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For Akhilesh regime, law & order is just politics by other means

Saurav Datta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:56 IST

The Samajwadi Party regime is dropping criminal cases filed against its leaders in the past few years. This should not be a surprise. The party has routinely tried to subvert the justice system for perceived political benefit.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is battling allegations of going easy on the perpetrators of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots. On the other hand, his government is accused of trying to manipulate the outcome in terrorism cases.

Also read - Bloody record: Is 'secular' SP more communal than the BJP?

The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the Akhilesh government's decision to free 19 Muslims charged with bombing several places across Uttar Pradesh in 2006 and 2007, "in gross violation of the criminal law".

The challenge was initially launched in the Allahabad High Court by Ranjana Agnihotri, a lawyer and activist from Lucknow. She contended that the state's decision to unconditionally release the 19 accused not only violated Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which deals with a state government's power to drop prosecution, but the principles of federalism as well.

Article 93 of the Constitution, Agnihotri argued, didn't permit a state to free someone charged with or convicted of an offence under a central law without the concurrence of the central government. In this particular case, all 19 men had been charged under central laws, including the Explosives Act, Passport Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

A chief minister driven by political expediency, Agnihotri argued, just can't be allowed to override settled principles of law.

Also read - #DadriLynching: why Akhilesh Yadav needs to take the blame

Political game

That, though, is exactly what the Samajwadi Party regime did. In the run-up to the assembly election in 2012, the party chief Mulayam Singh, ostensibly to rescue the Muslim victims of the "communal" Mayawati government, promised to release all innocent Muslim youth if voted to power.

And within days of being elected on 28 March, the SP regime wrote to the home department, district magistrates and public prosecutors to immediately release all such accused, pay them compensation and start departmental and legal proceedings against officials who had been involved in investigation and prosecution of these people.

The lawyers, prosecutors, district magistrates and policemen protested, but they were brushed off. The advocate general found nothing wrong with the government's order, and gave his consent.

So, was the advocate general right? He was not, the High Court ruled and told the state not to release the 19 men. The Akhilesh regime challenged the order in the Supreme Court, where the matter is now pending.

In 2014, Allahabad HC told the Akhilesh regime not to free 19 Muslims being tried for terrorism

In Sheonandan Paswan v State of Bihar, 1987, the apex court's Constitution Bench interpreted Section 321 to hold that withdrawing prosecution must be done "in good faith, public interest and to fulfill the cause of justice, and not to stifle the legal process".

Section 321 leaves it to the public prosecutor to decide on dropping a case, independent of any state influence, and then approach the court, which has the last word.

Not surprisingly, the state's counsel had no answer when the apex court asked on what basis had permission been granted to withdraw the charges.

The SP has long exploited its veneer of secularism for political ends, and in the process weakened the institutions and processes of justice. Withdrawing the cases against its leaders is of a pattern with this.

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First published: 15 March 2016, 9:20 IST
Saurav Datta @SauravDatta29

Saurav Datta works in the fields of media law and criminal justice reform in Mumbai and Delhi.