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Contempt of Court = Bonafide mistake in not furnishing the required information T.C.GUPTA & ANR Vs. HARI OM PRAKASH & ORS. published in judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=40876

Bonafide mistake in not furnishing the required information to the High Court may not amount to

 

English: The supreme court of india. Taken abo...

English: The supreme court of india. Taken about 170 m from the main building outside the perimeter wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

contempt of court  – Apex court set aside the orders of High court =

 

 

 

 .  Before we part with this topic, we would like to refer to

 

           one aspect of the question relating to the exercise of power  to

 

           punish for contempt.  So far as the courts are concerned, Judges

 

           always keep in mind the warning addressed to them by Lord  Atkin

 

           in Andre Paul v. Attorney-General of Trinidad, AIR 1936 PC  141.

 

           Said Lord Atkin, “Justice is not a cloistered virtue;  she  must

 

           be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though out-

 

           spoken comments of ordinary men.”  We ought never to forget that

 

           the power to punish for contempt large as it is, must always  be

 

           exercised cautiously, wisely and with circumspection.   Frequent

 

           or indiscriminate use of this power in anger or irritation would

 

           not help to sustain the dignity or status of the court, but  may

 

           sometimes affect it adversely.  Wise Judges  never  forget  that

 

           the best way to sustain the dignity and status of  their  office

 

           is to deserve respect from the public at large by the quality of

 

           their judgments, the fearlessness, fairness and  objectivity  of

 

           their approach, and by the restraint, dignity and decorum  which

 

           they observe in their judicial conduct. ……….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15.   That the power to punish for contempt is a  rare  specie  of  judicial

 

power which by the very nature  calls  for  exercise  with  great  care  and

 

caution had been reiterated by this Court in  Perspective  Publications  (P)

 

Ltd.  &  Anr.  Vs.  The  State  of  Maharashtra[2]  whereas  in  In  Re:  S.

 

Mulgaokar[3], Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer while  noticing  the  principles  of

 

the exercise of power of contempt had outlined the first of such  principles

 

to be “wise economy of  the  use  of  the  contempt  power  by  the  court”.

 

Reiteration of the aforesaid principle has been made in  several  subsequent

 

pronouncements of this Court, reference to which would not be  necessary  in

 

view of the unanimity of opinion on the issue that the power to  punish  for

 

contempt ought to be exercised only where “silence is no longer an option.”

 

 

 

16.   For the aforesaid reasons we are  unable  to  sustain  the  conclusion

 

reached by the High Court in its order dated 31.01.2011.  We therefore  deem

 

it appropriate to set aside the order dated 31.01.2011 passed  by  the  High

 

Court and allow the present appeal.

 

 

 

REPORTABLE

 

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

 

CIVIL APPEAL NO.9095 OF 2013
(Arising Out of SLP (C) No.4757 of 2011)

 
T.C. GUPTA & ANR. …APPELLANT (S)

 

Vs.

 

HARI OM PRAKASH & ORS. …RESPONDENT (S)

 

J U D G M E N T

 
RANJAN GOGOI, J.

 

1. Leave granted.
2. By an order dated 31.01.2011 the High Court of Punjab & Haryana has
held the appellants guilty of commission of contempt and had adjourned the
matter to a subsequent date for hearing on the question of sentence.
Aggrieved, this appeal has been filed.
3. The facts, in brief, may be noticed.

 

The respondents 1 & 2 had filed a writ petition (C.W.P. No.5104 of
2006) in the High Court of Punjab & Haryana challenging the acquisition of
land belonging to them under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act,
1894 (hereinafter for short “the Act”). By the impugned Notification(s)
issued under the Act, over 500 acres of land belonging to different land
owners, including respondents-writ petitioners, was sought to be acquired.
According to the respondents-writ petitioners, nearly 80% of the acquired
area was subsequently released from acquisition. Consequently, the
remaining land (which included the land of the respondents-writ
petitioners) had ceased to be viable for the purpose for which the impugned
acquisition was made, namely, for development of residential and commercial
sectors 8-19 at Sonepat. It was the further case of the respondents-writ
petitioners before the High Court that the release of the land proposed for
acquisition was at the instance of one Omaxe Housing and Developing Company
Ltd. which had arrived at some understandings with the land owners and had
executed agreements of sale with such land owners even after publication of
the notification under Section 6 of the Act.

