October 12, 2011

SC says Salman Khurshid, "file a memo to release them, we will release them"

13 OCT, 2011, 03.03AM IST, ET BUREAU


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said Law Minister Salman Khurshid's statement that putting businessmen behind bars would hamper investment was disturbing.

"It appears as if we are interested in keeping these businessmen behind bars. Is this statement totally correct? If it is correct, it is disturbing for us,"
a bench comprising Justices GS Singhvi and HL Dattu told Additional Solicitor-General Haren Raval while hearing the bail pleas of 2G case accused - Unitech Managing Director Sanjay Chandra and Swan Telecom's Director Vinod Goenka.

In an interview to a newspaper, Khurshid had recently said courts should factor in the demands of political economy. "What will affect the functioning of the government if other institutions do not understand the kind of political economy we are faced with today: what is needed to encourage growth and investment? If you lock up top businessmen, will investment come? What optimal structure should be put in place for investment to come."

Appearing for Goenka, lawyer Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that Khurshid's statement was published in a newspaper and that it was correct. The bench wanted to know from Raval whether he was supporting the stand taken by the minister reported in the newspaper. The judges also expressed surprise over reports that CBI will not oppose bail pleas of DMK's Kanimozhi and certain other accused in the scam case. The ASG said it was not correct and that he has the instruction to oppose the bail pleas of the accused persons.

Khurshid's statement had invited sharp criticism from his political rivals as well as top jurists. Former Supreme Court chief justices JS Verma and VN Khare said the minister's pronouncements went against the basic principle that law is supreme and any violation of law cannot be condoned.

After his remarks were condemned, Khurshid had clarified to PTI on Tuesday night that while it was for the courts to decide as to who should be locked up, the dictum of bail being the rule and jail an exception has been laid down by the Supreme Court itself. Elaborating on his controversial statement that the judiciary needs to understand the 'political economy' in the country, Khurshid said, "it is not for me to lock up people, it is for the courts to decide."

Khurshid said his comments had nothing to do with the 2G case but agreed that a lot of people think that many of those long detained in the scam had been deprived of their liberty. In a changing society every institution has to respond to the demands of changing time and the courts had done that in the case of protection of environment for which they needed to be complimented.

Similarly, "the demands of our time are that we must appreciate what dissent is", the minister said adding that it was the Supreme Court that had given bail to Maoist sympathiser Binayak Sen without saying that he was guiltless. "They (the apex court) said he will be tried.

If he is wrong he will be punished. But that is no reason to keep him in prison. They gave him bail," Khurshid said describing the order on Sen as "brilliant". He went on to ask, "but when economic issues come does the Supreme Court pay the same attention to developing economic issues as the rest of us do."

The Supreme Court is currently monitoring CBI's investigation into telecom scam. After SC's intervention, 17 people including former telecom minister A Raja and DMK chief's daughter Kanimozhi were arrested. "Are we interested in keeping them (in jail)?" asked the judges, referring to Khurshid's remarks. "You file a memo to release them, we will release them," an angry bench said.

Government leaders of late have been arguing against continued media focus on scams. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had during an interaction with a group of editors few months ago said that the debate on the scandals should not end up shaking self-confidence of the people.

"I wish to assure the country as a whole that our government is dead serious to bring to book all the wrongdoers regardless of their position in 2G spectrum, CWG, ISRO and Adarsh scams. But we should not do any thing to shake the self confidence of the people," he had said. But the Opposition has been maintaining that corruption was not just only politically destabilising, but it could become a potential restraint on India's rapidly emerging economy.

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