If a person fails to do something which is impossible, he cannot be held guilty of contempt

Supreme Court: In the case where the appellant was unable to produce documents before the Court as the same were destroyed due to natural calamity, the 3-judge bench of A.R. Dave, U.U. Lalit and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ, held that the appellant was not guilty of committing contempt of court as there was no willful breach of the undertaking given to the court. The Court said that It would not be fair on the part of a court to give a direction to do something which is impossible and if a person has been asked to do something which is impossible and if he fails to do so, he cannot be held guilty of contempt.

Explaining the definition of ‘civil contempt’, the Court held that so as to hold somebody guilty of contempt of court, the concerned person must have willfully disobeyed any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or any other process of a court or should have willfully committed breach of an undertaking given to a court. Having regard to the facts of the case where the appellant’s house was badly hit by the cyclone in the year 1999, as a result of which his house was submerged into the flood water consequent to that it was collapsed as his house was built up of mud and covered with asbestos sheets resulting most of their belongings were vanished, the Court said that it is crystal clear that the appellant had no intention of committing breach of the undertaking given to the court and that it was physically impossible for the appellant to produce the documents.

The High Court of Andhra Pradesh had held the appellant guilty of contempt of Court and had sentenced simple imprisonment for one week and a fine of Rs.2,000/-. Disagreeing with the order of the High Court, the Court said that It is deplorable that the appellant has been held guilty and has also undergone the sentence imposed by the High Court. [Gyani Chand v. State of A.P., 2016 SCC OnLine SC 961, decided on 20.09.2016]

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