The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sorabjee shield for minister on terror law

New Delhi, Sept. 30: The Centre feels that presidential sanction is necessary for a state government to arrest and prosecute a Union minister.

The clarification was issued after Jayalalithaa wrote to Atal Bihari Vajpayee recently, telling him she would have to arrest Union minister of state for non-conventional energy M. Kannappan under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister said Kanappan had mentioned on September 16 that his party, the MDMK, still supported the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which she termed a “terrorist organisation”.

Union law minister Arun Jaitley does not want to be “dragged” into the controversy. He would only say “no such matter, whatsoever has reached me so far”, be it a note or file seeking his ministry's opinion.

But the state government’s legal department feels the law cannot be applied differently to VIPs, saying a Union minister cannot escape punishment if he has committed an offence.

Law officials said the “only requirement” is that the Speaker of the Lok Sabha would have to be informed about filing a chargesheet before it initiates any action against a central minister.

However, attorney-general Soli Sorabjee feels a “mere speech” by a minister, made to explain his party’s stand, does not per se and prima facie amount to supporting a banned terrorist organisation.

Last January, Sorabjee had sent a note to the Centre, saying Kannappan’s speech was only to highlight his party’s stand over the LTTE’s struggle for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

MDMK treasurer Kannappan has spoken in favour of the LTTE before and, a fortnight ago, had boasted that he had spoken “25 times in support of the LTTE and that (this) was the 26th time”.

The MDMK minister also said he was not afraid of being arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and was “ready to give up his ministership anytime”.

Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of Delhi High Court, says a Union minister “enjoys the confidence of the Prime Minister” and the President, who administers him the oath of office and secrecy. Constitutional propriety thus demands that the President’s sanction is obtained for arresting, chargesheeting or initiating any criminal action against a minister.

The Jayalalithaa government arrested MDMK chief Vaiko in June last year for making a speech in support of the LTTE.

The Centre had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court contending that Vaiko’s speech “taken in its entirety, and if properly interpreted and read in the entire context of the speech, does not attract Section 21 of Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act)”. Vaiko was arrested under that section of the anti-terror law.

The apex court had reserved judgment on Vaiko’s petition challenging section 21 of the anti-terrorism act and a People’s Union for Civil Liberties petition that challenged the entire act. Both petitions were heard together.

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