SC Sentences Prashant Bhushan To A Fine Of Rupee One In The Contempt Case Over His Two Tweets
“Judges cannot speak out even if they are humiliated. How long can the Supreme Court and the Judges suffer the humiliation heaped regularly? It is not a question of one or two tweets. Look at the number of contemptuous statements made by him and the number of contempt cases initiated against him. Yet he justifies his conduct. What use is a warning to someone who does not realize his mistake?”
– Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari of Apex Court
We have seen for ourselves how the Supreme Court most recently on August 31, 2020 has in a contempt case titled “In Re: Prashant Bhushan And Anr. in Suo Motu Contempt Petition (Crl.) No. 1 of 2020 taken suo motu cognizance against advocate Prashant Bhushan of the Supreme Court for his two tweets. A three Judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and along with him Justice BR Gavai and Justice Krishna Murari have sentenced him to pay a fine of Rupee One, which is to be deposited with the Supreme Court Registry within September 15, 2020. In case of default to deposit, Prashant Bhushan will have to undergo imprisonment for three months and will be debarred from practice for three years!
Needless to say, this is nothing but just a slight reprimand from the top court to Prashant Bhushan which is quite ostensible also when one goes through the 82-page lengthy judgment! A leading role was played by the Attorney General – KK Venugopal who pleaded for magnanimity from the Apex Court for which his stellar contribution cannot be denied! Earlier Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt vide judgment dated 14.08.2020 over his tweets made on June 27 and 29 about the Supreme Court’s functioning and the Chief Justice of India. But the final judgment was not pronounced!
No doubt, it must be mentioned that it was Mehek Maheshwari who is an advocate who had filed a petition before the Supreme Court on July 9 seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against Prashant Bhushan for his tweets. Based on Mehek’s petition, the Apex Court then suo motu (on its own) took cognizance of the matter and listed the case for the first time on July 22 and issued notice to Bhushan the same day! After a day-long hearing on August 5, the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict on August 14.
Be it noted, Bhushan’s first tweet said that, “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.” The second tweet referred to CJI Sharad Bobde and said that, “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh Harley Davidson motorcycle belonging to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”
To put things in perspective, it is pointed in para 3 that, “At the beginning of the proceedings itself, we had called upon Shri K.K. Venugopal, learned Attorney General for India, to address us. In the morning session, we have heard him at great length. Learned Attorney General stated that this Court, by showing magnanimity, should not impose any sentence on Shri Prashant Bhushan. He submitted that the tweets made by Shri Prashant Bhushan could be considered as bona fide criticism in order to seek improvement in the functioning of the institution. He further stated, that taking into consideration the causes represented by Shri Prashant Bhushan in various public interest litigation and the service rendered by him to different classes of society by bringing their issues to the notice of this Court, the Court should consider not imposing any sentence on him.”
Honestly speaking, it is then very rightly pointed out in para 4 that, “When controverted with various statements made by the contemnor in the affidavit in reply, the learned Attorney General fairly conceded that such statements were not warranted.”
While elaborating further, it is then disclosed in para 5 that, “He suggested that such statements be either withdrawn by the contemnor or should be taken off from the pleadings. When further confronted with the Contempt Petition filed by the learned Attorney General in one of the proceedings against the very same contemnor, the learned Attorney General submitted that since Shri Prashant Bhushan, on a piece of paper, had expressed his regret, he expressed desire not to pursue the said contempt proceedings. The learned Attorney General attempted to read out the statement made by Shri Prashant Bhushan in the contempt proceedings, which was initiated in the year 2009, wherein Shri Prashant Bhushan had expressed his regret. However, when it was pointed out to the learned Attorney General that the said statement was not pertaining to the present proceedings but earlier proceedings, the learned Attorney General stated that when Shri Prashant Bhushan had expressed regret in other proceedings, there is no reason as to why he should not express regret in the present proceedings also. We had also pointed out to the learned Attorney General that the contemnor was pressing the statement made in the affidavit and was raising a plea of truth as a defence. In such circumstances whether it would be appropriate on the part of this Court to take off the said statements from the pleadings. The learned Attorney General, faced with this situation, stated that unless the contemnor withdraws the said statements in view of the provisions of Section 13(b) of the Act, the statements cannot be taken off.”
I am sure Prashant Bhushan will pay heed to what the top court has advised him and from next time instead of talking endlessly in media on serious corruption charges against Judges would produce the evidence straight before the courts so that the whole world can see for themselves what the real truth is! But to just level serious allegations without any proof and that too against many Supreme Court Judges and even former Chief Justices of India cannot be ever justified under any circumstances!
By Sanjeev Sirohi