Gagged no more

Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

-- (Credit: EMKAY)The Narmada Bachao Andolan (nba) has regained its freedom of speech. In October 2001 the Bombay City Civil Court had passed an injunction, restraining the anti-dam activist group from making any defamatory statements or writing about the Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation (smhpc). The directive came after the nba levelled allegations about the diversion of public money during the execution of the Maheshwar project in Madhya Pradesh. The body was also debarred from issuing defamatory press notes or holding demonstrations with written material against the project. On March 2003, the Bombay City Civil Court dismissed the injunction. The restrictions were formally lifted on June 9.

However, some questions remain unanswered. "The October 2001 judgment raises the broader issues of public scrutiny, community welfare over the interests of a single entity or corporate body, accountability of public financial institutions and need for transparency in operation," points out Chittaroopa Palit, an nba activist and defendant in the case.

Palit maintains that the issues that the nba was raising were important, asserting that "crores of rupees were being siphoned off and we had documents to prove it". The smhpc denies these charges. "The Constitution of India grants an individual unrestricted right to utter anything against anyone without having substantial evidence. But freedom of speech does not give an individual the freedom to abuse or defame," a spokesperson said.

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