The Supreme Court’s observations that suspended Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma was “single-handedly responsible” for the tensions that erupted after she made controversial remarks about Prophet Muhammad, were not in sync with judicial ethos, a group of 115 former judges, bureaucrats and retired armed forces officials said in an open letter to Chief Justice NV Ramana on Monday, reported ANI.
“By no stretch these observations, which are not part of the judicial order, can be sanctified on the plank of judicial propriety and fairness,” the letter noted. “Such outrageous transgressions are without parallel in the annals of Judiciary.”
On Friday, a bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Surya Kant made an oral observation that Sharma should have apologised to the country for making disparaging remarks about the Prophet during a debate on Times Now television channel.
Her remarks led to a spate of violence and unrest across several parts of the country.
Sharma had approached the Supreme Court for directions to club the multiple first information reports that have been registered against her across the country. However, the court refused to hear the plea and asked her to approach the High Courts instead.
The signatories to the open letter sent on Monday include former judges SM Soni, PS Rathore, MC Garg, Sunil Hali, former bureaucrats Iyr Krishna Rao, OP Gupta, R Gopalan, PC Dogra, Mahesh Singhla and retired armed forces officials Arvind Sharma, Arun Sahni, PK Roy, RPS Bhaduria and PN Tripathi.
The group observed that the comments made by the judges had no rationale for a proceeding in which her remarks were not the matter of contention.
“In the annals of judiciary, the unfortunate comments have no parallel and are indelible scar on justice system of the largest democracy,” it said. “Urgent rectifications steps are called for as these have potentially serious consequences on democratic values and security of the country.”
The letter noted that the “judgemental observations” on matters not before the court were akin to crucifying the spirit and essence of the Constitution. It said the observations were too serious to be overlooked if the rule of law and democracy has to “sustain and blossom”.
The signatories also backed Sharma for filing the petition for clubbing all the FIRs together, saying that different cases were registered against her for the same offence.
The letter said that Article 20(2) of the Constitution prohibits prosecution and punishment more than once for the same offence. It added that the Supreme Court bench told Sharma to approach High Courts despite knowing that they do not have the power to transfer cases from other states.
“One fails to understand, why Nupur’s case is treated at a different pedestal,” it added. “Such an approach of the Supreme Court deserves no applause and impacts the very sanctity and honour of the highest court of land.”
Supreme Court’s observations
The bench had said that being a spokesperson of a national political party does not give anyone the liberty to speak “such disturbing things”.
“These are not religious people at all, they make statements to provoke,” the judges said.
The bench questioned why Sharma did not approach the lower courts before filing a petition before the Supreme Court.
“The petition smacks of her arrogance that the magistrates of the country are too small for her,” the bench added.
The judges also took exception to the television debate during which Sharma made the comment.
“What was the TV debate for?” Justice Kant asked. “Only [to] fan an agenda? Why did they choose a sub judice topic [the Gyanvapi mosque case]?”
The Supreme Court’s oral observations had received flak on social media. A plea was also filed demanding that the observations made against Sharma be withdrawn.
Following the criticism, Pardiwala had said on Sunday that personal attacks on judges can lead to a “dangerous scenario”. He said that such attacks makes judges ponder “about what the media thinks instead of what the law thinks”.
“Social and digital media is primarily resorted to expressing personalised opinions more against the judges, rather than a constructive critical appraisal of their judgements,” he said. “This is what is harming the judicial institution and lowering its dignity.”