Judicial & Political Battle Over Ban On SIMI
August 14, 2008 by TMO
By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI: Just a day after the special tribunal, headed by sitting Delhi High Court Judge Geeta Mittal, lifted the ban on Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Supreme Court stayed the order. Lifting the ban on SIMI, in her 263-page order, Mittal said (August 5): “The material given by the Home Ministry is insufficient, so the ban cannot be continued.” Challenging the tribunal’s order, the center approached the Supreme Court the following day. “Irrecoverable damage will be done” to country’s steps against terrorism if the tribunal’s ruling was not suspended, the government appealed before the apex court. Giving in to the center’s demand, he Supreme Court stayed the tribunal’s order and posted the matter for hearing after three weeks.
Describing the tribunal’s order as “flawed,” Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta said that there was no need for additional evidence to justify the ban. “We have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. We have mentioned in the appeal the grounds for which we feel that the order is not correct. We have clearly brought out in the reasoning why we think that the order is flawed,” Gupta said.
The government had approached the apex court as there was no need for any additional evidence, Gupta said. Besides, he pointed to tribunal not having referred to substance of allegations the government had given against SIMI. “It has in fact been said that these cannot be brushed aside. Therefore we believe that the tribunal’s order is challengeable and we have challenged it,” Gupta.
Notwithstanding the government’s decision to approach the Supreme Court to defend its stand on having extended the ban on SIMI, several points observed by the tribunal in its order cannot be ignored. Referring to the lack of preparedness displayed by government officials before the tribunal, Mittal stated: “I would fail in my duty if I need not comment on the manner in which deposition has been made by witness appearing for the government.”
“It is equally sorry state of affairs when a senior officer of the central government appears before the tribunal to submit that he is not aware with regard to matters, which are put to him,” Mittal said. “It is certainly no excuse to say that you were not posted in the department responsible for the decision making. Appearing as a witness for the union government, it becomes the duty and the responsibility of such officer to be fully aware of the matter with regard to which he is going to depose,” she said.
Senior officers from the home ministry and intelligence bureau were among the officials who had appeared before the tribunal.
Strongly objecting to government’s notification of February 7, extending the ban on SIMI, the tribunal viewed it as a copied version of the 2006 notification. “It is shocking to know that for a minor re-arrangement of some words for a few words at the end of the notification, the notification of 2008 is almost a verbatim reproduction of the notification which was issued in 2006,” Mittal said.
Drawing attention to the 2008-notification having ignored deficiencies pointed out by the earlier tribunal, Mittal said: “With deep pain I would say that this is the most callous disregard of the statutory duty.”
The government had failed to come out with a single evidence to show the complicity of the organization in unlawful activities, the tribunal’s order said. “Even a single witness or a single case may be sufficient to support the claim of the government that an association is indulging in activities which is covered within the definition under the Act (Unlawful Activities-Prevention),” Mittal pointed out.
Though reference had been made to some alleged members of organization, details – including dates of offences, details of cases registered them and/or pending prosecution were not given. Most allegations made in the background note are not supported by any deposition or document, the order said. “The requirement to furnish complete grounds is statutory and cannot be supplied by the background note. Such background note cannot be utilized to furnish the deficiencies in the notification which really has to satisfy the statutory prescription by itself,” the order said. “I make it clear that nothing herein contained is an expression of opinion on the merits of the reference with regard to the allegation made by the authority,” Mittal said.
While Mittal’s order draws attention to ban on SIMI having been extended without the government producing sufficient evidence to justify the same, this is further supported by comments made by several politicians. “We welcome the decision of the tribunal. If you want to ban SIMI, then first ban Shiv Sena and Durga Bahini,” Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav said.
“It is wrong to ban SIMI. During my tenure as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, there were no incidences involving SIMI in the state,” Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said.
Supporting RJD and SP’s demand for ban of Hindu-extremist party Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmad said: “The RSS has been banned three times in the past and I do not think the demand to ban it again is unjustified.” Ahmad, who is also minister of state for home, clarified that he was speaking on behalf of his party and not the government. On tribunal’s order lifting the ban on SIMI, Ahmad said: “The order should not be seen as a setback to efforts of UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government’s fight against terror. Wherever terrorist attacks have taken place in the recent past –Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat– it is the state governments, which are investigating the matter. It is their responsibility to submit the evidence against SIMI to the central government.”
As expected, strongly opposing tribunal’s order on lifting ban on SIMI, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “UPA has been incompetent in defending the ban on SIMI. This reflects the real face of the government and its soft attitude towards terrorism.”