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Surat Singh Vs. Des Raj Chowdhry - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectContempt of Court
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCri. Original No. 42 of 1967
Reported in4(1968)DLT1
ActsConstitution of India - Article 19(1)
AppellantSurat Singh
RespondentDes Raj Chowdhry
Appellant Advocate C.B. Aggarwal and; Uma Mehta, Advs
Respondent Advocate R.L. Aggarwal and ; Arun Kumar, Advs.
DispositionPetition dismissed
Cases ReferredState v. Tribhuvan Nath Verma
.....the court, to satisfy himself of the guilt of the alleged contemner and the petition initiating contempt proceedings should, as a general rule, contain the material from which a safe and reasonable inference irresistably flows that the alleged contemner is prima facie guilty of the offence charged. contempt of court is an offence against the fair rand impartial administration of justice and the court's summary jurisdiction to punish the alleged contemner for such a serious offence, should nto be invoked too lightly, and certainly nto when the material does nto seem at least prima facie to bring home to the alleged contemner all essential ingredients of the offence. an application of this nature should be moved with the greatest promptitude. - - they could nto do anything and are now..........out that shri surat singh, the present petitioner in this court, is respondent no. 4 in those writ proceedings, the toher three parties being shri kedar nath sahni, member, delhi municipal corporation, delhi, (the third candidate for election), the municipal commissioner, delhi municipal corporation, delhi, and the mayor of delhi.3. the english translation of the portion of the article on which reliance is placed in support of the application for action for contempt of court, has already been reproduced in paragraph 3 of the application. it, is argued by dr. c.b. aggarwal, the learned advocate for surat singhthat this part of the article tends to interfere with the due course of justice in so far as the hearing of the writ petition is concerned as it is calculated to prejudice the.....

I.D. Dua, C.J.

1. Shri Surat Singh has presented this petition against Shri Des Raj Chowdhry, Leader, Congress Party Delhi Municipal Corporation and Shri Ranbir Singh, Chief Editor,' Milap Daily', under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1950. This petition deserves to be reproduced in extenso :--

'1. That Shri Kishori Lal, a Member of the Congress Party, in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, filed writ Petition No. 448 of 1967 in this Hon'ble court on 1st May, 1967 which is still pending.

2. That the ntoices of the said Writ Petition have been issued to the respondents of whom the petitioner is one. Appearance has been filed on behalf of the respondents including the petitioner and they have prayed for time to file their reply to the Writ Petition.

3. That in order to prejudice the mind of the public and of the court against the respondents including the petitioner, the leader of the Congress party in Delhi Municipal Corporation gto an Article published in the issue of 24th July, 1987 in 'Daily Milap' which is issued from Delhi under the caption 'JAN SANGH KI DITHAl' 'ULTA CHORKOIWALKO DANTE' (the if reprimanding the prtoector of law). The English translation of the relevant passage of the Article is :--

'Later, the nomination papers of the Membership of the Delhi Development Authority were filed. Objection against the Nomination paper filed by a Congress Candidate was *Managed*. Later the Mayor instead of giving his decision on the objection in his Chamber converted the open meeting of the Corporation into a *Court*. The Mayor permitted an independent member to hurl abuses at the Congress. When the Congress wanted to say something in his defense, the Mayor feigned nto hearing him and announced his decision. The Congress members always co-operated and while hearing, the abuses of Jan Sangh Members, clacked their members. The fact is that the Jan Sangh Mayor and the Jan Sangh Chairman Standing Committee are buth inexperienced. They do nto know how to run a meeting. They could nto do anything and are now blaming the Congress, party in the same way as their colleagues in the Metropolitan Council explain their failure by unjustifiably shifting the blame on the Central Government. The Jan Sangh party is adopting the same attitude in the Corporation. The original Urdu Article is annexed herewith as appendix 'A', 4. That the statement in the aforesaid article to the effect that on the occassion of election of two members to the Delhi Development Authority in which one member of the Congress party had filed his Nomination papers and frivolous objection was managed to be made and the Mayor deliberately allowed an Independent member of the Corporation to shower abuses on the Congress member and when the Congress member wanted to say something in their defense, the Mayor feigned as if he did nto hear the Congress members and gave his decision against him. In this way the respondent intentionally brought the Mayor and the Jan Sangh party into Public Contempt by ascribing to them unfair and highhanded behavior and partisanship in the decision of the objection in the nomination of Congress men. The Article in question is an abuse to the Mayor and toher members and prejudice mankind against them and the lawful process of the court and is contempt of this Hon'ble Court, The respondents are, thereforee, guilty of contempt of the Court and are liable to be punished under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1950 and under the inherent jurisdiction of this Hon'ble Court.'