 

4. The writ petition filed by the respondents was resisted by the State
by contending, inter-alia, the same to be not maintainable on the ground
that the respondents-writ petitioners had not filed their objections under
Section 5A of the Act. What happened thereafter is not very relevant save
and except that on 17.01.2011 the following order came to be passed by the
High Court:

 

“Mr. Sehgal seeks time to file additional affidavit on the
following points:

 

1. In how many cases the land of the landowners who had not
filed objections under Section 5-A of the Land Acquisition
Act, 1894 was released through the mechanism of collaboration
agreements?

 

2. What are the norms to grant licence to construct a Plotted
Colony/Group Housing Colony?

 

3. What are the rules regarding classification of zones i.e.
high potential, medium potential and low potential zones, and
when those norms were amended?

 

4. Whether the policy/rules/norms were relaxed to grant licence
to any of the 11 collaborations in this case?

 

Adjourned to 19.1.2011.”

 

 

 
5. On the date fixed i.e. 19.01.2011, the first appellant filed a duly
verified written statement wherein, after setting out the order of the High
Court dated 17.01.2011, the appellant had submitted the details of the land
owners who had filed their objections under Section 5A of the Act and whose
land was released from acquisition. This was in response to the first
query made by the High Court in the order dated 17.01.2011. In so far as
the second, third and fourth queries are concerned, information was duly
furnished by the first appellant. No issue with regard to the said part of
the order dated 17.01.2011 having been raised the same may be understood as
not requiring any further attention.

 

6. On consideration of the written statement filed by the first
appellant, the High Court took exception to the information placed before
it in response to the first query. What was required to be furnished in
response to the said query were the names of such land owners who had not
filed their objections under Section 5A of the Act and yet their lands were
released from acquisition whereas the information furnished by the first
appellant in the written statement dated 19.01.2011 was the reverse.
Consequently, notice was issued to both the appellants to show cause as to
why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for not
furnishing the requisite information to the Court. The case was adjourned
to 24.01.2011 and then to 28.01.2011.

 

7. Separate affidavits were filed by both the appellants on 28.01.2011
wherein they had tendered unconditional and unqualified apology for not
furnishing the necessary information as required in terms of the order of
the High Court dated 17.01.2011. In the affidavit of the first appellant,
it was also stated that as many as 483 land owners had not filed their
objections under Section 5A of the Act despite which their lands were
released and only in 30 instances objections had been filed pursuant to
which the lands of such land owners were released from acquisition. All
particulars in this regard were also furnished. The first appellant, in
the affidavit filed, also sought to explain why the requisite information
could not be furnished on the earlier date fixed i.e. 19.01.2011 along with
the written statement filed on the said date. In this regard it was
contended that though the first appellant was personally present in court
on 17.01.2011 he had not fully comprehended the order as pronounced in
Court. A copy of the order of the court dated 17.01.2011 was made
available to him only at about 6.00 p.m. on 18.01.2011 and the written
statement was filed in the next morning i.e. 19.01.2011. It was further
stated by the first appellant that, through hindsight, it would have been
prudent on his part to seek further time to furnish the information against
the first query contained in the order dated 17.01.2011. However, as the
first appellant was in a position to furnish all the requisite information
in respect of the other queries, the written statement dated 19.01.2011
came to be filed. It was further stated by the first appellant that the
lapse on his part was bona fide and unintentional and he did not have the
remotest intent to withhold any information from the court.

