The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Apex court sounds Centre on Vaiko plea

New Delhi, Dec. 9: MDMK leader Vaiko’s petition prompted the Supreme Court today to ask the Centre for clarifications on Section 21 of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act .

A division bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and Arijit Pasayat issued the notice to the Centre, asking why Section 21 should not be struck down as unconstitutional.

The petition of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam leader Vaiko, an NDA ally, has challenged the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Act.

Vaiko is the first of the NDA allies to question provisions after pushing the Act through in Parliament. He had called the anti-terror Act the “need of the hour to curb terrorism”. The apex court’s move came after brief submissions on behalf of Vaiko, now lodged in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore central prison.

In his petition from prison, Vaiko said Section 21 infringes on freedom of expression, guaranteed as a fundamental right under Constitution’s Article 19(1a). It is “therefore unconstitutional”.

Section 21, the petition said, “curtails his personal liberty” and hence “it is unconstitutional and the petitioner (Vaiko) is entitled to challenge the constitutionality of the said provision (Section 21)… to protect his fundamental right.…”

The petition goes on to say that the Act is “vulnerable for political oppression” and Section 21’s “misuse is imminent”. So the Act should be declared violative of Constitution’s Article 21, that guarantees right to life.

Vaiko was arrested on July 11, on his arrival at Chennai airport from Chicago, for his alleged pro-LTTE speech at Thirumangalam near Madurai town.

Vaiko had argued that a “mere speech” to highlight Tamils’ plight could not amount to supporting terrorism.

Under Section 21 of the Act, a person can be jailed for speaking in favour of a banned terrorist organisation. The LTTE, accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is banned in India.

His speech, he said, was a repeat of what he had spoken in Parliament. Tamil Nadu police, however, said his speech in Parliament could be “privileged”, but could not be so when repeated in public.

After his arrest, Vaiko had “vowed” not to appeal for bail. Languishing in Vellore jail ever since, Vaiko has now also pleaded “immunity” as an MP, under Constitution’s Article 105.

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