecessary. The Prime Minister is not bigger than this court. This court is not under the PM,” Gupta said.

Justice Saron maintained that the statement had been pulled out of context.

“Despite our repeated observations to the media to behave responsibly they have not,” the acting Chief Justice said.

Gupta responded by saying that the media had been valiant in its coverage of the Ram Rahim case.

“I know of journalists who were injured, their vehicles burnt. How have they misquoted you? Which part of your statement has been misquoted?” the senior lawyer said.

“No one has the right to misquote anything. I assure you on behalf of the bench that we are not afraid of anyone. But do not misquote our oral observations. General discussions are not for public consumption,” Justice Saron said.

After this exchange, when the hearing resumed, Justice Suryakant wanted two answers from the state.

“Why did you allow so many people to come into Panchkula and how did you presume that they will remain peaceful?” he asked the Advocate General.

Advocate General of the state, Baldev Raj Mahajan, told the court that “allowing” dera men to enter Panchkula was part of the government’s strategy to ensure that the dera chief appeared in court.

“First you tell us that the reason so many persons flowed into Panchkula because there was a clerical error in imposing section 144 (of the CrPC in its totality). Now you are saying that you allowed those people to come in as part of a strategy? How can these both be correct?” the acting Chief Justice said.

“What was the use of imposing a curfew when 350 cars were allowed in the cavalcade of the dera chief from Sirsa and 173 entered Panchkula,” the bench asked.

When an advocate pointed out that the cavalcade had cars whose occupants had weapons and petrol, the bench asked if any of the vehicles were checked.

“How many people were there in these cars and what were they carrying,” the bench asked.

When the Advocate General  Haryana replied that it was not  possible to check all those vehicles, advocates in the courtroom started shouting “shame shame”.

When the court asked for suggestions about the questions which the bench should consider in this case subsequently, advocates broke out into an animated discussion on whether the Haryana police should have used rubber bullets while taking on devotees.  At one point Justice Saron had to loudly tell an advocate to maintain silence.

Advocate Anupam Gupta told the bench that the Haryana police had done the right thing in taking strong action against dera followers who were working with a criminal intent, Justice Saron agreed.

“It was a war-like situation and had to be fought like war,” the acting Chief Justice said.

This elicited applause from the advocates. It would have continued had an advocate not objected.

“It is for you to explain to your lawyer colleagues how to act in court,” Justice Saron told the advocate.

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