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The Supreme Court can indeed respond where it is needed: to protect the constitutional rights of the citizen and guard against miscarriage of justice. And it did exactly that on Thursday when it upheld the September 1 Allahabad High Court verdict that called the detention of Dr Kafeel Khan under the National Security Act (NSA) ‘illegal’. Dr Khan had been arrested in January for an alleged ‘inflammatory’ speech last year at an Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) gathering against GoI’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. He had been charged with ‘disturbing public order… and creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity’. The apex court reiterated that the speech showed no effort to promote hate or violence.
The UP government had challenged the high court’s earlier order, stating that the doctor had a history of ‘committing offences’. That ‘history’ may pertain to a separate case, in which Dr Khan had been charged with medical negligence in 2017 for the shortage of oxygen that reportedly led to the deaths of 175 children from acute encephalitis syndrome at the state-run BRD Medical College at Gorakhpur, UP. This, after he had provided oxygen on his own, and after the UP government had denied that there had been any oxygen shortage — something the hospital authorities admitted to later. The court found no evidence of medical negligence and Dr Khan was released after nine months in prison.
He was charged under NSA, of course, for another ‘offence’.
NSA is a brahmastra to be used against anyone ‘disrupting public order, endangering the security of India or its ties with foreign countries’. The high court found this brahmastra’s use to have been without cause, rhyme or reason. The Supreme Court concurred. This is supremely reassuring.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.