1. This is an application under the Contempt ofCourts Act. The petitioner in the case is SriRajendra Kumar Garg, Pleader, Collectorate Saharanpur. The opposite parties arrayed in the application are (1) Syed Shafiq Ahmad Azad, Managing. Editor, 'Azad' Urdu Weeking, and (2) RashidAhmad Ghazi, Editor 'Azad' Urdu Weekly, Saharanpur. The petitioner in the said applicationprayed for action under the Contempt of CourtsAct against the opposite parties in respect of anarticle published in the 'Azad' Urdu Weekly on1-5-1955.
2. In order to appreciate the arguments of the parties, it would be necessary to narrate the chain of events which culminated in the publication of the aforesaid article. It would appear that in Saharanpur there is a factory called Lord Krishna 'Sugar Mills, Saharanpur. On the night between the 28th and 29th March, 1955, the workers of that mill went on strike. The strike, appears to be the result of the strained relations between the workers and the mill owners and the refusal on the part of the latter to accede to certain demands of the former.
On 29-3-1955, there was a meeting in which the cultivators who were sugarcane suppliers to the said mill were present. This meeting was also attended by Sri B.P. Seth, the District Magistrate, Saharanpur, and Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg, the petitioner. In the course of that meeting certain events happened which led to a conflict between the Collector on the one hand and the petitioner and his associates on the other. The version of the incident which was the cause of trouble appears to be discrepant.
According to one party, which would appear to be the party of the petitioner, the Collector addressed some words to the sugarcane suppliers which were taken exception to by the petitioner on the ground that they tended to create a division between the agriculturist and the Workers. This was resented by the Collector who ordered the arrest of the petitioner and his associates Sri Raj Kumar Vokra and Rao Mukhtar Ali Khan. The allegation of the other party appears to be that the petitioner Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg adopted a threatening attitude towards the Collector. It is alleged that he showed his shoe to the Collector and behaved in a most rude fashion.
We are, however, not concerned with the truth behind the allegations of the rival parties. All that we are concerned with in this case is the fact that the events of the said meeting gave rise to two cases. The first case is said to be a case under Section 107/117, Criminal P. C. which was instituted against the petitioner and his associates. Another case is said to be a case under Sections 342 and 252, I. P. C. filed by the petitioner Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg against the District Magistrate and others. The former case is said to be pending in the Court of the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Saharanpur, and the latter in the Court of the City Munsif, Saharanpur, on 1-5-1955, when the offending article is said to have appeared in the 'AZAD' Weekly.
A third case under Section 353, I. P. C. (State v. Rajendra Kumar Garg and others) is said to beunder investigation on the said date. It wouldbe relevant to mention that the happenings of 29-3-1955, seemed to have developed into a widercontroversy between the respective merits of the various systems of Government. The matter appears to have been taken up by the local papers, some taking one view and the others taking a contrary view.
On 4-4-1955, an editorial appeared in a paper called the 'Bedar' which appears to be a paper of communist tendencies. In this article a reference was made to the strike of the workers on the night between the 28th and 29th of March, 1955, and the main demands of the workers were enumerated. It was then mentioned that the District Magistrate, had formed a committee to arbitrate in the matter and that, in spite of the promise made by the District Magistrate the decision of the matter was being delayed. Serious aspersions were made on the conduct of the district Magistrate.
It was alleged that he was behaving in a most dictatorial manner. His honesty and integrity were also impugned. It was stated that he had acted in utter disregard of the claims of the workers, that he was enjoying himself in the magnificent cars of the mill owners, that he had colluded with them and that he had provided a poor specimen of the socialist pattern of Pandit Nehru's State. It was further stated that he should be ashamed of the mistakes he had committed, that he has actively supported the mill owners and that he was guilty of making a deliberate attempt to create misunderstanding and division between the agriculturists and the workers.
It was further stated that in the meeting of 29-3-1955, he had called the workers 'scoundrels' and 'rascals', that the use of these words was resented by the workers, and that after hearing these words it became impossible for Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg and his associates to restrain themselves. When they objected to the use of these words by the District Magistrate, the latter ordered their arrest. The article further went on to say that the aforesaid unwarranted action of the District Magistrate had given rise to a wave of resentment and anger in the workers.
It further called upon the U.P. Government to take note of the demands of the workers, and held out a grave warning that any failure on the part of the U.P. Government to consider their just demands might result in consequences that might be disastrous. At the bottom of the same editorial, it was printed in bold letters that the entire body of workers demanded, that the Collector should be transferred from the district, that the matter should be enquired into by an independent commission and that the legitimate demands of the workers be accepted. The above is a gist of the editorial appearing in the 'Bedar' of 4-4-1955 which has been filed as Annexure (C) in this Case.
3. On 1-5-1955, the same paper viz., 'Bedar' which appears to have so enthusiastically supported the cause of the workers and of Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg, the petitioner, came out with another news. This news purported to be a statement by Sri Pritam, Secretary of the Saharanpur Communist Party.
The news items under this caption stated that with regard to the strike which had taken place in the Saharanpur Sugarcane Mills, strong rumours were current in the city to the effect that Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg, the petitioner, who claimed to be the leader of the Communist Party had betrayed the cause of the workers and had apologised to the Collector. ('Mazdooraun ko marwa diya hai aur khud collector se mafi mang li hai'.) It was further stated in this news item that Sri Rajendra Garg was not a member of the Communist Party as he had already been expelled from the party three months previously owing to acts of indiscipline. This news item of the 'Bedar' is annexure (A) in the present case.
4. In this background an editorial appeared in the 'AZAD' which is a Weekly Journal from Saharanpur. This editorial appeared under the caption 'Inkishaf Haqiqat' ('disclosure of truth') and purported to be a reply to the editorial of 'Bedar' dated 4-4-1955. In this editorial the writer stated that as the elections were approaching, persons were trying to gain leadership and to come into limelight by the adoption of cheap and undesirable tactics. One of the methods devised by some of them to achieve their purpose was to simulate sympathy for the workers.
