“To bona fide critique the actions of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) or a succession of CJIs, cannot and does not scandalise the court, nor does it lower the authority of the court”, said Advocate Prashant Bhushan in his affidavit filed in the Supreme Court. Bhushan filed a 142-page counter-affidavit in response to the suo motu criminal contempt proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court for his tweets against the top court and the CJI S A Bobde. Throughout the affidavit, Bhushan stands firmly in defence of his two tweets. The first tweet dated June 27 is regarding the last four CJIs and their alleged involvement in the erosion of democracy in India. The second is regarding CJI Bobde was riding a motorcycle without a helmet or mask, when he was keeping the SC shut, due to COVID-19 denying justice to millions. With regard to his first tweet, Bhushan said it had three distinct elements and each is his bonafide opinion about the state of affairs in the country and role of the Supreme Court. “The first part of the tweet contains my considered opinion that democracy has been substantially destroyed in India during the last six years. The second part is my opinion that the Supreme Court has played a substantial role in allowing the destruction of our democracy and the third part is my opinion regarding the role of the last 4 Chief Justice’s in particular in allowing it”, Bhushan stated in the affidavit.
He described with detailed references to instances like the abrogation of Article 370, the Justice Loya case, and Citizenship Amendment Act to elaborate on his assertions about the judiciary reflected in his two tweets, which are now the subject matter of contempt case. The affidavit also discussed in detail the attacks in Jamia, the Delhi riots, the lockdown due to the pandemic, and the tragic migrant workers’ crisis that followed. Referring to the Delhi riots, Bhusan said, the Supreme Court remained a mute spectator while Delhi burnt. In so far as the second tweet regarding CJI S A Bobde is concerned, Bhushan said it primarily underlines his anguish at the lack of physical functioning of the Supreme Court for the last more than three months. This has resulted in non-redressal of fundamental rights of citizens, such as those in detention, those destitute and poor, and others facing serious and urgent grievances. “At the outset, I admit that I did not notice that the bike was on a stand and, therefore, wearing a helmet was not required. I, therefore, regret that part of my tweet. However, I stand by the remaining part of what I have stated in my tweet,” he said. Bhushan asserted that his tweets are protected under freedom of speech and expression. He cited several national and international judgments along with excerpts from speeches delivered by Supreme Court judges on the topic of freedom of expression and democracy. “Such expression of opinion however outspoken, disagreeable or however unpalatable cannot constitute contempt of court. It is the essence of a democracy that all institutions, including the judiciary function for the citizens and the people of this country, and they have every right to freely and fairly discuss the state of affairs of an institution and build public opinion in order to reform the institution”. Bhushan said On July 24, a three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari said it was of prima facie view that the statements made by Bhushan on Twitter had brought disrepute to the administration of justice and could undermine, in the eyes of the public, the dignity and authority of the Supreme Court in general and the CJI’s office in particular. The bench had, therefore, issued notice to Bhushan. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra will hear the suo motu contempt case on August 5. In the meanwhile, Twitter Inc, which has also been a made a party to this case, has now disabled the two contentious tweets by Bhushan.