1. Five persona, Tehl Chand Ran-dhawa, Bharat Bhushan, (Miss) Amla Boy, (Miss) Janak and Durlab Singh were detained in Delhi Jail under the Punjab Public Safety Act. They put in applications for writs of habeas corpus addressed to this Court and delivered them to the Jailor, Delhi. The jailor on his pact forwarded these applications to the office of the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, asking the Chief Commissioner to forward them to ths High Court. The applications of Tehl Chand Randhawa and Durlab Singh were received in the office of the Chief Commissioner on 8th March 1949 and the applications of Bharat Bhuahan, Amla Boy and Janak were received in his office on 9th March. Tehl Chand Bandhawa was released on 29th March 1919, Bhwat Bhushan, Amla Boy and Janak were released on 7th May and Durlab Singh was release on 17th June 1919. Their applications for writs of habeas corpus were not immediately sent to this Court. They did not reach here till 1st September 1949, They were pub up before me on 19th September 1949, When they were put up I directed the Registrar to take steps for proceedings for contempt of Court. Thereupon five applications were put in by the Registrar against Mr. N, M. Patnaik, then Home Secretary to the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, now Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Government of India, New Delhi: Mr. P. H. B. Wilkins, Registrar to the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, and Mr. Y. N. Verma, Home Secretary to the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, Notices were issued to the respondents to show cause why they should not be dealt with for contempt of Court.
2. These five applications of the Registrar came up for hearing before us this morning. All the three respondents were present and they put in written replies as well as three affidavits. Mr. Patnaik stated that on 8th March his father-in-law died in Orissa and he applied for leave with effect from lath March and that he left his office as Home Secretary on 11th March. On 11th March, a note was put up before him in connection with the habeas corpus petitions of Durlab Singh and Tehl Chand Bandhawa by the Superintendent of the Revenue and Judicial branch of his office with a suggestion that a report from the District Magistrate be called. Mr. Patnaik states that he was going on leave and there was rush of work and he was worried over the death of his father in-law and that in these circumstances it did not strike him that he should forward the petitions to the High Court without getting a report from the District Magistrate and that he was under the belief that a report of the Government should be sent with the applications to the High Court. Mr. Patnaik went on leave from llth March and did not return till 29th March. Reports on the petitions of Bnarat Bhushan, Amla Roy and Janak were similarly oalled from the District Magistrate, Delhi. Mr. Patnaik states that he was in the office as Home Secretary of the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, till 13th May. He states that during this interval no papers in regard to the habeas corpus petitions were put up before him by the office and that it did not strike him that he should call for a report and send the appli-cations to this Court. He also states that on 30th April 1949 the office file was put up before him and he issued orders for the preparation of a draft for Bending a reminder to the District Magistrate to expedite the despatch of his reports. This draft was signed by him on 4th May 1949. It is quite clear from this that Mr. Patnaik was grossly negligent in his duty. It was his business to direct the office, not for the office to put up things before him. Applications for habeas corpus are urgent applications and should be sent to this Court without delay. There was no reason why a report from the District Magistrate should have been awaited before the applications could have been sent to this Court. If necessary, copies could have been taken of these applications and those copies could have been sent to the District Magistrate for his report. The fact that the District Magistrate was delay, ing the matter was a thing which should not have been condoned by the Homa Secretary, but it rather aggravated the neglect which Mr. Patnaik had shown. It is quite easy for executive authorities to delay matters by not sending their reports and the fact that the report was not being sant by the District Magistrate should have been no reason for not despatching these applications to the High Court. These applications, as has been stated above, never reached the High Court till 1st September 1949. There is not the slightest doubt that Mr. Patnaik was guilty of contempt of Court. He, however, states in his affidavit that the detenus are not known to him and that he did not owe any grudge to any one of them, nor do they owe any grudge to him and has expressed his regret for the delay caused by the mistake in sending the applications to the District Magistrate for a report and for not sonding these applications direct to this Court He states in his affidavit that he meant no contempt of the authority of this Court and that it was not his intention to unduly withhold the applications from this Court or to interfere with the course of justice. I accept the apology. In my opinion, it is not necessary to take any further action in this matter beyond finding him guilty.
3. Mr. Wilkins was the Registrar of the Chief Commissioner, Delhi. He states in his affidavit that he assumed charge of the office of the Home Secretary to the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, on 13th May, that the applications for writs of habeas corpus from all the five persons were filed by him in his office in lieu of the Deputy Commissioner's report that in the cases of four persons they had been released and their petitions had thereby become infruofcuoua. In the case of Durlab Singh be filed the papers as he would have been released by the time his application reached this Court. It will be noticed that Durlab Singh was not released till 17th June 1949. He states in his affidavit that he was Binoe-rely and honestly under the impression that as some of the detenus had been released and the other would have been released by the time the applications reached this Court there was no necessity to forward the applications to this Court. He further statea that he later learnt that it was a mistake on his part and he himself had the petitions searched out and reported his mistake to the Chief Commissioner and in order to regularize the petitions put up a draft letter for forwarding the petitions to this Court, and that he handed over the charge of the office of the Home Secretary on llth August. He submits an unconditional apology for his mistake and aaya that this mistake was due not to any mala fides but because of his ignorance of not knowing the correct procedure and requirements of law. He also states that in the last few days of May 1919 and the first week of June 1949 when the report from the office of the District Magistrate was received in his office, they were issuing orders for the release of about 900 detenus.
