NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine the question whether the 1975 declaration of Emergency can be declared "wholly unconstitutional" after the lapse of 45 years.
Initially the court was not inclined to entertain the petition filed by 94-year old widow Veera Sarin, who claims she and her husband – a prominent jeweller -- were forced to leave the country and their properties were seized.
According to her, they had a flourishing gold arts business in Delhi at the time and were compelled to leave the country for fear of being thrown into jail for no justifiable reason, on the "whims and wishes of government authority in a state where civil rights and liberties stood curbed."
The 3-judge Bench decided to hear the petition after senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Sarin, argued that "the issues of war crimes are still heard and people are raising issues of holocaust even now."
Salve argued that the court is fully empowered to examine the validity of the Emergency proclaimed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. "It was a fraud on the Constitution and this must be decided by this court. I feel very strongly about it. This is not a matter of political debate. Can’t we see what happened to prisoners during emergency?"
Though her husband had a flourishing jewellery business with two shops at Karolbagh and KG Marg, she has prayed for token damages of Rs 25 crore.
The court asked her to amend her plea and resubmit it by Friday. It also issued notice to the Central government stating that it will hear the petitioner on the limited aspect of whether the validity of such proclamation can be probed by the court after passage of "such a long time."
It, however, made it clear that "We are disinclined to open all such aspects as there may have been wrongs done to persons since; after the passage of almost 45 years, it would be inappropriate to re-open those wounds."
In her petition, Sarin had stated how her late husband was "framed" under Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, 1974 (COFEPOSA) and Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976 (SAFEMA).
"Our immovable property came to be seized, the movable property consisting of artefacts, gems, carpets, paintings, tusks and statues; and there has been no restitution of the same till date" despite Delhi High Court in a judgment in December 2014 quashing the proceedings against her late husband.
The petition says the "unconstitutional injustice" meted out to them during Emergency impacted her family for three generations, narrating how she was shunned by relatives and friends because of the fear that they may also get implicated if they speak up.