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Uttarakhand and the human right to development

(Excerpts of the presidential speech delivered by Ravi Kiran Jain, Senior Advocate, Allahabad High Court, and the President of Uttar Pradesh People’s Union for Civil Liberties, at the 24th Annual JP Memorial Lecture, at Rink Hall, Mallital, Nainital, Uttaranchal, on March 23, 2004.)

PUCL Bulletin, June 2004

This event today in Uttaranchal is special for more reasons than one. It brings to our thoughts the memories associated with the great social and political thinker, Jaya Prakash Narayan. Our meeting here under the banner of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in his memory has a direct relevance to the recent history of this hill state. It was Jaya Prakash Narayan who had led a massive movement in the early seventies for bringing the ‘people’ at the centre of a decentralised democratic governance of the country.

As we all know, Jaya Prakash Narayan had to his credit the distinction of leading, through his inspiring vision, almost all the non-Congress political parties to a common platform. It was he who catalysed the emergence of people’s massive and democratic resistance against the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi. It was during her regime, on account of the delinking of the parliamentary elections from the assembly elections by her in 1971, that the centralized system of governance reached its peak, which further led to corruption and criminalisation of politics. The cumulative impact of all this was the degeneration of parliamentary democracy itself and all democratic institutions.

With the fall of the Janata Party experiment all that the late Jaya Prakash Narayan had stood and fought for appeared to have died for ever. However, in the years to come, his political philosophy was slated to bounce back, in its true spirit and action, in the hill districts of the then Uttar Pradesh. It fell to the destiny of the people of Uttarakhand to bring about a very real and heartening realization of Jaya Prakash Narayan’s dream. For the first time in the history of India, one saw a spontaneous, and at the same time exceptionally strong, upsurge among the people of Uttarakhand. Through a wholly non-political intensive and extensive mass movement, they drove home the plain and simple message that they were not ready to take any more the stagnation and deprivation they were suffering from culturally, socially, and economically under the then existing political and bureaucratic centralism.

The primary motivation behind this people’s movement was to create a system and environment which ensured an all-round development of their region through their own participation and decision making. It. was amazing to note that this was the first struggle of its kind in this country where women in large numbers were in the lead, primarily for the reason that because of the higher literacy among the females of the hill districts, their political awareness and sensitivity to their rights was at a higher pedestal compared to what women in many other states seemed to enjoy in their own social strata.

We all know how brutally this historic movement of the people was countered and crushed in a pre-planned manner by the state and its agencies, causing heart-rending violations of civil and political rights. Atrocities were committed on the agitators in Khatima, Dehradun and a number of other places, and what was perpetrated on them at Muzaffarnagar Tiraha on the basis of a pre-meditated and bloody offensive by the state turned out to be even far worse than what the country had witnessed during the freedom struggle at the Jalianwalah Bagh, which was the outcome of a single person’s impulsive and reckless decision.

The Muzaffarnagar Tiraha holocaust, which was an outcome of a planned state action, makes probably the darkest chapter in the history of violation of human rights in independent India. It bled the hearts and shocked beyond measure the conscience of all the people in the country. Apart from killings and loot, women were raped by the policemen for the reason that they had ventured to come out in the open with vehemence and abundant will-power for asserting their right to social, cultural and economic development, which was, put differently, a historic battle for localization through people’s participation in development versus globalisation through a centralized governance, and against the economic exploitation of their precious natural resources by mafias, industrialists, and, later on, by the forces operating under the cover of multinational corporations.

As we all know, by a judgment delivered in February 1996, a division bench of the Allahabad High Court, headed by Justice R.S. Dhawan, delivered a landmark and innovative judgment in the realm of human rights. The judgment censured the police and authorities for the brutal attack on human rights of the Uttarakhand agitationists, ordered their prosecution, and also granted relief by way of compensation to the victims, including women. But, tragically, the Supreme Court, on the other hand, added insult to the injury suffered by the simple, innocent and well-meaning people of the hills. The apex court allowed on May 13, 1999, an appeal by Anant Kumar Singh, who was the district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar during the time the said atrocities were committed on Uttarakhand agitationists.

The Supreme Court set aside the High Court verdict. Appallingly, the apex court did so on boneless considerations, and what was more shocking was that it did so without going into the valid and forceful judicial reasons given in support of its judgment by the Allahabad High Court. What is to be noted is that the SLP of the then district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, Anant Kumar Singh before the Supreme Court was confined to only a limited question whether the High Court could have ordered his prosecution without a state government sanction under section 197 Cr.P.C. Nowhere the compensation ordered to be paid by the High Court to the victims of barbarous human rights violations was under challenge in the SLP filed by Anant Kumar Singh. Paradoxically, the apex court which under our Constitution is the greatest protector of human rights delivered only great dejection, frustration and trauma to the people of Uttarakhand, who burnt the copies of the apex court judgment in thousands at Muzaffarnagar Tiraha on October 2, 1999 — the anniversary of the police atrocities on the Uttarakhand agitators. The Supreme Court judgment is untenable in law, productive of great public mischief and ought to be over-ruled, as it is a black spot on its judicial record performance and accountability.

