Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dipak Misra, Ranjan Gogoi and Dr. A.K. Sikri, JJ ordered the auction of the Aamby Valley City near Lonavala, Maharashtra due to non-payment of amount as agreed by the Sahara Group of Companies and asked the contemnors to provide all the necessary details relating to the property to the Official Liquidator of the Bombay High Court within 48 hours. The Court also asked Subrata Roy Sahara to remain personally present before the Court on the next date of hearing i.e. 27.04.2017.

The Court also directed the Power of Attorney Holder Dr. Prakash Swamy, who had filed an interim application giving a proposal that MG Capital Holdings LLC, New York, USA, shall purchase the Hotel Plaza by giving 550 million US dollars and to show its bona fide, had agreed to deposit Rs.750 crores with SEBI Sahara Refund Account, to appear before the Court on the next hearing. Since no sum was deposited by him, the Court asked Rana Mukherjee, the senior counsel appearing for the Union of India to intimate the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, so that Dr. Prakash Swamy does not leave India and asked him hand over his address and the passport number. The Court also directed him to deposit a sum of Rs.10 Crores in the SEBI Sahara Refund Account within 10 days, which shall be forfeited towards costs,  failing which this Court may issue non-bailable warrants of arrest against him.

Stating that the contemnor shall be guided by the affidavit that has been sworn and filed before this Court and not play truancy with the contents of the affidavit, the Court said that “He who plays truancy with the Majesty of Law, invites the wrath and, may, ultimately, has to suffer the peril.” [SEBI v. Sahara India Real Estate Corpn.Ltd, CONMT.PET.(C) Nos.412 & 413/2012, order dated 17.04.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Owing to the non-appearance of Justice C. S. Karnan before the Court in the contempt proceedings, the 7-judge bench of J.S. Khehar, CJ and Dipak Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph, JJ issued a bailable warrant of Rs.10,000, in the nature of a personal bond, to ensure the presence of Justice Karnan on 31.03.2017.

On 08.02.2017, the Court had restrained Justice Karnan from handling any judicial or administrative work, as may have been assigned to him, in furtherance of the office held by him and had asked him to appear before the Court on 13.02.2017. Upon non-appearance of Justice Karnan on the said date, the Court listed the matter on 10.03.2017, however, on the next date as well he neither entered appearance in person, nor through counsel

The Court noticed that on 08.03.2017, the Registry had received a fax message from Justice Karnan seeking a meeting with the Chief Justice and the Judges of this Court, so as to discuss certain administrative issues expressed therein, which primarily seem to reflect the allegations levelled by him against certain named Judges. It was however said that the abovementioned fax message cannot be considered as a response of Shri Justice C.S.Karnan, either to the contempt petition, or to the notice served upon him.

The suo motu contempt proceedings were initiated against Justice Karnan after he had written letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to take actions against the corrupt sitting and retired judges of the Supreme Court and Madras High Court when he was a Judge of the Madras High Court and had passed an injunction against his own transfer orders. [n Re: Justice C.S. Karnan, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 238, order dated 10.03.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Holding that the power to punish for contempt vested in a Court of Record under Article 215 of the Constitution does not extend to punishing for the contempt of a superior court, the Court said that such a power has never been recognised as an attribute of a court of record nor has the same been specifically conferred upon the High Courts under Article 215 of the Constitution.

In the present case, a suo motu contempt proceedings was initiated by the High Court of Delhi in the light of a story that appeared in ‘Mid Day’ in its issue dated 2nd May, 2007 under the title “Injustice” that highlighted the alleged misuse of the official residence of Justice Sabharwal who demitted office as Chief Justice of India on 13th January, 2007 and another story stating that Justice Sabharwal had by reason of the orders passed by the bench benefitted the partnership business of his sons in real estate development in and around Delhi.

