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Neither Suicide Note, Nor Dying Declaration

Faizan Mustafa | New Delhi |

“I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense. I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic…Let my funeral be silent and smooth….Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive…No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this….Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone,” said Rohit Vemula in his short suicide note of 17 February 2016. Look at half a dozen references – to not around, dead, funeral, killing, final etc.

Rohit proved Matthew Arnold right who in his poem Sohrab and Rustam written in 1853 said “truth sits upon the lips of dying men.” But the same cannot be said with certainty about another suicide note. Six months later, on 9 August 2016, Kalikho Pul, former Arunachal Chief Minister committed suicide within two weeks of being unseated by the Supreme Court. Though the police had recovered an unduly lengthy suicide note of 60 pages with the body of Pul, we came to know of it only when disgruntled ex-Arunachal governor Rajkhowa in October 2016 made a statement that police is sleeping over this explosive suicide note/dying declaration.

Why Mrs Pul who knew about it too kept quiet is also puzzling. The Wire published the note on 8 February 2017 which names current and two former Chief Justices of India and the senior most judge. In fact it seems that the latter, whose elevation is due in August this year, is the primary target as the suicide note came to light after the appointment of current CJI and no investigation even if ordered can be completed in the remaining four months of his tenure. Even the name of the President of India is there to whom Pul allegedly gave Rs 6 crore when the former was the finance minister. Similarly current NHRC Chairman and several chief ministers, ministers, officers and lawyers have also been named as corrupt. Entire Indian judiciary has been said to be in the clutches of the Congress. We may punish a sitting High Court judge for contempt but we are helpless about Pul who has brought the highest court in disrepute.

Though every sixth person who commits suicide leaves a note, Pul’s suicide note is probably the world’s lengthiest, most unusual and strange for several reasons as nowhere does he say that he is committing suicide or talks of death like Rohit. Only towards the end he talks of his ‘sacrifice’ and says he has taken ‘this step’ to make people aware so that they demand accountability from power holders and fight for the truth. It has a title “Mere Vichar” (My Thoughts). It blames everyone under the sun and presents Pul as holier than thou.

Though there are signatures on every page but there is a doubt about the genuineness of the signature. Who took the dictation and typed this note is not known. Even Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave who appeared on behalf of Mrs. Dangwimsai Pul, wife of Pul said in the apex court that facts mentioned in the suicide note may not be true. This is indeed shocking as the suicide note which Mrs Pul and several others have wrongly termed as ‘dying declaration’ has damaged the reputation of highest constitutional functionaries and dented people’s faith in our judiciary. It is therefore necessary to examine the issue in correct legal perspective. Can this suicide note be called a dying declaration? Was the Chief Justice of India wrong in referring it to be heard on the judicial side?

It is strange that Mrs Pul in her letter to Chief Justice of India dated 17 February has herself asked CJI ‘to place the matter before the appropriate judge’. It seems Justice Khehar had no option but to treat her letter as a petition and get it heard on the judicial side. As per the Veeraswami judgment of 1991, if the allegation of corruption is against a judge of the Supreme Court, the President would order investigation in consultation with the CJI and if the allegation is against CJI himself, the President would consult other judges and act on their advice.

In this case since allegations were not only against CJI but also against the President, Justice Khehar rightly ordered that Mrs Pul should not be left without any remedy and therefore the matter was referred to an appropriate bench. This was a perfect solution which did not satisfy Dave who preferred to withdraw the petition. Pul’s wife has again written to senior judges of the apex court. Delhi High Court too is going to hear a PIL on filing of FIR in this matter.

The typed suicide note in chaste Hindi mentions too many names. But then Pul himself was a beneficiary of the corrupt system. He confessed that he was a billionaire during his student days though by class VIII he was just earning Rs. 212 per month for hoisting the national flag. If all his ministers were corrupt, why did he pick them up in spite of knowing their past misdeeds? All MLAs and officers too are corrupt. He has not spared even common people and accused them of casting votes after taking money or wine. Several facts mentioned by him about his own honesty too are wrong/misleading.

For instance he is widely known as destroyer of health of thousands of youth by supplying them narcotics. He also gave wrong information about the construction of his house at Hayuliang with a loan from State Bank of India, Tezu. He did make huge money in the construction of dams and hydro power projects. As finance minister he was an integral part of the corrupt syndicate yet he never raised his voice. If all his chief ministers were corrupt, why did he join their ministries and subsequently did not resign?

As an accomplice in the crime of large scale corruption, his testimony is certainly unworthy of credit. There is a rumour that he raised money from the market to form his short-lived government and as he was unable to pay this back, he committed suicide. Some of the facts mentioned do have some truth such as “hill transport subsidy” or PDS scam and legal process is already on in respect of them. But his allegations against the lawyers and judges are absurd and need outright rejection.

Dying declaration is an exception to hearsay rule which everyone loves to hate. It is based on the maxim “nemo moriturus praesumitur mentiri” i.e. a man will not meet his maker with a lie in his mouth. It in parochial as it is based on the religious beliefs of life hereafter and divine punishment. Indian Evidence Act has not even used the expression ‘dying declaration’.

A dying declaration should be short, concise and to the point. Questions and answers elicited should be written. Detailed statement covering the minute details could not be expected from the declarant who is under severe stress and agony. Dying declaration must inspire confidence on its correctness. It should not be the product of one’s imagination. It must be closely scrutinised as to its truthfulness. Though unlike English law ‘expectation of death’ is not necessary in India, under Section 32(1) of Evidence Act, a ‘statement not connected with his death or circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death is not a dying declaration’. Moreover it can be used as a dying declaration only ‘in cases where the cause of declarant’s death is in question’. Thus Pul’s note does not qualify either as suicide note or as dying declaration. We need not take it as gospel truth though it does tell us about the extent of corruption in our body polity particularly in smaller north-eastern states.

Here is a man who lost power and therefore he has blamed everyone. The Supreme Court decision in this case by five judges of impeccable character and integrity basically was a decision against the openly partisan Governor and the Modi government. At a time when the hegemony of union government is the harsh reality, our judges have demonstrated their independence and authored a historic verdict upholding ideals of federalism and parliamentary democracy. Let our faith in highest judiciary not be shaken by such unfounded and baseless allegations which were the product of the imagination of a frustrated politician who could not bear the loss of his crown. Corruption by the politicians should definitely be probed.

The writer is Vice-Chancellor, NALSAR University of Law. The views expressed are personal.