Apex court shocked at photograph of dead lawyer

June 3rd, 2008 - 12:19 am ICT by IANS  


New Delhi, June 2 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday expressed shock after seeing the photograph of a lawyer who died in judicial custody, chained to a hospital bed, after allegedly having been ordered to be handcuffed by two Allahabad High Court judges. “This is unacceptable,” observed a vacation bench of Justice C.K. Thakkar and Justice L.S. Panta, after seeing the photograph of advocate Shrikant Awasthi.

The photograph was handed over to the bench by advocate Aeltemesh Rein, who moved the apex court for initiating a contempt to court proceeding against the two high court judges for allegedly ordering the arrest and handcuffing of Awasthi for showing contempt to their bench.

Rein contended that the judges, Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Arun Tandon, had ordered the handcuffing of Awasthi in violation of apex court rulings. Awasthi died in judicial custody May 13.

The two judges after ordering the lawyer’s arrest had also allegedly asked jail and police authorities to present him before them in the court for hearing the contempt case against him on a day-to-day basis.

Appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, counsel Parag Tripathi, however, denied that the judges had ordered handcuffing of Awasthi. He said the judges had never sought daily appearance of the advocate.

The state government counsel told the bench that the Allahabad High Court has ordered a judicial probe to ascertain the culpability of its judges, the police and jail authorities in Awasthi’s death.

The probe is being conducted by the Allahabad district and sessions judge, said Tripathi, adding that the judge has already submitted his preliminary findings and was likely to file his final report by June 10.

On this, the apex court bench, which appeared inclined to issue notice to the Allahabad High Court and state government on Rein’s petition, refrained from issuing the notice.

Counsel told the bench that the state government has already given compensation of Rs.100,000 to the advocate’s widow Neelima Awasthi, besides depositing Rs.200,000 for her in a bank for a fixed tenure.

At one point, when Tripathi sought dismissal of Rein’s petition, the bench observed, “We have gone through it from beginning to end. We know what allegations it contains. But we are adjudicating it for your sake only. We too were lawyers at one point of time.”

The bench adjourned the hearing on the petition beyond the ongoing summer vacation of the court.

In his petition, Rein said Awasthi was shocked and humiliated on being produced in court in handcuffs day after day. He fell sick and refused to have food in custody.

He added that the jail and police authorities told the judges that the advocate had stopped taking food, but Justice Chauhan “most arrogantly” told them: “Don’t you know how to make such a person eat?”

According to Rein, when later told that “the advocate was still not eating anything”, Justice Chauhan retorted: “Let him die.”

The lawyer was then admitted to an Allahabad hospital, where he was chained to the bed during his treatment.

Rein pointed out that while dealing with a case of alleged theft committed by a Tis Hazari court lawyer in Delhi, the apex court had in 1988 laid down rules and guidelines on handcuffing a person, stipulating that no person should be handcuffed unless he is a dreaded criminal indulging in violent behaviour and defying the law.

Rein has also demanded contempt of court proceedings against the jail and police officials who handcuffed Awasthi and chained him to the hospital bed.

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