The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider whether it is “feasible or desirable” to examine the validity of the proclamation of Emergency by the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 45 years ago in 1975.
A Bench headed by Justice S K Kaul issued notice to the Centre on a plea by a 94-year-old woman who submitted that she and her family were hounded by the authorities during the Emergency, forcing them to leave India.
The petitioner, Dehradun-based Vera Sarin, urged the court to declare the proclamation “wholly unconstitutional”.
“This plea arises from the passage of time. It is (counsel for petitioner) Mr Harish Salve’s submission that…wrongs of history must be corrected…We would be disinclined to reopen such aspects. After 45 years it may not be appropriate to reopen those issues,” the Bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, said.
“We would, however, be not disinclined to see whether probing such a proclamation after such a long time would be feasible or not,” the court said.
Vera Sarin submitted that her late husband H K Sarin had lost his “flourishing business of gold arts, gems, artefacts etc. at Karol Bagh as well as at K G Marg, New Delhi” following the declaration of the Emergency.
Senior Advocate Salve said the proclamation constituted a constitutional abuse of power. Relief was not the issue, he said – the country must know what had happened to the fundamental rights of citizens.
With the Bench appearing unconvinced – “we are finding it difficult to entertain this. What is not to happen, happened,” it said – Salve argued that “there are certain things in history which we have to revisit and see if the correct thing was done”. This was one such issue, he said.
According to the plea, H K Sarin’s “customers were from high status families”, and “famous foreign jewellers such as Harry Winston, Bulgari, Kazanjian…were his regular clients”. In the early 1960s, Sarin “opened his business under the name and style of Sarin Gem House in Akash Deep, Connaught Place”; he was appointed jewellery appraiser by the government, and he evaluated the wealth of royal houses for tax purposes.
After the declaration of the Emergency, however, all the Sarins’ immovable property “came to be seized; the movable property consisting of artefacts, gems, carpets, paintings, tusks, statues, ivory worth crores of rupees were also seized, and there has been no restitution of the same till date”, says the plea. Vera and H K Sarin were married in 1957, and he passed away in 2000.
In December 2014, Delhi High Court had ruled that the proceedings against her husband under The Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976, “were initiated bereft of any jurisdiction and therefore a nullity”. And in July this year, the court, based on a statement by the central government had “directed payment of arrears of rent for the property at K.G. Marg, New Delhi to the Petitioner and other legal heirs at a specified monthly rate”, the plea says.
According to the nonagenarian petitioner, “the valuable movable properties have been siphoned away and illegally appropriated by many government authorities and private persons during the time of Emergency”. She “faced innumerable challenges and suffered atrocities upon her husband being compelled to leave her behind with the children”.
There would be “nightly knocks” on her door, and policemen and other officials would enter her home and leave her alone “only after she offered them leftover pieces of valuables”. She and her children were psychologically disturbed, the petition says – “such was the indiscriminate, high handed, unauthorized power unleashed upon the citizens of the country during the said period”.
Now, at an advanced age, she “has a simple desire to seek a closure to her trauma and an acknowledgment to her suffering”, the petition says.
Sarin, who was born in Moradabad as the daughter of the headmaster in a missionary school, received a Master’s degree in school administration in the United States. She subsequently taught at her alma mater, Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow, and at Jamia Millia University and the American International School in New Delhi.