The editorial asserted that the demands of the workers were just and due consideration should be given to them, but the Government on which unjustifiable aspersions were cast by the 'Bedar' was following the Gandhian principles. According to those high principles, any resort to violence and unlawful deeds was not permissible. The workers should not be misled by such self-constituted leaders. The editorial took strong exception to the remarks which imputed bribery to the Collector of the District.
In this connection, it went on to make certain comments on the communist system of Government and the iron curtain that existed there. It stated that the freedom enjoyed by the writer of the article under Pandit Nehru's Socialist pattern of Government would not be available to the same writer under a Communist system of which the said writer was the exponent.
The editorial went on to say that the real purpose of such leaders was to subvert the existing system of Government and to create chaos. In this connection it incidentally referred in a few sentences to what had happened in the meeting of 29-3-1955. The reference appears to be merely by way of illustration of the manner in which irresponsible persons were trying to exploit the situation and to take the law into their hands. The actual words are as follows :--
'In logon ne qanun ko apne hath men le liya aur Collector sahib Zila par juta uthaya. Zahir hai ki aisi halat men in logon ko giraftar karana bilkul durust aur haq bajanib hai keonki kisi bhi shakhs ko qanun ko hath men lene ki ijazat nahin di ja sakti.'
(These persons took the law into their own hands and raised their shoe towards the Collector. It is obvious that under these circumstances. it was justifiable and necessary to have the arrest of such persons effected because no one can. be allowed to take the law in his own hands.)
It ended with the appeal to the workers to restrain themselves and not be misguided by such irresponsible leaders who were not doing any good to their cause or to the cause of the country. This article has been filed as Annexure (D) in the present case and the above quoted sentences in which reference is made to the incident that happened on 29-3-1955, form the basis of this application for contempt of Court.
5. The events that followed may also be briefly mentioned. On 16-6-1955, a letter appeared in the columns of the 'Bedar', the rival paper. This letter purports to have been written by Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg, petitioner. It is dated 2-5-1955. The writer of this letter Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg repudiated the allegation that he bad apologised to the Collector and stated that the persons who had circulated such rumours were dishonest and those very persons were responsible for the false propaganda against him that he had shown the shoe to the Collector. This is Annexure (B) in the present case.
6. On 24-8-1955, the petitioner moved the present application for contempt of Court against the Managing Editor and the Editor of the 'AZAD' Weekly, on the ground that the editorial which had appeared in the 'AZAD' weekly on 1-5-1955, constituted interference with the course of Justice.
7. On 30-11-1955, a counter-affidavit was filed by the opposite parties. In this affidavit they asserted that they were completely unaware of any proceedings in any Court of law relating to the incident of 29-3-1955. In fact, according to them there could be no room even for suggesting the existence of any such proceedings in view of the strong rumours which were prevailing in the city to the effect that Sri Rajendra Kumar Garg had apologised to the Collector.
According to their case the impugned article was merely a reply to the criticism levelled bv the 'Bedar' against certain authorities and the system of government which they represented. They did not intend to commit any contempt of Court, nor was the article in question calculated to prejudice the cause of justice.
8. It may be noted at this stage that no rejoinder-affidavit was filed by the petitioner controverting the strong and clear allegations made by the opposite parties to the effect that they had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever that any cases in respect of the matter were pending or under investigation.
9. This was quite in consonance with the position taken up on behalf of the petitioner before us on the date of hearing which was to the effect that the question of knowledge of the alleged contemner was quite immaterial & irrelevant in a case of contempt. On the other hand, on behalf of the opposite parties it was argued in reply that in every case of contempt alleged in respect of legal proceedings--whether pending or imminent--knowledge of such proceedings was a condition precedent to the said person being found to be guilty of contempt.
10. Before, however, discussing the abstract legal question raised by the parties, the issue of fact to be determined at 'the very outset is whether the opposite-parties had any knowledge of any proceedings that were pending or imminent. In this connection it may be noticed that the incident which is said to have led to a conflict between the Collector on the one hand and the petitioner and his associates on the other in the meeting of 29-3-1955, appears to be of a rather trivial nature.
Accordingly to the petitioner, the Collector had addressed certain words to the agriculturists at the aforesaid meeting which tended to create a difference between the mill-owners and the workers. This was resented by the petitioner and his associates, who had neither assaulted the Collector nor done anything to him. According, however, to the version of the other party, the petitioner had shown his shoe to the Collector. This is all that we can gather from the versions of the parties appearing in the editorials of the two rival papers. It would have been much better if the petitioners had filed copies of complaints of the two parties to enable us to know what the exact allegations of the two parties in the matter before the Court were.
The petitioner, however, has not cared to file copies of any such complaints. The petitioner has also not cared to summon the file of those casesin this Court. All that we can gather from a reference to the papers is that the act attributed tothe petitioner was a gesture of rudeness. At the most it might constitute a mere preparation to assault or criminal intimidation. It is not for us, however, to express any opinion on the merits of the versions of the two parties.
All that is relevant for the purposes of this case is that from the materials placed before us, the incident does not appear to involve any criminal offence or at any rate, any criminal offence of a serious type that might necessarily give rise to criminal proceedings in a Court of law. In this connection it is important to remember that in the 'Bedar' of 1-5-1955, the paper which appears to have strongly supported the petitioner himself in its editorial of 4-4-1955, a news item had appeared in bold lines to the effect that the petitioner had apologised to the Collector.
There were cogent grounds for giving credence to this news. The conflict appears 'to have taken place between the two parties who are respectable persons. The one was the Collector of the district and the other was a pleader practising in his Court. It is just the sort of conflict in which parties might, on a calmer retrospect of the incident, have thought it better to compromise by expressing regret or apology.
It is also significant in this connection to note that no news item had appeared in any papers indicating that the incident had resulted in any legal proceedings or any of the parties were contemplating to resort to Courts of law or that any report in respect of the same had been lodged or that the police were Investigating any matter, in connection therewith.