The Court noticed that no part of the publications referred to the High Court of Delhi or any other High Court for that matter. The publications did not refer to any Judge or any order of any Court subordinate to the High Court of Delhi. Hence, only Supreme Court had power to initiate contempt proceedings in the matter. It was held that if Supreme Court does not, despite the availability of the power vested in it, invoke the same to punish for its contempt, there is no question of a Court subordinate to the Supreme Court doing so.

It was further explained by the bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and A.M. Khanwilkar, J that a priori if the power to punish under Article 215 is limited to the contempt of the High Court or courts subordinate to the High Court, there was no way the High Court could justify invoking that power to punish for the contempt of a superior court. That is particularly so when the superior court’s power to punish for its contempt has been in no uncertain terms recognised by Article 129 of the Constitution. The availability of the power under Article 129 and its plenitude is yet another reason why Article 215 could never have been intended to empower the High Courts to punish for the contempt of the Supreme Court. [Vitusah Oberoi v. Court of its own motion, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1, decided on 02.01.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

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]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Court while rejecting the bail application of Dr. Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba who was arrested for his alleged links with Maoists, directed for registration of Criminal Contempt against the author Arundhati Roy for the article she had written in The Outlook criticizing the non-granting of bail to the Professor.

The Professor had approached the Court for the second time, after his first bail application on health grounds was rejected. In this application, an additional ground was also raised about parity in relation to the other accused in the same crime. The court, rejecting the ground of parity raised observed that, unlike others, there is a prima facie case against the Prof. Saibaba and in fact he being an intellectual has used his intelligentsia for anti national activities for which there is strong evidence against him. The Court in its judgment has also reproduced an Article written by Arundati Roy which appeared in Outlook, in which she had questioned denial of bail to the Professor. The Court said that, instead of challenging the orders passed by Sessions Court and High Court, the author appears to have invented a novel idea of bashing the Central Government, the State Government, the Police machinery and the judiciary and that was, prima facie, with a mala fide motive to interfere in the administration of Justice.

The Court thus dismissed the application for bail and directed the applicant to surrender within 48 hours lest he shall be arrested by the police. Also, in furtherance of the reasons given in the judgment, criminal contempt was directed to be registered against author Arundhati Roy. [Dr. Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba v. State of Maharasthra, Criminal Application (BA) NO.785/2015, decided on 24.12.15]

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking a strict action in a case of Contempt of the Court for using a slang language against the Hon’ble Judges of the Court to convey his disagreement with the Judgment pronounced, a bench of Vikramajit Sen and C. Nagappan JJ affirmed the impugned judgment of the Kerala High Court and ordered for the incarceration of the appellant for committing the contempt of the Court and awarded 4 weeks of simple imprisonment.

In the instant case, the appellant (an advocate and an ex-MLA) delivered a speech in the public meeting at Kannur, Kerala to protest the hike in petroleum prices, against the order of the Division Bench of the Kerala HC which banned the holding of meetings on public roads and road margins in the State with the object of ensuring accident-free and uninterrupted traffic along such roads. In the speech, the appellant said that “Courts verdict have only the value of grass”, “why should those judges sit in glass houses”, “if they have any self respect, they should resign”, and also used the word “Sumbhan” for Judges.

The Learned Counsel for the appellant contended that the speech does not amount to contempt of Court as  “it was not a prepared speech, but one delivered extempore”, “media has given wide publicity to the speech taking certain words used out of context and has provided their own interpretation and meaning to those words with ulterior motive and design”, and that the use of word “Sumbhan” in the speech is a Malayalam word without any specific or definite meaning, and in the speech it only convey the idea that the judges while passing the judgment have not properly considered the issue involved in all its aspect or the resultant consequences thereof.