However, the UP PUCL which was among the key parties who had assiduously fought for the cause of the people of hill districts at the Allahabad High Court, leading to its historic verdict, did not sit quiet; it continued to do its utmost not only to sustain the movement of the hill people but also impart momentum and direction to it from time to time. All along, the UP PUCL had been a very active and involved partner of the people there at every stage of their struggle to win for themselves the right to determine their social, cultural and economic development. And as the UP PUCL did so, it also played a significant role by bringing about a metamorphosis in the very concept of civil liberties.

For the first time in the history of human rights movement anywhere in the world, it brought the right to human development within the fold of human rights as its integral component. That is to say, the UP PUCL drove home the irresistible argument and conclusion that without human development, particularly educational and economic development, the very concept of human rights remains woefully incomplete and unrealized for any people anywhere. As it is, the right to human development is well enshrined in the Constitution in its Directive Principles, but they are not judicially enforceable. Therefore, a people’s movement remains the only option to bring about the enforcement of Directive Principles, and towards this end, the people of Uttarakhand have given a matchless performance in spirit and action both.

Looking back at the role played by the UP PUCL, it decided to create an awareness among the people of Uttarakhand by having face-to-face interaction with them about the new dimension of the right to development as an integral part of human rights. Towards this, about 20 activists, including some social scientists, undertook two intensive and extensive visits, first in June 2000 and then in September 2000, to different parts of Uttarakhand, before its formation, with the collaboration of the Uttarakhand Mahila Manch and Pahar. The places visited included Garhwal, Dehradun, Tehri Garhwal, Srinagar, Karnprayag, Gopeswar, Joshimath, Nainital, Betalghat, Almora, Bageshwar, Berinag, Pithoragarh, and Haldwani. During these visits, the team members emphasized at well-attended meetings, joined by across-section of people at all these places, that the right to development should be made an issue in the realm of human rights, and it could be realized only through the people’s participation. Very meaningful and positive discussions took place at these gatherings.

On the conclusion of these visits on October 1, 2000, the UP PUCL summed up its conclusions in a report as follows:

Firstly, it was the consensus among the people of Uttarakhand that their demand and movement for a new state is an expression of their massive protest against centralisation and for decentralised development. Therefore, their demand is that the future political structure of the new state should be decentralised, based on the truly democratic principle of participation of people at all strata of development for the hill state people. Towards this, it was felt that if the new state is founded, in its structural character in tune with the Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments, it would serve to function as “an effective instrument for fulfillment of people’s aspirations and banishment of their age-old economic backwardness, besides presenting an ideal model before the rest of the country, nay, the entire world.”

Secondly, it was also the consensus that in place of the existing indirect representative politics as the basis of governance, a decentralized, transparent politics, ingrained into people’s participation, was the only feasible and desirable alternative. Therefore, the general wish of the people in the hill districts was found to be that the new state must give place to such an autonomous system where the state’s 50 per cent budget is placed directly under the autonomous local-self governments without any bureaucratic interference.

Thirdly, there was a unanimity of views that Uttarakhand should herald the emergence of a new politics, grounded in development and people-oriented decentralization of political power. The conventional national political parties have been proponents of centralized governance, and they, in fact, appeared to be sometimes in a straight fight against those forces who espoused and struggled for the fulfillment of regional aspirations of the local people. Therefore, there is a need to form a regional political party in Uttarakhand to take to the logical conclusion their struggle in keeping with the aspirations and urges of the people there to develop the state to give their historic dream a realistic shape in the years to come.

Fourthly, it was the consensus that the women were the backbone of Uttarakhand’s economy, and unless their living conditions are bettered, there could not be any real development of the state. Therefore, it was necessary that the women of Uttarakhand must be assured 50 per cent reservation in the elected representative bodies from the village to the state level.

As a follow-up, to push forward the agenda as set above, the UP PUCL held a symposium in Dehradun on April 14, 2001, which was attended by human rights activists, thinkers and social activists, such as Rabi Ray, Surendra Mohan, and George Mathew. It endorsed the conclusions, mentioned above, and exhorted the people of Uttarakhand to keep their struggle on.

However, as we all are aware, with the emergence of the new state, Uttaranchal, it has, shockingly, again slipped back into the same familiar slot of a centralized political governance, where politicians, bureaucrats, economic exploiters, and mafias have tightened their noose further on the destiny, resources, and right to self-development of the people of the hill districts. The formation of the new state, coupled with the imposition of a highly exploitative political and bureaucratic system, drawing sustenance from centralized governance and global powers, had had the cruel effect of washing away all that the people of Uttarakhand had struggled and made sacrifices for.