2. In the writ petition (C. W. 448 of 1967) on the basis of the pendency of which these contempt proceedings have been initiated, Shri Kishori Lal, Member, Delhi Municipal Corporation, had challenged the order of the Mayor of Delhi said to have been announced on 28th April, 1967 rejecting the said Kishori Lal's nomination. In the writ petition, the challenge to the impugned order relevant for our purposes, is contained in paragraph 10 (b) and reads as under :--

'Without prejudice to the submission in col (a) the decision of the Mayor rejecting the nomination paper of your petitioner offends against the principles of natural justice and is vitiated. Your petitioner understands that some sort of reports were received by the Mayor from some persons at the back and without knowledge of the petitioner on the basis of which he arrived at the decision. The contents of the report, were nto given to the petitioner.'

The toher objections do nto concern us, though it has been submitted by Shri Aggarwal on behalf of the petitioner that in the writ petition, he had questioned the impartiality and bona fides of the Mayor. In paragraph 5 of the writ petition, it was averred that on 24th April, 1967 when Kishori Lal saw the Mayor in his chamber, the latter tried to dissuade the petitioner from standing for the nomination as a member of the D.D.A. and asked him to withdraw his nomination, at the same time pointing out that he (the Mayor) had made enquiries and had received information that Kishori Lal was a share-holder/Director of M/s Capital Land Builders(P) Ltd, Delhi, or he was toherwise employed in the said company and that he was using car No. DLI 888 which belonged to the company. This information, according to the writ petitioner, was wrong. It may be pointed out that Shri Surat Singh, the present petitioner in this Court, is respondent No. 4 in those writ proceedings, the toher three parties being Shri Kedar Nath Sahni, Member, Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi, (the third candidate for election), the Municipal Commissioner, Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi, and the Mayor of Delhi.

3. The English translation of the portion of the article on which reliance is placed in support of the application for action for contempt of Court, has already been reproduced in paragraph 3 of the application. It, is argued by Dr. C.B. Aggarwal, the learned Advocate for Surat Singhthat this part of the article tends to interfere with the due course of justice in so far as the hearing of the writ petition is concerned as it is calculated to prejudice the mankind against his client. As desired by us. the entire article in Urdu published in the 'Daily Milap' dated 24th July, 1967 was read out in original in Court, so that the overall, tendency and purport of the article read as a whole be properly understood, but the only option on which the charge of contempt is sought to be substantiated by Shri Aggarwal is what has been incorporated in paragraph of the petition reproduced above. The remaining part of the article, which is fairly lengthy, relates to the acute political rivalry between the Jan Sangh party arid the Congress party and is concededly concerned with the criticism of the Jan Sangh in regard to its political activities. To the remaining part of the article, no reference at all has been made and the petitioner's counsel has confined himself exclusively to the passage reproduced in his petition.

4. In the reply affidavits, Shri Ranbir Singh, Chief Editor of 'Daily Milap', New Delhi, the alleged contemner respondent No. 2 has affirmed that he had no knowledge nor had he any reason to know or even suspect, that the writ petition No. 448 of 1967 was pending in this Court. He has also denied that he ever desired, intended or contemplated contempt of this Court by the publication of the alleged material in the 'Daily Milap' of 24th July, 1967. It is added that the alleged article could nto, read either as a whole or in parts, cause any prejudice to the proceedings in this Court or in any toher Court. He has also sworn that he is a responsible and respectable citizen of India, working as an Editor of a national daily for the last nearly 33 years and has never been accused of any contempt of Court. It is added, to qutoe his own words, that he is the President of the All-India News Papers Editors Conference and is fully conscious of the fact that law and order is necessary for the democracy to live and prosper and that respect for law is essential for the purpose of maintaining order in society. The affidavit concludes with the averment that, if in spite of the submissions of the deponent, the Court finds him responsible for contempt of Court, he would then tender an unqualified apology.

5. Shri Des Raj Chaudhry, respondent No. 1, has admitted in his affidavit that as leader of the Congress party of the Delhi Municipal Corporation, he had issued a statement and sent it to respondent No. 2, but the article published in the issue of 'Daily Milap' of 24th July, 1967 was never intended, to prejudice the mind of the public and of the Court against the respondents in the writ proceedings, including the present petitioner. That aiticle, so affirms Shri D. R. Chaudhry, had ntohing whatsoever to do with the proceedings in this Court and was merely a narration of events which took place at the meeting of the Municipal Corporation held on 28th April, 1967. It has also been denied that the impugned passage from the publication in question was intended to or brought the Mayor or the Jan Singh party into public contempt as alleged. The Article merely stated that the rejection of nomination-paper of Kishori Lal, without hearing the point of view of the Congress party, was wrong and it was intended to criticise the Mayor and the Jan Sangh party for this undemocratic action on their part. The passage qutoed by the petitioner is also stated in the affidavit to form a very insignificant and small part of a lengthy statement and does nto amount to expression of any opinion on the controversial point in issue in the writ proceedings, it is denied that the article is an abuse of the Mayor and tohermembers or it prejudices the mankind against them. The article was never intended, nor did it in fact prejudice mankind against the said persons, nor did it abuse the lawful process of the Court. In the writ petition, only the legality of the 'ejection of nomination papers by the Mayor is in question and the impugned article, so explains this respondent does nto amount to an abuse of the process of the Court. The present application, it is emphasised, is the outcome of the ideological differences between the Congress and the Jan Sangh, the two political parties, and by means of this petition, Shri Surat Singh merely wishes to take a chance of taking revenge on Shri Des Raj Chaudhry, the leader of the Congress party in the Delhi Municipal Corporation. This respondent has also added that if this Court holds that he is guilty of contempt, he would be prepared to tender an unqualified apology. The affidavit concludes with the plea that every citizen has a fundamental right of freedom of speech and this right is most essential for the proper functioning of democratic set-up in this country.

