Ravi Shankar recalls days of emergency on Constitution Day
The Constitution Day celebrations at the Supreme Court on Monday saw Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recall the "days of stress during Emergency" which was declared by the Indira Gandhi government for 21 months from 1975.
Prasad paid tribute to Justice H R Khanna, the lone dissenting judge in the five-member Constitution Bench which had held that even the right to life and liberty can be suspended.
Though the apex court delivered such judgement, it never became a precedent or referred in any of the judgements, and was later overruled.
The Law Minister said Justice Khanna gave the dissenting verdict knowing that he would suffer for that and was denied the office of the Chief Justice of India.
"There were days of great stress during Emergency. When the Supreme Court with its own wisdom came with a judgement in ADM Jabalpur case that even the right to life stands compromised during Emergency. But yet how the course correction came about, the same court ultimately never used that judgement and finally overruled it," he said.
"But standing here, I want to recall a brave judge Justice H R Khanna who used to sit in court no 2. He gave a dissent with a brooding conscience of India and Indians would compel me that this is an alienable right of dignity and liberty cannot be compromised," he said.
"Not exactly the word but I am conveying the sense. But what is important for young friends to know is that he knew that he would suffer the consequences. He was denied the post of Chief Justice for two months. I remember as a student activist under leader Lok Nayak Jai Prakash fighting emergency," Prasad said at the Constitution Day, also known as Law Day, function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association at the apex court.
Prasad referred to a "great editorial" that had come in the New York Times and said, "we had distributed it among the pro-liberty supporters.
"Indians, if ever democracy returns, hang a portrait of Justice H R Khanna who sacrificed his Chief Justiceship but never sacrificed the idea of liberty and dignity. You go to court no 2 and you will find the portrait of Justice Khanna. These narratives in the top court make our head high," the Law Minister said.
Prasad was referring to April 30, 1976 editorial of the New York Times which said, "If India ever finds its way back to the freedom and democracy that were proud hallmarks of its first eighteen years as an independent nation, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice H R Khanna of the Supreme Court. It was Justice Khanna who spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for freedom this week dissenting from the Court's decision upholding the right of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Government to imprison political opponents at will and without court hearings".
(With inputs from agencies.)