 

8. The second appellant who had filed a separate affidavit also owned
responsibility for placing inaccurate information before the court though,
according to him, he was entrusted with the duty to collect information
pertaining to query Nos. 2, 3 and 4 made by the order dated 17.01.2011
whereas the information in respect of query No.1 was to be gathered by
another official.

 

9. The matter was considered on 31.01.2011. The High Court after
noticing the terms of the order dated 17.01.2011; the written statement
filed by the appellant No. 1 on 19.01.2011; the order dated 19.01.2011
passed by it and the separate affidavits of the appellants filed on
28.01.2011 reiterated that the first query raised by it was with regard to
the particulars of the land owners whose land was released from acquisition
though they had not filed their objections under Section 5A of the Act.
According to the High Court as the query raised by it was “simple and
straight” it is incomprehensible that the appellants, who are senior
officers and were personally present in court, could not have understood
the question(s) raised. Placing reliance on the correspondence dated
17.01.2011 enclosed as annexure A2 and A3 to the affidavit dated 28.01.2011
filed by the first appellant, the High Court came to the conclusion that
from the said correspondence (letters issued to subordinate officers)
authored by the first appellant himself it is evident that the first
appellant understood the query of the court in clear terms. The projections
in the affidavit dated 28.01.2011 were accordingly understood by the High
Court to be afterthoughts. In view of the above, coupled with the fact
that the first appellant had conducted himself similarly on earlier
occasions, the High Court took the view that in the present case wrong
information was deliberately furnished to the Court which amounted to an
“interference with the due process of law and judicial proceedings.”
Accordingly, the impugned order came to be passed holding that the
appellants had wilfully disobeyed the order of the Court for which they are
liable to be punished. Aggrieved by the aforesaid developments and the
order passed, the present appeal has been filed.

 

10. We have heard Shri K.K. Venugopal, learned senior counsel appearing
for the appellants and Shri S.S. Shamshery, learned counsel appearing for
the respondents.

 

11. The material facts indicating the unfolding of the relevant events
leading to the eventual decision of the High Court has been narrated in
seriatim in the preceding paragraphs. The information sought for by the
High Court; the response of the appellants and their explanation with
regard to the answers provided in the first instance and the reasons which
had occasioned the errors therein have all been set out in detail.
Notwithstanding the above, the High Court has come to the conclusion that
the explanation provided by the appellants is a mere eyewash and wrong
information was deliberately furnished and correct information was withheld
by the appellants which make them liable in contempt. The basis for the
above conclusion reached by the High Court is the contents of annexure A2
and A3 to the affidavit dated 28.01.2011 filed by the first appellant,
namely, the email dated 17.01.2011 alongwith attachment sent by the first
appellant to his subordinate officials. The relevant part of the aforesaid
communication which has been extracted by the High Court in its order dated
31.01.2011 is as follows:

 

“The Hon’ble High Court during the hearing today has directed to
file an affidavit whether the landowners, in favour of whom,
above land has been released and licence has been granted, filed
objections under Section 5-A or not. You are, therefore,
directed to supply this information in following format in
respect of those who had filed objections under Section 5-A……..”

 

 

 

12. A reading of the above extract would seem to indicate that on the
very day of the order i.e. 17.01.2011 the first appellant understood the
said order to be requiring him to lay before the High Court information as
to whether the land owners in favour of whom land has been released had
filed objections under Section 5A of the Act or not. This is how the first
appellant understood the order of the High Court. At that point of time the
order of the Court was not available to the first appellant. On such
understanding of the order dated 17.01.2011 the first appellant directed
the concerned subordinate official to furnish information in the prescribed
format in respect of the land owners who had filed their objections under
Section 5A of the Act so that the same could be placed before the Court on
the date fixed. While it may be correct that the first appellant ought to
have sought information not only in respect of land owners who had filed
their objections but also as regards the land owners who had not filed
their objections, the question that arises is whether the said lapse, by
itself, will make the first appellant liable in contempt?