In fact, the offence, if any, was of a non-cognizable nature. The probabilities thus are in favour of the case of the opposite parties who had filed a counter-affidavit clearly stating therein that they were completely unaware of any proceedings pending or imminent, actual or contemplated in connection with the aforesaid matter. In this connection, they also made a reference in their counter-affidavit to the news of apology which had appeared in the 'Bedar'. These allegation were verified to be true to personal knowledge. What's important to note is that in spite of these allegations no rejoinder affidavit was filed by the petitioner to controvert any of these allegations.
In fact, even in the initial application of the petitioner and the affidavit filed therewith, no allegation was made to the effect that the opposite parties were aware of any proceedings whether pending or imminent. In this connection, it may be mentioned that even in the arguments before us, no material was brought out to indicate that the opposite parties were aware or could be aware ot any such proceedings.
The entire argument of the learned counsel for the petitioner was that because the applicant was arrested, therefore, the proceedings must be deemed to be pending and the opposite parties must be held to be guilty irrespective of the question of knowledge. In this connection the petitioner's counsel placed reliance on In re, Subrahmanyan Editor, Tribune, AIR 1943 Lah 329 (FB) (A) and Emperor v. J. Choudhury : AIR1947Cal414 .
According to the contention advanced on behalf of the petitioner by his learned counsel, once a person is arrested, the proceedings must be deemed to be pending and any person making any comment in respect thereof would be guilty of contempt of Court whether he had knowledge of it or not. We are of opinion that this bold pro-position of law enunciated by the learned counsel in this broad fashion appears to go too far.
Even in the cases relied on by him, it was held that the alleged contemner could only be found guilty if he knew or should have known about the imminence of proceedings. Thus, even in the cases relied on by the petitioner, the matter does not appear to have been viewed, as altogether divorced from the question of knowledge.
So far as the mere arrest of a person is concerned we are of opinion that it might or might not mean pendency or imminence of legal proceedings. It would depend upon the circumstances of each particular case. If the offence is a serious one or if the arrest is made after police report, or after police investigation has been started or has gone on, or while the matter has actually been taken cognizance of by a Court, the value to be attached to the facfium of arrest might be more than in a case where a person is arrested 'suddenly and unexpectedly in a trivial incident in which he is merely alleged to be preparing to assault another person as in this case.
The arrest in the latter case might be a mere temporary measure of self-defence resorted to for the purpose of warding off any untoward consequence or a merely precautionary step to nip the matter in the bud and to prevent it from developing into anything serious. The arrest would have no value whatsoever if it further appears that as had happened in the present case, the man so arrested was released subsequently.
In addition to all these, if the case is of a minor type and it is reported that the party concerned has apologised, any suspicion that might have been engendered in the mind of a person regarding the pendency or imminence of proceedings is bound to disappear as a result of circumstances following thereon.
In the present case, we are of opinion that, in view of the special circumstances in which the arrest of the petitioner was made, the trifling nature of the matter, the position of the parties, the subsequent release of the arrested person, and further in view of the subsequent news that the arrested person had apologised, the mere fact of arrest cannot be held to be sufficient to warrant us to impute to the other party the knowledge of the pendency or imminence of legal proceedings.
11. In this connection, the learned counsel for the opposite parties cited Dwarka Prasad v. Krishna Chandra : AIR1953All600 a Bench decision of this Court and strongly relied on observations made therein. This case no doubt supports him. In this case the difference of criminal procedure relating to arrest between the law existing in India and England has been elaborately discussed and pointed out.
According to the view taken in this case, the value to be attached to arrest in India is very different from that which would be attached to it in England because arrests in India are usually made by or under the directions of the investigating officers and not under the supervision or direction of Courts as in England. This case has gone even to the extent of laying down that unless the proceedings are pending in Court, the jurisdiction to take action under the contempt of Courts Act would not arise.
Without expressing any opinion on this aspect of the matter, we are clearly of opinion that on merits, so far as the present case is concerned, the mere fact of arrest cannot by any means be sufficient to enable us to fasten the opposite parties With the knowledge of proceedings or to hold that the proceedings were pending or that the oppositeparties were aware of their pendency or imminence.
For the above reasons, we are clearly of opinion that the opposite parties have succeeded in affirmatively establishing that they had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever that any proceedings were pending or imminent in respect of the matter in question. In view of the circumstances of this particular case, we are further of opinion that they had also no reason whatsoever to think that any such proceedings were pending or imminent. On the other hand, they had every reason to think that no such proceedings were pending or imminent.
12. In this situation, the question of law that has actually arisen before us is whether a person can be found to have committed contempt of Court in respect of the proceedings about the pendency or imminence of which he was completely unaware. On this subject we have had the advantage of hearing both the parties at length. On behalf of the petitioner, it was strenuously argued that the question of knowledge of proceedings is absolutely immaterial in a case of contempt.
Once it is shown that a certain statement or writing has a reflection on some legal proceedings whether pending or imminent the person responsible for the same must be found guilty of contempt quite irrespective of the question whether he was aware of the pendency or imminence of such proceedings or not. This contention of the petitioner is also endorsed by the learned Government Advocate who has appeared in this Court, On the other hand, on behalf of the opposite parties, it has been strenuously contended before us that this view of law is incorrect.
Learned counsel for the opposite parties has argued that before an alleged contemner can be found to have committed contempt of Court, it must be affirmatively proved that he was actually aware of the pendency or imminence of such proceedings, and in the absence of an express finding to that effect, a person can never be held to have committed contempt of Court.
13. Having given our earnest consideration to this matter we are of opinion that both the arguments seem to err on the side of extremity. In our opinion, it is not possible to lay down in this regard a rigid, inflexible or invariable rule which should govern all cases of contempt of Court in respect of knowledge. There might be cases in which actual knowledge of pending proceedings might be required before a Court considers it desirable to fasten a person with liability for contempt. There might be a second category of cases in which the Court might consider presumptive knowledge of the alleged contemner enough to meet the requirements of the case. There might also be cases of a third category in which the Court might find a person guilty of contempt irrespective of the question of knowledge.
