The Best Justice

By Parsuram Maharaj: An Executive Member of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha

 

On Thursday 5th February 2004 High Court Justice Carlton Best delivered what has to be considered a landmark judgment in Trinidad and Tobago and indeed the Caribbean. On Friday 6th February 2004 all the daily newspapers, along with the electronic media carried headlines that essentially stated “Maha Sabha Wins” in its constitutional motion against the State regarding the awarding of radio license.

 

Each and every Hindu and by extension the Indian community felt vindicated by the ruling of Justice Best. There has long been a sense of increasing discrimination against the Indian community with the recent three years. This ruling by Justice Best showed at least that the now the Courts of the land have officially adjudicated on a matter of discrimination and ruled that there was indeed discrimination practiced against Hindus by the State in the failure to award a radio license.

 

There are two Christian radio stations operating full time in Trinidad and Tobago and all English formatted radio stations have some degree of Christian programming. There is absolutely no objection to this as the Christian community forms an important and significant part of our nation. The Hindu community however also have needs to met along similar lines. While the Indian formatted radio stations do have some degree of religious broadcasting the main thrust of these stations are focused on popular entertainment, secular, and indeed commercial. However the State choose to take the hard position to deny the Hindu population a voice in the electronic media. This is not inconsistent with a political administration that in the past did not have a Hindu Minister of Government despite being in Government for over three decades.

 

For the failure to implement the concept of equality of treatment the State has now to pay costs to the SDMS. Justice Best stated ‘the costs of this Application is to be taxed and paid by the Respondent to the Applicant, certified for Senior and Junior Counsel.’ If the government had implemented the much debated ‘Equality Commission’ one wonders if this matter would have ended costing the taxpayers.

 

In his judgment of Justice Best clearly stated ‘It has not been denied that the Applicant had submitted two applications for licences on 1st December 1999 and 10th August 2000 and that by 15th March 2001 the Relevant Authority had approved the said applications. Further, from the said date of approval to the date of filing of the Notice of Motion herein on 16th August 2002, save for an acknowledgement from the Relevant Authority, there had been no response from the Cabinet with respect to the grant of the licences. In the opinion of this Court, this inaction on the part of the Cabinet constitutes a constructive refusal of the licences and is a prima facie case of unequal treatment…..The lack of staff and inefficiency in the Public Service; change of venue, political directorate and policy, in the view of this court, should not be allowed to stand as justification for the differential treatment meted out to the Applicants herein.”

 

There are some in the Hindu community that are sincerely hoping that the State will appeal the judgment of Justice Best. It is hoped that this matter is appealed and taken to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council so that the Law Lords in the United Kingdom can also declare that the State has discriminated against the Hindu community in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.

 

What is interesting is that the authority to date has failed to comment on the historic ruling of Justice Best that serves to indict the government among a significant section of the population. Instead what have emerged are spin-doctors, not party to the legal action between the SDMS, who are supportive of the State developing defenses. A virtual media war has been instead waged against the Secretary General Shri Satnarayan Maharaj and the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha in some quarters for this legal victory. Thankfully Justice Carlton Best was neither Hindu nor Indian or he too will have faced the fury of those uncomfortable with the judgment.

 

The SDMS made it clear that our unhappiness and grievance was in the manner in which the State treated with the application for a radio license, which had been processed, evaluated, and recommended by the Director of Telecommunications since 1999. In support of wild allegations against the SDMS it has been erroneously cited two examples of radio stations where licenses were granted without protestations from the SDMS. These were Mr. Mohan Jaikaran’s 101.1 FM and Ms. Margaret Elcock’s 98.1 FM. The fact of the matter is that former was launched in August 2000 while the SDMS two applications were submitted and processed after. The SDMS wishes to point out that absolutely no radio broadcast license was granted to any one or organization since the year 2000. Rest assured the SDMS protest would have been equally as strong should a license been granted to persons who applied AFTER the SDMS.

 

The SDMS contention however is that the government did not, and has not responded to the ‘distress call’ of the SDMS and by extension the Hindu community which has been reeling from the impact of the closure of Caroni [1975] Ltd and the deteriorating of the moral and spiritual values of the country.

Heartfelt thanks must be extended to the SDMS attorneys' Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye, SC and Mr. Anand Ramlogan for the yeoman services, which they rendered to the SDMS and by extension the Hindu and Indian population in Trinidad & Tobago. Witnessing the court proceedings it was clear that Ramsahoye and Ramlogan had prepared what has to be considered an unassailable case. This preparation no doubt would have demanded intense pre-trial work. This was only matched by a flawless delivery in the court. Mr. R. Martineau S.C. admirably represented the State.