Contempt in case of Arnab Goswami off to Dec 11

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 11/25/2020 12:34:04 PM

NEW DELHI, Nov 24: The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned to December 11 a contempt case on a breach of privilege notice issued by the Maharashtra Assembly against the Republic TV's Arnab Goswami.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde asked all sides to file their response within two weeks on the ticklish issue as to whether a notice has to be issued to the Assembly Speaker, after its assistant secretary claimed that he had only acted on the instructions and under the directions of the Speaker to serve the privilege notice on Goswami.
On November 6, the Bench had issued a contempt notice on the assistant secretary for sending an allegedly "intimidating" letter to Goswami and show cause as to why the contempt should not be issued in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution for obstructing the Republic TV editor divulging facts to the apex court.
When the Bench assembled on Tuesday, it was told that the assistant secretary Vilas Athawale filed his reply last night putting onus on the Speaker that led to a debate in the court on whether a notice be issued to the Speaker.
Appearing for Goswami in the last hearing on November 6, senior advocate Harish Salve had challenged the assistant secretary's letter questioning Goswami for producing communications of the Speaker that are confidential in nature before the court.
At the outset, the CJI said: "We received the reply of the secretary late last night. None of us have read it."
Salve said: "It raises an interesting question of law--shorn of details, should a notice be issued to the Speaker? The affidavit says he was acting under the instructions of the Speaker to issue the show-cause notice."
The CJI wondered if he had withdrawn the letter.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the assistant secretary, quipped: "Not withdrawn because I wish to contest. There is no contempt. There are four judgments of this court which directly help me."
One against whom the contempt notice is supposed to be present in the court on the day of hearing but the assistant secretary was not traceable and so the CJI asked Dave if his client was present. "He is in Delhi; he is in my office (on the Supreme Court premises)," Dave replied.
When the CJI said his response was good enough, Dave jumped to his feet to exempt the assistant secretary from personal appearance at the next occasion." The CJI firmly said "no" but then relented to say the request seems reasonable and so granted when Dave pointed out that on account of Covid-19 situation, flying between Delhi and Mumbai is difficult and there are formalities of undergoing RT-PCR tests during every trip.
"So we will adjourn the matter for two weeks. Till then, everyone can file anything they want," the CJI ruled.
"All of us can put in written submissions. Then your lordship can list it for hearing," suggested Salve.
The CJI turned to senior advocate Arvind Datar, who has been appointed Amicus Curiae in the matter to assist the court. Datar also said he has not seen the affidavit, but he referred to a 1964 Constitution Bench judgment that held that filing of a writ petition is not contempt.
Salve said the official claimed he was acting at the behest of the Speaker and so he wanted the court to lay down the law in case the Speaker says he has not been personally served or heard.
Dave interjected: "Not necessary. There is no contempt or any obstruction of justice. I will show that there is no contempt at all. He is saying that he acted on the Speaker's directions, but that does not mean the Speaker should come here."
"But Your Lordships have to first hold if there is a contempt," argued Dave.
"No. We first serve and then decide. It is not the other way round. The apprehension is that the Speaker should not say that the proceedings were held without him. If there is no contempt, there will be no prejudice. But just because the secretary is saying he relied on the Speaker's instructions, the Speaker cannot be denied the chance to say whether this is right or wrong," the CJI observed.
When Dave argued further that the court will drop the proceedings on the next occasion, the CJI told him not to decide what the court should do. "What we do on the next occasion is for us to decide."
Dave was in full form that Salve did not raise the issue of a raid by the Enforcement Directorate on the office of the Shiv Sena MLA who had filed the complaint against Goswami. Will that be also a contempt, he asked.
The CJI said if the Speaker says the secretary's statement is not right, then he should get a chance. He wanted amicus curiae Datar to react. Datar said: "This person is acting as the agent of the Speaker. So that would make the Speaker the proper and necessary party. But what if the Speaker disowns the statement?"

 

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