The reason for it is obvious. The circumstances in Which an offence of contempt of Court is committed are so multifarious and varied that it would neither be correct nor proper to lay down a uniform principle which should govern all classes of cases of contempt. In view of the diversity of circumstances that arise, the principles of law attracted and considerations applicable in one set of cases are necessarily different from those of the other.
In this connection, it is significant to remember that it is for this very reason that the statute has neither defined the offence of contempt nor laid down any specific procedure in respect of it. The jurisdiction to punish for contempts is an inherent jurisdiction possessed by a Court of recordand is inalienable with its function of the administration of justice.
14. We may briefly comment on the three instances of the categories under which cases of contempt may fall with regard to the requirement ofknowledge. The first category that we have mentioned is the one in which knowledge of the proceedings might be required by Courts. In this connection, it may be mentioned that in a case of civil contempt where the disobedience of an injunction order issued by a Court is made the basis of contempt proceedings, the Court usually requires actual proof of knowledge of the existence of such an order on the part of the alleged contemner.
The same rule might well be extended to cases of criminal contempt where the impugned writing or speech relates to a matter of general concern or public importance or a matter that has assumed such a character or raises questions ofsuch a nature. For, where the impugned writing or speech relates to such questions, it is natural to expect heated controversies in papers about such matters. It would be particularly so in a country like India after it has achieved independence and is governed by a Constitution which has guaranteed the fundamental right of freedom of speech to every citizen.
The law of contempt in such a country has to pass through the test of reasonable restriction. Itmight very well be argued that questions of public and general importance become the subject-matter of discussion and dispute all over the country in a democratic system of Government. There is hardly any aspect of social, economic or political side of life which does not become the subject-matter of comment and discussion in papers and on public platforms.
Further, in a' country with a socialist pattern of society the bounds that divide matters of private and public concern have an inherent tendency to become finer and finer and eventually to disappear. Such matters also very often become the subject-matter of litigation in law Courts. The question of the abolition of Zamindari may be cited as an instance of it.
If the extreme proposition advanced on behalf of the petitioner is accepted, then a speech made in a remote and unknown corner of India in theMadras State or in a college class on Economics on the subject of zamindari might make the speakerguilty of contempt in U. P. or any other State if it was found that a case involving the ultra vires nature of the abolition of Zamindari Act was pending in some Court in U. P. or any other State in India.
To expect that every citizen of India should make comments on such matters at the risk of being hauled up and found guilty of contempt and sentenced thereunder if perchance it is found that there is some case going on in some Court of Jaw in a big country like India on the merits of whichthe subject-matter of his writing or speech might have a bearing or reflection might be considered to mean unreasonable restriction of the fundamental right of freedom of speech.
There is such a long and wide-flung hierarchy of so many Courts in India existing on the civil, revenue and criminal side and ranging from the Panchayat Courts to the Supreme Court. There are also such a large number of tribunals and other authorities acting in a judicial capacity to whom the law of contempt might be found to be applicable. The number of such Courts and tribunals is increasing every day.
It will be too much to expect that a person should be aware of what is going on in all thoseCourts or that when he makes a statement, he should try to find out whether any case with respect to the subject-matter of his comment is pending or imminent in any Court of India. Such a view of law would, in our opinion, completely stifle the right of freedom of speech in India. Further, where a particular question has assumed a general importance or has become a matter of public concern, a citizen might consider it not only his right but also his duty to express himself in a hypothetical fashion on the respective merits of the general controversy and of other matters incidentally connected therewith.
15. The facts of the present case may now be viewed in the light of the above observations. We have already seen that the matter in the present case had developed into a general controversy regarding the respective merits of various political . ideologies. The question regarding the manner in which the conduct of persons styling themselves as political leaders and participating in politics on the eve of or preceding the elections should be weighed by the public had also a complexion of general interest.
The question as to what the demands of the workers were and the form in which agitation in respect thereof was to be conducted was also a matter of a public nature. The attitude to be adopted by a public officer or the Government in regard to these matters were also questions of public importance. The question whether the executive head of a particular district should or should not be transferred from that district was also a matter of public concern in the locality.
The reference to the occurrence in question was made only incidentally by way of a reply to an editorial published by a rival paper in the course of the discussion Of the above matters. The incident was referred to in the papers without referring to any case pending or imminent or any investigation in connection therewith. We have also found that the writer had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of any case whether pending or imminent. Under such circumstances, we are of opinion that the present case would fall within the first category and the Court should not find the opposite parties guilty without coming to the conclusion that, they had knowledge of the proceedings in Court.
16. There is second category of cases in which the Court might hold that the mere existence of circumstances which might have reasonably put a person on enquiry would itself be sufficient to attract the law of contempt. This for example, might be the case where the alleged contemner is definitely shown to have had knowledge of the fact that certain proceedings were imminent or he is placed in such a position that he would necessarily have had knowledge of the pendency of proceedings.
This knowledge could be inferred from the tenor or nature of the contents of the article itself or from the position of the contemner in relation to the parties from other circumstances. The present case, in our opinion, does not fall within this category either. We have already held that the opposite parties neither had any knowledge of the imminence of any proceedings nor had they any reason to believe in the existence of their pendency or imminence. So even if the present case is viewed from this aspect, the matter would not call for action for contempt.
17. Lastly, there may be a third category of cases in which it would not be desirable to insist on the requirement of knowledge. The cases under this category are so rare that it is also possible to regard instances under this category as an ex-ception to the general rule. Instances of this class may be provided by acts which are inherently wrong and are committed by person in reckless disregard of all moral or penal laws. The consequent penalty incurred in such cases can really be regarded as the wrong act of the wrong-doer recoiling on himself.
