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Friday, October 11, 2013

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 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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