As if what the Supreme Court had done before the formation of Uttaranchal was not enough, after its formation a section of the newly created higher judiciary in the new state of Uttaranchal delivered an ugly jolt to the people of the state. This refers to a judgment delivered on July 22, 2003, by the Uttaranchal High Court’s Acting Chief Justice P.C. Verma. who was sitting with another judge, Justice M.M. Ghildiyal. By their judgment, the two judges discharged the then DM of Muzaffarnagar, Mr. Anant Kumar Singh, in the criminal case pending against him in respect of the atrocities committed on the people of the state at Muzaffarnagar Tiraha. The judgment was delivered literally under a veil of secrecy; nobody was aware of the judgment and the people came to know of it only when a Delhi newspaper published a report about it nearly ten days after it was delivered. It sparked off massive protests by the people, leading to agitations, chakka jams, and protests. Never in the history of India had a judgment evoked such mass anger and public protests as it did in Uttarakhand, which found tremendous media publicity.

Shockingly, apart from the fact that the judgment was against the tenor and spirit of the case law laid down in the past by the Supreme Court in respect of the discharge of a public servant being prosecuted on a criminal charge, the other judge, Justice Ghildiyal, before he became a judge at Uttaranchal, was a lawyer at the Allahabad High Court and had appeared on behalf of the Uttarakhand agitationists when the human rights violation case was pending at the Allahabad High Court. Justice Ghildiyal committed an act of serious judicial misconduct by sitting on the bench along with Justice P.C. Verma to hear the matter relating to Mr. A.K. Singh, and for the same reason, Justice Verma committed an act of serious misbehaviour by sitting on the bench along with Justice Ghildiyal. It is also to be noted that Acting Chief Justice P.C. Verma had earlier evoked sarcastic and adverse comments from a section of the print media in Uttaranchal following his unbecoming conduct in having touched the feet of Uttaranchal Chief Minister N.D. Tewari at a public function in full view of the people who were then present there. Subsequently, the Uttaranchal PUCL and the Uttarakhand Mahila Manch filed petitions to intervene and seek a review of the aforesaid judgment, with a prayer that it should not be heard by the said two judges. However, the said two judges, without giving an opportunity of hearing, passed an order recalling their judgment in Mr. Anant Kumar Singh case and left the court-room in a huff. Not to take it lying down, the Uttarakhand Samyukt Sangharsh Morcha thereafter initiated the process for impeaching the two judges by Parliament, and it is in progress. The two judges have lost the confidence of the people of Uttarakhand and have no right to continue as judges in that state.

Sometime thereafter, a PIL filed by the Uttarakhand PUCL in respect of a custodial death at Bageshwar was dismissed by Justice P.C. Verma by making an observation that the PUCL was a busybody and had no locus standi to file the said petition. It is shocking that such an observation should have been made by Justice Verma when the PUCL has been known to all judges and lawyers in the country as an organization fighting for people’s rights.

It was shocking that rather than stand solidly behind the people of the state in their mass struggle against the aforesaid judgment of Justice Verma and Justice Ghildiyal, the Uttaranchal High Court Bar Association gave a poor and disgraceful account of its being utterly weak, opportunistic and betrayer of people by choosing to serve the interests of the two judges. Their conduct deserves to be deprecated, and it is hoped that the people of Uttarakhand will never forgive the Uttaranchal High Court Bar Association for letting them down so shabbily.

Looking at what has happened, I am strongly of the opinion that the Uttarakhand Mahila Manch, Uttaranchal PUCL, and the social organization, Pahar should file a writ petition before the Supreme Court to issue a direction to the Union of India to transfer the aforesaid two judges as their continuance in Uttaranchal High Court is violative of the human rights of the people of the state, and as they have lost the faith of the people there, and allowing them to continue there would constitute judicial anarchy.

To sum up, the historic struggle of the people of hill districts launched for a new state has been hijacked and defeated by installing the familiar system of centralized political and bureaucratic governance where the masses have no role whatsoever to determine their own human development. The task thus remains unfinished, the war remains incomplete. For a while, with the creation of the new state, the belief had come that the movement had achieved its fruits, but it proved, too soon, only illusory and deceptive. The question today is, how to take the people’s struggle to its logical conclusion?

The answer lies in formalizing and strengthening a regional political party, in all the rural and urban segments of the state, based on the sentiment that rather than being marginalized, deprived, duped and looted in the present system of centralized governance, it is the people of the state who should be at the center of governance and also development in consonance with the intent and spirit of 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments. That will not only be the first historic achievement of its kind in India and, in fact, in the world, but it will also bring about the fulfillment of the great dream which Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan had nurtured for long for India’s future.

Uttarakhand has the potentiality to become an ideal economically self-sufficient state in the world on account of its natural resources, human resources, high literacy rate and women’s participation, and their urge to exercise their right to development by their participation in the process of governance. But it can be achieved by throwing away the centralized political system and replacing it by endowing the municipalities and the panchayats with powers and authority which may enable them to function as institutions of self-government, by preparing plans for economic development and social justice. That will demonstrate to the world the most convincing model of localization as against globalisation. Thank you all.

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