[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER hearing Attorney General for India K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on February 6, 2019, in a contempt petition against advocate Prashant Bhushan initiated by the former and the Central Government, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra of the Supreme Court is all set to decide “whether in a matter which is sub-judice, it is open to criticise the court proceedings to affect the public opinion by litigants and lawyers and protection of various other rights of the litigants are also involved; what are the rights of the litigants and what may amount to interference in the course of administration of justice”.
The bench which also comprised Justice Naveen Sinha said that the issued raised are of vital importance. It has now fixed March 7, 2019 as next date of the hearing in the matter.
During the course of the hearing of contempt petitions on February 6, 2019, AG K K Venugopal had said the petitioner (Prashant Bhushan) had gone to public and accused the Government of India of submitting fabricated minutes of the High Powered Committee. The AG alleged that instead of applying to the court for copy of minutes, Prashant Bhushan made the allegations. AG also said that time has come to put guidelines on issue whether lawyers can write on a sub-judice matter. AG also referred to an article written by senior advocate Dushyant Dave saying there is no contempt by advocate Prashant Bhushan.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on behalf of the Union of India, said statements such as “today is a back day for the Judiciary” are made after judgments are delivered. SG Mehta said that punishment for contempt of court be given to advocate Prashant Bhushan, and that magnanimity should not be interpreted as weakness of an institution.
Background of the case
The Attorney General for India K K Venugopal and Secretary to the Government of India Dr. C. Chandramouli on behalf of the Central government have filed two separate contempt petition respectively against advocate Prashant Bhushan for his tweet of February 1, 2019, alleging that the government had misled the Supreme Court about the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director.
The tweet was made by Bhushan in the backdrop of the submission made by the AG before a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha, during the course of the hearing of a PIL challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director.
AG had submitted that the appointment of M Nageswara Rao had approval of the High Powered Committee (HPC) comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of single largest opposition party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice A K Sikri of the Supreme Court. AG had also shared with the bench in a sealed cover, the minutes of the HPC meeting’s dated January 10, 2019. However, the same were not shared with the petitioners or anybody else.
After the hearing, Prashant Bhushan who was appearing for the petitioner NGO Common Cause and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, tweeted that he spoke to Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge who denied any discussion having taken place in the High-powered committee regarding appointment of Rao. Hence, the government appeared to have misled the court, Bhushan wrote in his tweet.
Now the AG in his contempt petition has placed on record the relevant extract from the minutes of High Powered Committee’s meeting held on January 10, 2019 and signed by all the three members of the Committee, which read as follows:
“12. Having considered all the above facts and also the exceptional circumstances and public interest involved, the Committee, with the dissenting view of Shri Kharge, decided as follows:
- Shri Alok Kumar Verma be transferred from the post of Director, CBI and given a suitable assignment for the residual period of his present term ending on 31.01.2019.
- The Central Government may post a suitable officer to look after the duties of the Director, CBI till the appointment of a new Director. CBI.”
In view of the minutes having been signed by all three members, all the three members that include Kharge, were aware of the decision taken in that meeting, therefore, the confirmation/statement attributed to Kharge by Bhushan in his tweet cannot have been made by Kharge for the simple reason that Kharge himself signed the minutes of the meeting, says AG Venugopal.
AG further goes on to say that Prashant Bhushan without applying to the court for the minutes of the meeting of HPC dated January 10, 2019, chose to hurl vindictive allegations against the Attorney General for India and the Government of India and cast aspersions on the integrity of the AG. “This is not only reckless but also shows malice and dishonesty. It is evident an attempt to generate publicity through the press and social media”, says AG.
Further, by alleging fabrication of minutes of the high-powered committee (HPC) meeting, Bhushan has cast aspersions on a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. This would amount to contempt of the court, says Attorney General in his petition.
Attorney General has also prayed to the Court that it is to be seriously considered whether Prashant Bhushan should be permitted to file such cases in future once he is found to have made deliberately and willfully made false and defamatory statement against the law officer and government of India.
Central government in its petition has said that Bhushan’s tweets amount to deliberately making false statements in a pending case “to obstruct justice and to interfere with the course of a pending judicial proceeding”.