Where a person with open eyes deliberatelydoes not act which is, on the face of it, morallywrong and which might later on turn out to belegally wrong also, there is no reason why theCourt should relax the law in his favour. This forexample, might be the case where a person entraps a minor or a ward into doing something whichis undesirable or makes him the victim of sharppractice or a blackmailing conspiracy. The wrongdoer in such a case might find his act contraveningthe injunctions of a judgment made in a guardianship case.
A wrong-doer indulging in shady transactions of an over-reaching type with such persons must be deemed to have indulged in such wrong transactions at his own peril. These would be fit cases in which the Court should disregard all requirements of knowledge and should find a person guilty of contempt irrespective of the question whether he knew of the existence of an order of the Court which the act contravened.
The legal principle behind such cases is that when a man indulges in such nefarious activities, he knows full well that the long arm of law might reach him at any point and if it does reach him, he only gets what he expected. Such a person cannot be heard to make a grievance on the score of want of knowledge if he is caught within the clutches of law. The present case is clearly not hit by the principle of those cases, as the conduct complained of cannot be said to be inherently wrong.
18. In this connection, it should be borne in mind that there is a clear distinction between the intention to commit contempt of Court and the knowledge of the pendency of proceedings. They are two entirely different matters and should not be confused with each other. The former might be immaterial; but the latter might not be so.
Another matter which is likely to cause confusion in this regard and which might be cleared up in this connection is the liability which attaches to the editors and printers of papers when the impugned matter appears in the papers concerned. On behalf of the petitioner rulings relating to such cases were cited in support of the proposition that the question of knowledge is immaterial in cases of contempt of Court. This argument, in our opinion, rests on a confusion of the considerations involved in the two different kinds of cases.
The question whether an editor or printer has knowledge of the existence or contents of the article which appears in the paper is quite different from the question of the knowledge of the said person of the pendency or imminence of proceedings which are alleged to be affected by such writing. It is possible for the editor to have the knowledge of the article and yet. have no knowledge of the pendency or imminence of proceedings and vice versa.
The responsibility of the editor or printer in such cases is really based on the principle of vicarious responsibility. The editor or printer holds out before the world that he is the editor, printer or publisher of such paper and is responsible for the contents of the said paper. It is in view of this special responsibility that in Section 7, Press and Registration Act (Act No. 25 of 1867) it is enacted that such persons would be deemd to have read every portion of the paper which is issued. The decisions relating to this aspect of the matter are,therefore, not very helpful in the determination of the issue before us.
19. To sum up, the Legislature has deliberately refrained from enacting or defining the scope of the law of contempt. The obvious purpose was to maintain the elasticity of the law to enable it to reach the wide sweep of the diversity of situations that it has to meet. The contempt proceedings themselves do not display a uniform nature. They may partake of the nature of civil or of criminal proceedings or of both. They are in a way sui generis. The principles attracted in each case differ according to the nature of proceedings and circumstances of the ase.
The situations that the law has to meet are so varied and the principles involved in each so different that a certain amount of flexibility is necessary to enable it to meet every case. The result is that the Court has, keeping in view the limitation of reasonable restriction laid down by Article 19(2) of the Constitution, to mould the law according to the dictates of reason as applicable to the circumstances of that case.
The rulings cited can only provide a parallel in so far as the circumstances of the case are on a par with the circumstances found in the case before the Court. We are of opinion that in the present case, bearing in mind the back-ground in which the article was published, the context in which the impugned extract finds place in the article in question, the nature of the proceedings and the totality of circumstances, action for contempt is not called for unless the opposite parties are shown to possess knowledge of the pendency or imminence of legal proceedings.
20. We have considered it desirable to clear the ground by enunciating the legal position as it appears to us before discussing the rulings which have been cited on either side. If the above observations are borne in mind, there should be no difficulty in finding rulings that are applicable and distinguishing those that are not. The cases cited by the parties may now be discussed.
21. On behalf of the opposite parties our attention was invited to two cases of the English Courts which might be mentioned in this connection. The first one is the case reported Sn In re, Marquis Townshend, (1906) 22 TLR 341 (D). In that case, the Daily Mail had published certain matter relating to lunacy proceedings. It was observed by the Court in this case that in a criminal matter of contempt, the Court must exercise its discretion with the greatest possible care lest it might by chance interfere with the liberty of the subject.
The report indicates that the matter had assumed general importance so as to become what might be termed a matter of public concern involving liberty of the subject. In the above circumstances, the alleged contemner's plea that he had no knowledge having been accepted by the Court his ignorance was considered sufficient to warrant the Court to stay its hand and to withhold any action for contempt against him.
22. The next case that was cited in this connection is reported in Metropolitan Music Hall Co. Ltd. v Lake, (1889) 60 LT 749 (E). In that case the alleged contemner had taken the plea that he was unaware of any pending proceeding. The allegation of the opposite party that lie had no knowledge went absolutely uncross-examined in that case. In the present case also the statement of the opposite parties in their counter-affidavit that they had no knowledge went absolutely un-controverted.
In this case in spite of the fact that the Court held that the alleged contemner had knowledge of the imminence of proceedings, it refused to takeaction for contempt on the ground that the circumstances of the case indicated that he had no knowledge of the pending proceedings. It was further held that it would be an unwarranted extension of the doctrine of the law of contempt to hold that the parties were bound at their peril to take cognizance of what was passing in Her Majesty's Courts.
Although no two cases can exactly coincide with each other, yet the considerations that arose before the Court in the two cases mentioned above are to some extent analogous to the case before us. We, therefore, see no reason for not applying the principle laid down in these cases to the present case.
23. Reference may now be made to the cases cited on behalf of the petitioner. Reliance on behalf of the petitioner was placed on AIR 1943 Lah 329 (A). This was a case in which the proceedings were said to be imminent, yet the learned Judges in that case observed that a person could be found to have committed contempt only if he knew or should have known about such proceedings. If the principle of law laid down with respect to the proceedings which are imminent is the same as that which applies to proceedings which are pending, then this case certainly goes against the contention of the petitioner.
