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Supreme Court lens back on 'sealed cover reports'

Issue comes up during hearing of the MediaOne case on Wednesday
Supreme Court.
Supreme Court.
File photo

R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 05.05.22, 03:08 AM

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reaffirmed its willingness to examine the constitutional validity of governments submitting “sealed cover reports” in courts, while giving the Centre a “last opportunity” to respond to a plea challenging the ban on MediaOne Malayalam TV channel.

The issue came up during Wednesday’s hearing of the MediaOne case, in the context of the Assam government having purportedly submitted to a court a sealed report relating to Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani.

The apex court had earlier on March 15, while staying the ban on MediaOne, agreed to examine the practice of governments furnishing sealed reports — the issue arising out of Kerala High Court’s upholding of the ban on the basis of such reports.

Various governments have been submitting sealed-cover reports in some cases.

Civil rights groups have long criticised the tendency to submit sealed cover reports in cases, stressing that while the investigators and the courts knew about their contents, the defendants remained in the dark and were thus put at a disadvantage.

“Your Lordships, this is regarding the sealed cover jurisprudence that is being frequently resorted to by the government,” MediaOne counsel and senior advocate Dushyant Dave told the bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Bela M. Trivedi on Wednesday.

“In Assam again, the same thing has happened, where a sealed cover report had been submitted in the case of a legislator who was arrested. This matter needs to be decided authoritatively.”

Dave did not identify the lawmaker, court or case. Congress-backed MLA Mevani had been arrested by Assam police in Gujarat over a tweet on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and later charged in another case with outraging the modesty of a policewoman. Mevani has received bail in both cases, with a sessions court suggesting the molestation case was “manufactured”.

On Wednesday, Justice Chandrachud, who headed the Supreme Court bench, said: “We have already clarified it. We will decide it (sealed cover report).”

On the subject of the Centre’s response to the petition challenging the ban on MediaOne, he said: “The respondents need more time to file a counter. They sought two weeks, but we will grant them four more weeks, considering the upcoming vacation (summer).”

The apex court will be on vacation from May 18 till the first week of July.

Later, the bench passed the following order. “Time to file counter affidavit is extended by a further period of four weeks as a last opportunity. List the special leave petition on 10 August 2022, on the top of the board.”

At the last hearing on April 7, too, the Centre had sought time to file its response saying its stance had to be decided at a “senior level which is likely to take some time”.

The Centre had revoked MediaOne’s licence on the basis of a Union home ministry report of January 31 that raised national security concerns against the channel. Later, a single-judge bench of Kerala High Court and then a division bench upheld the ban.

Madhyamam Broadcasting, which owns the channel, challenged the ban in the apex court.

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