The Court observed that certain expressions used in the speech were unhesitatingly and unequivocally inappropriate, and that inquiries made by the Court reveal that  the word “Sumbhan” and “”Sumbhanmar” are pejorative or insulting epithets/ abuses akin to calling a person fool or idiot. The Court stated that the appellant may be excused insofar as he has dissected the Judgment and even for saying that Judges live in glass houses and that Judgments worth is less than grass, since this is his perception. However, it is not open for the appellant or any person to employ abusive and pejorative language to the authors of the Judgment and call them to resign and step down from their office if they have any self respect. The Court further stated that the speech intended to scandalize and lower the dignity of the Court, and therefore requires to be roundly repulsed and combated. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the impugned judgment of the Division Bench of the Kerala HC, and modified the 6 months imprisonment to that of simple imprisonment for a period of 4 weeks. MV Jayarajan v. High Court of Kerala, decided on 30-01-2015.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In the instant case the question arose that whether an enquiry commission setup under Commissions of Enquiry Act, 1952 and headed by a Supreme Court judge falls under the category of ‘Court’, therefore, whether the contempt of the chairman amounts to the contempt of Supreme Court, the Constitution Bench comprising R.M Lodha, CJ. and A.R Dave, S.J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and S.K Singh, JJ.,  answered the question in negative, holding that a Commission despite being headed by a Supreme Court judge and having a legal character is not a ‘Court’ for the purposes of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

The facts in the instant case are that Kuldip Singh, J was appointed as chairman to probe into the omissions and commissions of Mr. Ram Krishna Hegde, former CM of Karnataka in 1990. The respondent who was then the editor of The Indian Express published an article criticizing the chairman, therefore leading to the initiation of the present contempt petition. The Solicitor General Mr Mohan Parasaran was present in the Court while the respondent was represented by Mr Ashok H. Desai.

The Constitution Bench observed that the functions of a commission appointed under the 1952 Act are not like a body discharging judicial functions or judicial power. The Constitution Bench relying upon Ram Krishna Dalmia v. S.R.Tendolkar, AIR 1958 SC 538, and horde of other cases on the same point and agreeing with the contention of the Solicitor General observed that a Commission appointed under the 1952 Act is in the nature of a statutory Commission and merely because a Commission of Inquiry is headed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court, it does not become an extended arm of this Court. As regarding contempt, the Bench stated that Section 10A of 1952 Act empowers the High Courts to take cognizance of the complaint in respect of the acts calculated to bring the Commission or any member thereof into disrepute.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy v. Arun Shourie, Contempt Petition (Crl.) No. 11 of 1990, decided on 23.07.2014

To read the full judgment, refer SCCOnLine

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Ordering closure of two decade old contempt petition filed in 1994 against certain bigwigs of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the publishers and reporters of Indian Express and Khabardar India, the Constitution Bench comprising R.M Lodha, CJ. and A.R Dave, S.J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and S.K Singh, JJ., observed that the subject matter of the petition remained dormant for about two decades and the contemners either have aged enough to not to be able to respond to the charges or have tendered apology to the Court, therefore there is no necessity to carry on the contempt proceedings further.

The case arose from the post Babri Maszid demolition scenario where the President, under Article 143 of the Constitution, referred the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 to the Constitution Bench for its opinion on the validity of the Act. During this time the President and the General Secretary of VHP, V.H. Dalmia and Giriraj Kishore, respectively made certain derogatory statements scandalizing the Court and questioning its authority in a press conference which was reported by the Indian Express and Khabardar India. The petitioner, a learned advocate representing himself brought in a contempt petition alleging that the statements reported in the abovementioned papers constitute criminal contempt and the authors of these statements and the publishers and reporters therefore are answerable to this Court and that a matter as grave as this should not be left undecided. The respondents were represented by Mrs. Manik Karanjawala.

The Constitution Bench observing upon the seriousness of the issue however stated that matter remained dormant for years and one of the six contemners, Mr. Giriraj Kishor is not in a position to respond to the charges owing to his old age and resultant bad health. Moreover two contemners have tendered unconditional apologies and for other contemners the Court did not take any cognizance of the criminal contempt, therefore the Court deemed it fit to order a closure of this contempt petition. Rajeev Dhawan v. Gulshan Kumar Mahajan, Contempt Petition (Crl.) No. 2 of 1994, decided on 23.07.2014 

To read the full judgment, refer to SCCOnLine