24. Another case on which strong reliance was placed is that reported in The State v. Bishwanath, Mohapatra : AIR1955Ori169 . This case, however, is clearly distinguishable. Strictly speaking, the observations in the said case on this point must be deemed to be obiter as the Court came to the conclusion that
'from the contents of the offending article itself knowledge of the pendency of the criminal case could be fairly attributed to the editor.'
The finding of the Court on the question of knowledge was as follows:
'Taking all these circumstances into consideration. I am not prepared to accept the explanation of the editor to the effect that he had no knowledge of the pendency of criminal case.' (p. 172).
Once it was found that the editor had knowledge, the question as to what would have happened if the Court had found that he had no knowledge was really not relevant. The Court, however, did make certain observations in respect of this matter. In this connection the Court relied on the well known St. Jame's Evening Post case, (1742) 26 ER 683 (G) in which a plea was taken by the printer that he had no knowledge of the offending article and the said plea was not accepted. It also referred to Bex v. Evening Standard Co. Ltd., 1954-1 All ER 1026 (H). where a limited company owning a newspaper was held to be liable for the contempt committed irrespective of the question of knowledge.
The principle on which both these cases proceeded is defined in the second case itself as the principle of vicarious liability. In the present case we are concerned not with the editor's or printer's knowledge of the contents of the writing but with his knowledge of the legal proceedings. We have already observed that the principle applicable to the two cases is a different one, and we should be on guard against confusing the one with the other.
25. On behalf of the petitioner reliance was also placed on the oftcited Herbert's case, (1731) 24 ER 992 (I). The facts of that case were that the Court had appointed a guardian of one Mr. Herbert who was a wealthy minor of 18 years of age. The name of the guardian appointed by the Court was Sir Thomas Clarges. Mr. Herbert was studying at the University of Oxford. Coming fromthere to the town, he was entrapped into a marriage with a common servant maid older than himself and of no fortune.
A bogus guardian was appointed to act for him and his marriage was performed by one Mr. Philips, a person, who carried certain blank licences with seals on them. The facts indicate a conspiracy on the part of persons concerned to take advantage of the weak position of the minor and to exploit the situation for the purpose of undue gain. The persons concerned were obviously doing an act that was inherently and on the face of it wrong, and in so doing it deliberately they were acting at their peril. The Court observed that :
'Besides where the marriage, of an infant is encouraged without the concurrence of his real guardians or relations the consequences of such marriage ought to be at the peril of all those that are instrumental therein.' (p. 993).
We have already observed that such cases have to be governed by special considerations and the Court itself realised the special nature of the case. There can, therefore, be no analogy between the conduct of persons involved in that case and the conduct of the editor, printer or publisher publishing articles on a matter of public concern in the usual course of his business in the bona fide discharge of his duties. This case, therefore, has no analogy to the present case.
26. On behalf of the opposite parties in support of the contention that knowledge of pending proceedings is necessary to enable the Court to hold that contempt is committed, our attention was also invited to the statement of law on the point in (1) Oswald's Contempt of Court, p. 93 (Edn. 3), (2) Law of Contempt by Tek Chand p. 225 (Edn. 2) and (3) The Law of Contempt by V. G. Rama Chandran p. 412 (1951 Edition).
27. Keeping in view the law as expounded above and bearing in mind all the circumstances of this case, we are of, opinion that the finding of complete want of knowledge whether direct or inferential on the part of the opposite parties in the present case is enough to entitle them to a rejection of this application.
28. The learned counsel for the opposite parties has, however, raised two other points which may also be taken up. It was argued on behalf of the opposite parties that the Court should exercise its power under the Contempt of Courts Act only in exceptional cases in which there is any real danger of prejudice. This power has to be exercised with great care and only to prevent any real and substantial interference with justice.
It is no doubt true that the tendency to interfere with the course of justice would attract the jurisdiction of the Court to act under the Contempt of Courts Act, bat from the mere fact that the jurisdiction of the Court is attracted, it would not follow that the Court must act in every case. The article in question purports to be only a reply to certain views expressed by the 'Bedar' in its editorial.
The matter, as already mentioned, hsd assumed some importance and the controversy was mixed up with the general controversy as to the respective merits of democratic and communistic systems of Government. The 'Bedar' appeared to have attempted to make out a case for a Communist system of Government. In reply to that, the editor of the 'AZAD' in its editorial wanted to make out a case for a democratic system of Government. In that connection only incidentally a reference to this occurrence was made.
29. This is the position if the controversy between the papers is approached from the public or general aspect. If, however, the matter is approached from the individual aspect, the positionwould appear to be that the 'Bedar' had levelled certain serious charges suggesting bribery and corruption on the part of the District Magistrate concerned. In reply to that, the 'AZAD' presented the other side of the picture. The purpose does not appear at all to interfere with any proceedings pending or imminent.
From this aspect the article purported to be a measure of sell-defence in respect of the Collector against a libellous offensive launched against him. One paper was casting serious aspersions on the Collector with a view to secure his transfer, While the other was trying to clear up these aspersions with a view to ensure his retention. We are not concerned with the truth or otherwise of these aspersions. What appears to us to be clear is that so far as the reference to the Collector, the editorial was merely an attempt to give a reply to the defamatory allegations made against him.
There is no reference to any case in the article in question. It is true that the intention and purpose of the alleged contemner is irrelevant for the purpose of determining the question whether the contempt of Court was committed, but intention might still be relevant for the purpose of determining the question whether and how far the conduct attributed is calculated to interfere with the course of justice and it is only for this purpose that we are adverting to this aspect of the matter. 30. On the question as to how far the writing itself is calculated to interfere with the course of justice we must observe that the petitioner has not been very helpful in the matter. The petitioner has not thrown any light on the stages of the two cases which were alleged to be pending at the time when the impugned article appeared in the 'AZAD' His counsel cannot even now state as to whether any witnesses were examined or charges framed or any notice was issued to the opposite parties or even cognizance of any case was taken by the Court by that time nor can he throw any light on the present stage on the result of these cases.
