New Delhi, Feb. 1: The Supreme Court today stayed Ashis Nandy's arrest but minced no words in expressing displeasure at his purported remarks about Dalits, tribals and OBCs, saying he has "no licence to make such comments".
"Tell your client he doesn't have the licence to make such comments," a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir told Nandy's lawyer.
Every individual has the right to express an idea but not by disturbing public interest and tranquillity, the judges said, after Nandy's lawyer alleged, without elaborating, that the comments were being "distorted" and that a "hysteria" was being generated.
"Who is saying that? Please don't say such things. Or is it that you are under the instructions of your client," the bench said.
Nandy had named the "OBCs, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes" as the most corrupt sections.
The court sought the responses of the Centre and the Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Bihar governments to Nandy's petition seeking quashing of multiple FIRs in the states for his controversial remarks on January 26 at the Jaipur Literary Festival.
Nandy drew the court's ire after his senior counsel, Aman Lekhi, wanted to know if the "law can penalise an idea". Justice Kabir retorted: "Yes, why not? When the idea is not in public interest."
Lekhi said a person cannot be faulted because he or she conveys a certain idea. Justice Kabir said: "Yes, an idea can be punished. It is not just a question of the idea. It is the way in which the idea is conveyed."
At this stage, a lawyer claiming to represent Dalits sought permission to move a plea opposing Nandy's plea to quash the FIRs. The bench then pointed to the lawyer and said: "This man says he is hurt. Each person has his idea. But it should not disturb others. In the context of ideas you can't go on making such remarks. When statements are being made, it has to be made in a responsible manner."
Lekhi argued the filing of multiple FIRs in a case was contrary to law. The bench disagreed: "Why not many FIRs? Because people at different places are affected."
Nandy has denied intentional insult or intimidation with intent to humiliate SCs and STs and, as such, argued that he had not violated the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and Section 506 of the IPC (criminal intimidation). The FIRs have been filed under these sections.
Nandy urged the court to lay down proper guidelines to prevent violation of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. He also sought steps to stop what he called the misuse of the SC/ST Act saying it amounted to violation of fundamental rights.
Nandy's petition pointed to "recurring instances of condemnation of freedom of speech and expression as hate speech which results in academicians, intellectuals and scholars being ostracised".
"(This) requires this hon'ble court to provide guidelines as to what alone is proscribed to ensure the freedom to communicate… the soul of right to freedom of expression… is not hindered or muzzled by abuse of political position or misuse of administrative power."
On the alleged misuse of the SC/ST Act, Nandy's plea claimed the government itself has acknowledged it. "It is an admitted fact that Section 3(1)(x) of SC/ST Act is being misused, as noted by ministry of social Justice and empowerment in its press release dated 11.08.2011. The misuse requires various guidelines to be framed."
Nandy said because of the "surcharged environment and rabid statements by important political personalities", his physical safety was at stake.