By Kirthi Jayakumar
The judgment of Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam of the Madras High Court, in P. Pugalenthi v. The Ministry of Home Affairs, The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal, W.P. No. 23141 of 2010 and M.P. No. 1 of 2010, was delivered on September 30, 2010.
The petitioner had filed the writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and prayed for the quashing of an order passed by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal (“the Tribunal”), on October 6, 2010, that had rejected the petition filed by the petitioner under sub-section 4(3) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (“the Act”). The crux of the facts were that the first respondent, namely, the Union of India, had issued a notification dated May 17, 2010 under sub-section 3(1) and the allied proviso to sub-section 3(3) of the Act, in the course of which it declared that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“the LTTE”) was an unlawful association. The petition claimed that the petitioner was a sympathiser of the LTTE and had a right to appear before the Tribunal. It was further contended that the Tribunal was required to adjudicate whether or not there was sufficient cause for declaring the association unlawful. It was contended by the petitioner that the Tribunal was under an obligation to give an opportunity to be heard before declaring a person or association as unlawful under the Act.
The Tribunal rejected the petition filed by the petitioner on the grounds, inter alia, that the tribunal had had occasion to consider the submissions made by other persons, including the political leader Mr. Vaiko, and none of the submissions made by the petitioner transcended the arguments advanced by Mr. Vaiko. The core contentions of the petitioner were that the LTTE itself was not present in India, but that its supporters and sympathisers were. This being a given, it was contended that notices under sub-section 4(2) of the Act should not only have to be sent to the LTTE in Sri Lanka but also to the alleged sympathisers, supporters and agents, all of whom were present in India. It was submitted by the petitioner, that unless the process prescribed under sub-section 4(2) of the Act was completed, the tribunal could not have commenced the actual process of adjudication under sub-section 4(3) of the Act.
The respondents, however, drew the attention of the court to the relevant provisions of the Act, and went on to submit that the tribunal had fully complied with all the requirements under the Act. Section 3 of the Act empowers the Central Government to declare any association to be unlawful through a notification in the official gazette, if the Central Government is of the opinion that such an association has become an unlawful association. Sub-section (2) to section 3 of the Act provides that such notification shall specify the grounds on which it is issued and such other particulars as the Central Government may consider necessary. However, the Central Government is not required to disclose any fact which it considers to be against the public interest. Section 4 of the Act provides that if any association is declared unlawful under section 3, the Central Government shall within thirty days from the date of publication of the notification, refer it to the Tribunal for the purpose of adjudicating whether or not there is sufficient cause for declaring the association unlawful. The Tribunal shall then call upon the association affected by notice to show cause and then, after holding an enquiry and adjudicating upon it, either confirm or cancel the said notification.
Section 7 of the Act lays down the provisions with regard to the power of the Central Government to prohibit the use of funds of the unlawful association. According to this section, after the association has been declared unlawful by a notification issued under section 3, the Central Government may issue a prohibitory order for the use of funds of the unlawful association. Sub-section (4) of section 7 gives the right to any person aggrieved by such an order to make an application to the District Judge to establish that the moneys, securities or credits in respect of which prohibitory order has been made, are not being used or are not intended to be used for the purpose of the unlawful association. On receipt of such application, the Court of the District Judge shall decide the question.
Sub-section 8(8) of the Act makes it manifestly clear that any person aggrieved by the notification issued in respect of a place under sub-section 8(1) or by an order made under sub-section (3) of sub-section 8(4) may, within thirty days from the date of the notification or order, make an application to the Court of the District Judge for declaring that the place has not been used for the purpose of unlawful association, and the Court of the District Judge shall decide the same in accordance with law.
The Madras High Court held that the Tribunal had indeed given the petitioner a full opportunity to be heard, and it had, with due reasonableness, rejected the petition, thereby warranting no interference by the High Court. The writ petition was thus dismissed.
Although the case hinges upon an issue pertaining to natural justice, the judgment did not quite look at the merits of the case that were presented before the tribunal. In understanding natural justice, the court has not overreached itself. What natural justice mandates is the grant of an opportunity to be heard, and reasonably so. The Tribunal had, clearly, accorded that in the petitioner’s case. It is very essential that courts work in a way that is friendly to the aim of dispensing speedy justice. In keeping with this, the tribunal refused to hear the contentions of the petitioner, since they were essentially the same as those that were raised on an earlier occasion by Mr. Vaiko. The court cannot encourage the re-iteration of the same subject matter by hearing the very same line of arguments submitted in the context of the same dispute.
For Petitioner: Mr. M. Radhakrishnan
For Respondents: Mr. M. Ravindran, Additional Solicitor General of India; assisted by J.Ravindran, Assistant Solicitor General