4. Ignorance of law ia absolutely no ground and there is no doubt that Mr. Wilkins was guilty of contempt of Court though not to the same extent as Mr. Patnaik. However, in the circumstances narrated by Mr. WUkins, I accept his apology and though I find him guilty of contempt of Court I think it is not necessary to take any further action against him.
5. Mr. Varma is the present Home Secretary to the Chief Commissioner. He says in his affidavit that he took charge of the post of Home Secretary on llth August 1919, and that the applications for writs of habeas corpus from the five detenus were brought to his notice on 26th August 1949 and on that day he signed a letter forwarding them on the same day. They were forwarded by his office on 29th August 1949. It appears that so far as Mr. Varma ia concerned he has not been guilty of any contempt of Court. Whatever may have bean the position with regard to Mr. Patnaik and Mr. Wilkina, there does not appear to have been any fault committed by him. I, therefore, find that he is not guilty of any contempt of Court.
6. The procedure which was adopted in the office of the Chief Commissioner did no credit to that office at all. The officers of the department there did not realise the position of responsibility and trust that they occupied. It is essential that all applications which are addressed to this Court should be forwarded to this Court immediately. It was not for the office of the Chief Commissioner or the officers therein to decide what procedure should be adopted with regard to these applications or whether these applications had or had not become anfractuous. Their duty was to forward these applications immediately. In not doing so, they have not enhanced the reputation of the office of the Chief Commissioner, nor have they realised their, responsibility in the matter. We fiats that in future no officer of the Government would detain any application which is addressed to this Court foe any reason whatever. It ia for this Court to decide what is to be done with regard to any application addressed to this Court or whether there ia any substance in any such application. It is not for the officers of Government to ait in judgment on the petitions which are addressed to this Court and are not addressed to them. It is this Court alone which can decide whether an application has become anfractuous or not and what orders should be passed on any particular application. I would like to associate myself with the remark made by Sir Trevor Harries made when he was Chief Justice at Lahore in the case of Baldeo Mitter v. Emperor A.I.R. (31) 1941 Lah. 142 : 45 Cr.L.J. 711 (F.B.) when he said:
I wish to make it cleat that withholding any petition addressed to this Court no matter on what ground cannot be justified. The petition may appear to be frivolous or may appear to aSord no ground whatsoever for the release of the detained person, but it is this Court and this Court only which can decide such matters. Unreasonably withholding petitions addressed to this Court appears to me to be interfering with the due course of justice.
Sir Trevor Harries repeated his view in the cage of Homi Bustomji Pardivala v. Sub-Inspector Baig A. I. R. (31) 1944 Lah. 196. In this case Sic Abdul Rahman J. stated:
I have noticed of late an under-current amongst come of the Government officials all over India to pay scanty Courtfl3y and reapeot to the authority of the High Courts. Por some reason or other they have begun to consider it to be part of Government polioy to behave Id that fashion and have begun to regard High Courts as something foreign of opposed to the Government. This is a very undesirable attitude of mind and cannot be too strongly condemned.
It must not be overlooked that a strong and honest judiciary is as important a part of the Government maobinery as a strong and honest executive. And in order to run the Government successfully and well the judiciary should be allowed to exercise its legitimate funotions without any undue interferon by, or what may have that effect on the patt of the executive.
I associate myself with these remarks. I would also draw attention to the remarks of the Nagpur High Court made in the cage of Balkrishna, Narayan V. N.S. Jatar I. L. R. (1945) Nag. 74 : A.I.R. (32) 1916 Nag. 33. The learned Judges said as follows:
It is true the exigencies of war have armed the executive with immense powers and that Courts of justice, including the High Courts, have to some extent been neutralised and rendered ineffective, but it is not for the executive to judge how far their powers extend. That ia the sole and exclusive privilege of his Majesty's Judges and of His Majesty's Frivy Council, No official, however highly he may be placed, has the right to determine the extent of his own authority and powers, and any attempt by whomsoever made and however highly he may be placed, to withhold matter or delay applications addressed to this Court, however frivolous or worthless they may appear to be, constitutes a grosa contempt of Court, and if this happens again in this province, severe action will be taken against any person who attempts to abuse his potion of authority by withholding or delaying matter intended for this Court, and we repeat that this will be done whoever the official may be and however highly he may be placed. We also state that ignorance of the law will provide no particularly after this case. The Crown is not (low to ask for the application of this maxim with all its liquor in cases where the executive are proceeding against persona more humbly placed in life. A man who sells a pact of cards or a bag of wheat above the control rates in circumstances when he could not reason. ably have known of the order fixing the price ia prosecuted, and the Courts are asked to treat him with severity, They are asked to apply the maxim that ignorance of the law affords no exude and are told that it is the business of these humbly placed persons to know the law and Sad out what it Is, We say nothing about that but remark that the maxim applies equally in the case of Government officials who are mole happily placed and who have the advantage of free legal advice from the legal advisers to the Crown at their disposal if they trouble to ask for it. There U, therefore, no exouse on this point.
7. In the present case, learned Counsel for the Registrar asks for costs, but having regard to the nature of the apology offered and to the fact that the respondents had come up from Delhi to this iplace, I consider that it ia not necessary to order them to pay any costs. A copy of this order should be brought to the personal notice of the Chief Commissioner, Delhi, and sent to him by the Registrar by name.
8. I agree.