Justice Sachar passes away, will always be remembered for compassion and justice

Noted lawyer, human rights activist and former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice Rajinder Sachar passed away on Friday, April 20. He was 94. Sachar was born on December 22, 1923; his father was Bhim Sen Sachar, who twice served as the Chief Minister of Punjab.

Justice Sachar was educated in Lahore, first at the D. A. V. School, and then at Government College Lahore and Law College, Lahore. In 1952, Sachar enrolled as an advocate in Shimla; in 1960, he enrolled as an advocate in the Supreme Court. Sachar was appointed as an Additional Judge of the Delhi High Court in 1970, then reappointed as a permanent in 1972. He also served as acting Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court.  He served as Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court from August 1985 to December 1985, when he retired.

Justice Sachar was a longtime advocate for human rights, and was associated with the rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) following his retirement. In 1986, he was elected as president of the PUCL, and he remained in this position until 1995. He co-authored the ‘Report on Kashmir Situation’, when militancy had reached a high. He also served on an advisory committee to review the Protection of Human Rights Act, and to consider if changes and amendments were required. The committee submitted its report in 2000, and recommended adaptations to the membership of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), its procedures to avoid delays, and recommended expanding its scope. Sachar was also a strong proponent for reservations for women in Parliament, and had several times stated that this measure could help avoid gender bias in legal cases

Sachar also served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Promoting the Realization of the Right to Adequate Housing. In his capacity as Special Rapporteur, Sachar researched and published literature in the 1990s on the the causes of the global housing crisis, as well as the legal issues tied to “the human right to adequate housing.”  In 2000, Sachar served on an unofficial two-day judiciary inquiry tribunal by the Indian People’s Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) that looked into the large-scale demolitions of slums in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, resulting thousands of slumdwellers being evicted. Sachar said in his statement that the move to displace about two lakh people from the national park was a human rights violation, and questioned how “environmental concerns” weighed “against humans”. 

In 2003, Sachar, serving as PUCL’s counsel, argued that the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) should be reversed as it violated fundamental rights. He contended that the act’s provision that made statements given to the police admissible as evidence contradicted the right of the accused under criminal law, and argued that the act did not include appropriate provisions to uphold citizens’ fundamental rights. In October 2009, Sachar noted that innocent people were “victimised in the name of terror probes,” saying that they were being “taken into custody without registering a charge and are being detained” for long periods. He emphasised the need to reverse laws that permitted an individual’s detention without charges. 

Most significantly, in 2005, Sachar was appointed to head a committee established by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to examine the social, economic and education conditions of India’s Muslims. The Sachar Committee, as it came to be known, submitted a report to Parliament in November 2006. The report said Muslims in India were even behind Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and underscored the fact that Muslims were not adequately represented in the fields of politics, civil service, the military and the police. The committee’s recommendations included the establishment of an equal opportunities commission to consider minority communities’ complaints, and connecting madrassas to boards of higher education. 

Sachar remained an advocate for civil liberties well into his twilight years. In August 2011, at age 87, Sachar was detained for protesting against the detention of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and his associates under the imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC. “Anna and his supporters are not confrontationist, nor am I. It is the government which is being so by clamping down on peaceful protesters and arresting people,” he said. Sachar had backed a Lokpal Bill that placed the executive, the Prime Minister, and Parliament in its purview. In 2012, Sachar spoke at the launch of a campaign to collect a million signatures in a push against sedition laws. “It seems tragic that we should be asking the government to redeem the pledge of Nehru,” Sachar said. In 1951, Nehru said of the Indian Penal Code’s Section 124A, which outlaws efforts to “excite disaffection towards” the government, “the sooner we got rid of it the better”. Sachar said, “For having a democratic society, it is necessary that these laws go”. 



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