In fact, we do not even know the exact cases of the parties or the allegations which formed the basis of the two cases to enable us to guage how far the contents of the impugned article affected or could affect the merits of the cases concerned. The petitioner has not even cared to file copies of the complaints or to summon the flies of those cases. We have, therefore, only to fall back upon our surmises for the purpose of determining whether the article in question had any real effect on the course of justice or was likely to have any such effect.
Before, us it is also argued by the learned counsel for the opposite parties that it is well-known that rival papers sometimes enter into a cat and dog fight of this nature with a view to focus public attention on matters of public importance, and, incidentally, to bolster up their circulation. This enables every member of the public in a democratic State to see both sides of the picture and thus to arrive at a balanced conclusion of his own regarding the merits of a controversial issue.
The Courts, however, in our country are manned by expert Judges trained in the art of arriving at truth from the legal and admissible material placed before them and brought on record during the trial. They know the worth and value of such writings in a Court of law and are hardly likely to be swayed or influenced by them. It is also to be remembered in this connection that the proceedings in a contempt matter are of a quasi-criminal nature, and if there is any doubt in the matter, the benefit of it should go to the opposite parties (Vide Sheoraj v. A. P. Batra : AIR1955All638 ).
It has also been held that where the intention and effect of a particular writing is not so much to interfere with the course of justice as to afford a reply to certain defamatory allegations made by the other party, the Court should stay its hand and not taken any action unless substantial interference with the course of justice is likely.
31. In Mohammad Yusuf v. Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan, AIR 1939 Avadh 225 (K), while the proceedings under Sections 420 and 406 I. P. C. were going on, the accused made a statement defamatory to the complainant and irrelevant to the matter in issue. Before the termination of the case, the complainant C filed an action under Section 500 I. P. C. Thereupon an application for contempt having been filed against C, the said complainant, the Court held that the action by C, the alleged contemner having been taken in good faith and with the intention and for the purpose of protecting his good name, even a technical offence of contempt of Court could not be said to have been committed.
It is argued that in the present case also, so far as the Collector is concerned a cloud was sought to be cast on his honour and integrity. The editorial was written to clear his position against these defamatory allegations and to wash the stain which was sought to be cast on his reputation. In fact, the present case is stronger because the writer had no knowledge of any proceedings of any sort whether pending or imminent and acted in a bona fide manner in the usual course of his duties as a journalist, and ostensibly in the advance of what the writer believed to be necessary for public good.
32. In Emperor v. V. B. Kolte, AIR 1941 Nag 241 (L) a person X who was a non-party to certain criminal proceedings sent a notice to the accused demanding damages and apology ior the latter having made reference about him in his written statement. The Court having held that the conduct of X, the alleged contemner being bona fide and the step taken by him being for the purpose of clearing . his position, the act in question could not be said to amount to contempt of Court. The Avadh case mentioned above was followed and it was further observed that :--
'Interference with the administration of justice is one of the well recognised heads of contempt. What has to be seen is whether the person Bought to be proceeded for contempt did interfere or did intend to interfere with the administration of justice. Court, no doubt, have to be jealous to guard against any interference with their functions, but, on the other hand, they should not be too sensitive where no harm has been caused or was intended to be caused.' (head-note 1).
33. In Radhey Lal v. Niranjan Nath : AIR1941All95 A in his petition for the adjudication of B as insolvent made statements defamatory of B, and B alleging himself to be a well-to-do and respectable person instituted complaint under Section 500, I. P. C., against A in order to vindicate his character and integrity. It was held that B was not guilty of contempt of Court inasmuch as nothing was done by him from which it could be gathered that he intended to interfere with the administration of justice. It was further held that the essence of an offence of contempt of Court lies in the fact that the person complained of has done something which might have the effect of prejudicing the fair trial of a pending case.
34. In Halsbury's Laws of England, Edn. 3, Vol. 8 it is stated at page 11 that :--
'The Court will refuse an application merely designed to stifle comment. Conversely, where a plaintiff in a libel action, in defending himself publicly against serious charges made against himin a newspaper edited by the defendant, and without intending to prejudice the pending action, incidentally referred to the subject-matter of the action, it was held that a writ should not issue.'In the present case also it appears that the purpose of the offending article was either to defend a particular system of Government which had been assailed or to defend a particular official whose honour and integrity was sought to be stained. There was absolutely no mention of any proceedings pending or imminent nor were they in the contemplation of the party concerned. The petitioner himself has not stated that any actual prejudice was caused or was likely to be caused to his case nor has he supplied us with any material to enable us to ascertain the exact prejudice which could be caused.
35. In Rizwan-ul-Hasan v. State of U. P. : 1953CriLJ911 while approving of Ananta Lal Singh v. Alfred Henry Watson : AIR1931Cal257 , their Lordships of the Supreme Court made the following significant observations which are relevant to the point at issue at this stage :
'As observed by Rankin C. J., in : AIR1931Cal257 , the jurisdiction in contempt is not to be invoked unless there is real prejudice which can be regarded as a substantial interference with the due course of justice and that the purpose of the Court's action is a practical purpose and it is reasonably clear on the authorities that the Court will not exercise its jurisdiction upon a mere question of propriety.' (p. 187)
Having considered the matter from this aspect, we are of opinion that on this point also the contention of the learned counsel for the opposite parties should prevail.
36. Lastly, it was further submitted by the learned counsel for the opposite parties that the application in the present case is a highly belated one, and the circumstances of the. case indicate that it is not a bona. fide application at all. There is no doubt that the circumstances emerging from the facts do lend some support to this contention. The incident which is said to have given birth to proceedings which are alleged to be imminent or pending admittedly took place on 29-3-1955.