 

13. The e-mail dated 17.01.2011, extracted above, partially bears out the
stand taken by the first appellant that he understood the order of the
Court as requiring him to furnish information in respect of land owners who
had filed their objections. Admittedly, a copy of the order of the court
dated 17.01.2011 became available to the first appellant only at 6.00 p.m.
on 18.01.2011. In his affidavit the first appellant had also stated that
it would have been better if, on 19.01.2011, he had sought more time to
furnish the requisite information against query No.1. However, he did not
do so as the information in respect of other queries were available. The
circumstances in which the events have unfolded, in our considered view,
does not lead to the sole conclusion that there was a deliberate or wilful
attempt on the part of the first appellant not to furnish the requisite
information or to furnish wrong information to the Court. Rather, it
appears probable that the failure to furnish the requisite information to
the Court may have been occasioned by a momentary error of judgment on the
part of the first appellant. For the said lapse he had tendered his
unqualified apology in the affidavit dated 28.01.2011 along with which he
had also furnished the requisite information i.e. name and particulars of
the land owners who had not filed their objections under Section 5A of the
Act. The above situation, in our considered view, called for a broad and
magnanimous view of the matter and the acceptance of the unconditional
apology tendered. Such a course of action, according to us, would have
better served the dignity and majesty of the institution. In fact, under
Section 12(1) of the Contempt of Courts Act read with Explanation thereto
an apology ought not to be rejected merely on the ground that it is
accompanied by an explanation for the lapse that had occurred.

 

14. Before parting, we consider it apt to quote hereunder certain
observations of this Court in its opinion rendered in the Special Reference
No. 1 of 1964[1] (under Article 143(1) of the Constitution) made to this
Court in the matter arising out of notice of breach of privilege of the
State Legislature issued to two Hon’ble Judges of the Allahabad High Court
as, according to us it is in the aforesaid spirit that the contempt
jurisdiction ought to be viewed and exercised.
“142. Before we part with this topic, we would like to refer to
one aspect of the question relating to the exercise of power to
punish for contempt. So far as the courts are concerned, Judges
always keep in mind the warning addressed to them by Lord Atkin
in Andre Paul v. Attorney-General of Trinidad, AIR 1936 PC 141.
Said Lord Atkin, “Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must
be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though out-
spoken comments of ordinary men.” We ought never to forget that
the power to punish for contempt large as it is, must always be
exercised cautiously, wisely and with circumspection. Frequent
or indiscriminate use of this power in anger or irritation would
not help to sustain the dignity or status of the court, but may
sometimes affect it adversely. Wise Judges never forget that
the best way to sustain the dignity and status of their office
is to deserve respect from the public at large by the quality of
their judgments, the fearlessness, fairness and objectivity of
their approach, and by the restraint, dignity and decorum which
they observe in their judicial conduct. ……….”

 

 

 

15. That the power to punish for contempt is a rare specie of judicial
power which by the very nature calls for exercise with great care and
caution had been reiterated by this Court in Perspective Publications (P)
Ltd. & Anr. Vs. The State of Maharashtra[2] whereas in In Re: S.
Mulgaokar[3], Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer while noticing the principles of
the exercise of power of contempt had outlined the first of such principles
to be “wise economy of the use of the contempt power by the court”.
Reiteration of the aforesaid principle has been made in several subsequent
pronouncements of this Court, reference to which would not be necessary in
view of the unanimity of opinion on the issue that the power to punish for
contempt ought to be exercised only where “silence is no longer an option.”

 

16. For the aforesaid reasons we are unable to sustain the conclusion
reached by the High Court in its order dated 31.01.2011. We therefore deem
it appropriate to set aside the order dated 31.01.2011 passed by the High
Court and allow the present appeal.

 
………………………………………CJI.
[P. SATHASIVAM]

 

 

 

…..…………….……………………J.
[RANJAN GOGOI]
NEW DELHI,
OCTOBER 8, 2013.

 
———————–
[1] AIR 1965 SC 745
[2] AIR 1971 SC 221
[3] (1978) 3 SCC 339

 

 

 

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