In what context does one place the Vasundhara Raje regime’s rather startling ordinance that seeks to immunise judicial officers and public servants from any kind of investigation of corruption charges? The six-month mandatory window for a sanction envisaged under the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance also prohibits any media coverage within that period. That this proposal strains directly against basic constitutional guarantees is obvious—as commentators have pointed out, such a blanket immunity would be ultra vires of both basic equality as conferred upon citizens by Article 14 and freedom of speech as granted under Article 19.
What brings about such a desire to escape accountability? Let us examine the rationale offered by the Raje regime—similar in tone and logic to the one extended by Rajiv Gandhi for his equally egregious (though abortive) attempt to frame an anti-defamation law in 1988. Some 73 per cent of complaints of corruption have been found to be baseless, apologists say.
This is perhaps essentially true but not as innocuous as it seems. Frivolous and/or malicious litigation or petitioning are a fact of our evolving legal universe. Some of these features have also infiltrated journalism. Indeed, one may wonder if agenda-driven investigations of scams have not even moulded the public discourse, often via journalists or bureaucrats cast in gladiatorial colours.
But a kind of pernicious blowback is to be observed from backward-looking members of the judiciary and elected legislature heads on a wide range of areas—from proposals to change the rape or divorce laws to attempts to dilute the RTI Act to attempts to gag free expression on matters of public interest.
Malicious interventions should be tackled—perhaps by increasing the cost borne by the accuser. Assume the Talwars are proven innocent in the Aarushi case—should they be entitled to compensation? But ultimately, truth will be its own defence in law. It’s good that Raje has seen the light belatedly after being panned universally.