The article in question was published on 1-5-1955, when the two cases were said to be pending in Courts. If the petitioner had any real apprehension that any prejudice was lively to be caused in any of the cases whether pending or imminent, one would expect him to rush to the Court, forthwith for remedial action. The petitioner slept over the entire matter for a long period of several months and did not file an application for contempt in the High Court until 24-8-1955.
Even in spite of the fact that the application was filed after so much delay, it was conspicuous by the absence of all information that would have been relevant to the purpose. As already stated it did not mention even the respective versions of parties in the alleged cases nor did it give any idea of the stage which the said cases had reached.
Even after the application was filed, no attempt was made to summon the files of any of those cases and it was explicitly stated before us prior to the arguments that it was not necessary to summon them. Curiously enough there is not an iota of suggestion anywhere in the application as to what has happened to those three cases which are said to have given the applicant such a serious cause for alarm. We repeatedly questioned the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner in our Court to throw some light on the matter.
All that he could say in reply was that his client had not come to him and so he was unable to say as to what had happened to those cases. Foraught we know, the cases might have been decided by the time the application was given. Ift is also quite possible that an apology might have been offered and the cases might have been withdrawn. This might explain the reasons why the petitioner has not cared to pursue the matter diligently, and has withheld all relevant information with respect to the nature and future progress of those cases from us.
Whatever might have been the cause of it the matter does not appear to have been pursued with diligence or seriousness expected of a party really feeling aggrieved or apprehensive of injury. The proceedings for contempt are initiated in Court for the purpose of protecting either the Court itself or the party concerned in judicial proceedings. To use it for any other purpose would, in our opinion, constitute an abuse of the process of the Court.
Before a party can seek protection from the Court, it should show that it really needs such protection. The Court will be loath to help a party that has not cared to help itself or to help the Court. The machinery of the Court cannot be set into motion for the purpose of taking proceedings of contempt with a view to satisfy one's feelings of private grudge and malice.
The petitioner himself is a pleader. He was expected to know the implications of law involved in an application like this, and we are surprised at the paucity of material provided in the case. In view of the above circumstances we feel ourselves very handicapped in making up pur mind in favour of the petitioner even if we wanted to do it.
37. Learned counsel for the opposite parties further argued that, at any rate, it did not lie in the mouth of the petitioner to make a serious grievance of prejudice in this case. In this connection, the learned counsel for the opposite parties invited our attention to the remarks made by the petitioner himself in his letter of 2-5-1955, which was published in the 'Bedar' of 16-6-1955 (vide Annexure 'B') and in which' he stated that in view of the law of contempt and further in view of the fact that the cases were pending he did not wish to say anything about the merits of the cases, yet it was enough on his part to say that the allegation that he raised his shoe towards the Collector was a false one and was a part of baseless propaganda carried on against him. Here, it is pointed out, the petitioner has said most strongly and clearly in the next sentence the very thing which, according to his own opinion in the previous sentence he should never have said. This shows that the petitioner is not at all serious about the law of contempt. In writing like this, it is argued that the petitioner himself has committed the very mischief of which he complains in this case, and, according to his own showing, he is clearly guilty of contempt in respect of the very matter which is the foundation of his own application.
It is argued that the contempt committed by him is a graver one because he has made direct and express reference to the pending cases and to law of contempt. In fact, it is argued that the contempt thus committed by the petitioner is of a far more outrageous type because it is commited not only with full knowledge of pending cases but it is committed by a person who knew well the gravity of the law of contempt in that regard and realised fully the serious implications of his own writing.
No doubt contempt by one party cannot justify contempt by another as both parties might be guilty, but the matter is referred to by the counsel for the opposite parties only for the purpose of determining the bona fides of the present application; and to indicate that the party seeking reliefin the present case has not come to Court with clean hands.
The conduct of a party may be relevant for the purpose of determining whether the purpose of an application for contempt is a genuine one and the application itself is given to vindicate the cause of jeopardised justice, or whether it is given for an ulterior purpose and purports to ventilate a. fancied grievance sought to be paraded merely for the purpose of securing the punishment of the other party.
38. The conduct of the petitioner in an actionfor contempt of Court has been the subject-matterof comment in a classical judgment delivered in theleading case of (1889) 60 LT 749 (E) and the observations made therein are relevant at this stage.Referring to the application made in that case,Chitty J. Observed as follows :
'I think it was made because the defendant was angry, and I think it is a case which falls within that principle (which with great deference, I think ought to be very sparingly applied), enunciated by Cotton L.J. in a somewhat recent case--I mean that the Court ought, when it sees that the case is one in which the party is not bona fide try ing to assert the law of contempt, but is merely seeing if he cannot make the respondent pay some costs, it ought not to encourage him to come to the Court.' (p. 752)
39. The above remarks were made by the Cpurt in view of the delay of nine days in the filing of the application. The delay in the present case is a much longer one and extends to a period of over three months and a half. No reason is assigned for it nor on the face of it does there appear to be any justification for such an inordinate delay. It is to be noted that the power of the Court to punish for contempt is being invoked in the present case not for the protection of the dignity or honour of the Court or of any of its officers nor have any of them been maligned.
The power in the present case is being invoked on the score of a likely prejudice to a private party in the prosecution of his case. To deserve such protection the party should make out a genuine case showing that it has taken the said proceedings wholly in the interests of justice and not for any oblique purpose. The Court acts in a contempt case only to preserve the flow of the stream of justice in its unsullied form and in its unstained purity. It is to subserve this lofty end alone that the Court should be induced to move in the matter.
In the present case it is argued that the aforesaid requirements are lacking & the party concerned has forfeited all claims to its protection. In our opinion the case does present certain features which are not the indicia of a genuine application. The grant of relief in a case of contempt is purely discretionary, and bearing in mind the aforementioned circumstances, we are of opinion that this would not be a fit case in which such discretion should be exercised in favour of the petitioner. Thus, the last point argued by the learned counsel for the opposite parties has also force and we would be disinclined to take any action on this ground as well.
40. We accordingly dismiss this application and direct that the petitioner shall pay Rs. 100/-as costs to the opposite parties.