6. Before dealing with the case on the merits, we consider it proper once again to repeat what is axiomatic and is, without doubt, well-known. An apology by a contemner, in order to be a mitigating factor, must, among toher things, be outpouring of a penitent heart moved by a genuine feeling of remorse and it must never be an apology or a convenient device to escape punishment. There cannto be buth justification and apology, for they are incompatible. An apology is nto a weapon to purge the guilt, it is merely meant to serve as an evidence of real contrition. Those who drafted affidavits on behalf of buth the contemners before us seems to be labouring under a wholly erroneous and unfounded impression that the stage of apology comes only after the Court holds them guilty of contempt. This is a complete misconception of the real legal position and has been repeatedly pointed out in a long series of cases, the latest one being a Bench decision of this Court in R. K. Gupta v. Delhi Administration, Cri O No. 36 of 1967 decided on 13-9-67..

7. Dealing first with the case of respondent No. 2, Shri Ranbir Singh, it is obvious that there is ntohing on the record to suggest that he had any knowledge of the pendency of the writ petition in question in this Court. Indeed, it is conceded by Shri C. B. Aggarwal that there is no material on the record imputing to him such knowledge express or implied, but the counsel argues that the alleged contemner's want of knowledge is wholly immaterial and if the article has a tendency to prejudice the mankind against Surat Singh or is calculated to interfere with the due course of justice in the hearing or the decision of the writ petition pending in this Court, then he must be held guilty of contempt of Court and punished thereforee. In support of this submission, he has referred us to paragraphs 8 and 11 of Halsbury's Laws of England (Third Edition) Vol. 8, Part I at pp. 6, 7 and 8. The toher decision to which he has drawn our attention in this respect are Saibal Kumar Gupta v. B. K. Sen : 1961CriLJ749 , in which the following observations occur :--

'It was nto asserted in the affidavit of B. K. Sen that the Special Committee had knowledge that one of the questions to be decided in proceedings before the High Court whether B. K. Sen had suborned the prosecution witnesses in the case under Section 497 against him. There is no finding of the High Court in this respect either. If theconduct of a particular party amounts to contempt of Court usually lack of knowledge of pending proceedings, may nto be available to him by way of defense.'

Herring v. British and Foreign Marine Insurance Company (Limited) In Re Thomas Hope Robinson (1891-95) 11 T. L R. 345., and In re Subrahmanyan A. I. R. 1943 Lab. 329..

8. The report of the English decision does nto disclose the reasoning or even its ratio on the point of knowledge. The decision of the Lahore High Court, however does nto support the petitioner's submission. Harries C J. with whom Taja Singh J. fully agreed, has observed thus at p. 335 :--

'Further it now seems clear that the offence of contempt may be committed even if there is no proceeding or cause actually pending provided that such a proceeding or cause is imminent and that the writer of the offending publication either knew it to be imminent or should have known that it was imminent.'

A little lower, the learned Chief Justice continues :--

'This question was considered by a Full Bench of the Madras High Court in I. L. R. (1939) Mad 463, in which it was held that a comment on proceedings which were imminent but nto yet launched in Court with knowledge of the fact was as much a contempt as comment on a case actually launched. I respectfully agree with the opinion expressed in the Madras Full Bench case that proceedings need nto actually be pending and that it is sufficient that proceedings are imminent to the knowledge of the person charged with contempt.'

Munir, J. to whose judgment Dr. Aggarwal has specifically referred, did nto hold to the contrary. As against this, the respondents' learned counsel have drawn our attention to E. V. Ramaswami v. Jawaharlal Nehru A. I. R. 1958 Mad. 558., and L. R. Fray v. R. Parshad A. I. R. 195 Punj. 377P.L.R. 265., for the submission that knowledge of the pendency of the proceedings is an essential pre-requisite for holding a person guilty of contempt by publishing offending article. No man, it is argued, can be presumed to be aware of proceedings in Court to which he is nto a party.

9. The power of this Court to punish for contempt is inherent in its character as a Court of record and this is recognised in Article 215 of the Constitution. In view of the nature of the alleged contempt of Court in the instant case, which is concerned with the publication of the article in question in a newspaper of which the alleged contemner No. 2 claims to be the Chief Editor. We may as well appropriately turn our attention to Article 19(1)(a) and 19(2) of the Constitution, which guarantees to all citizens the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression subject to reasonable restrictions, inter alia, in relation to contempt of Court. It is ntoeworthy that neither the Constitution nor any toher law is shown to contemplate any exemption or a saving provision in favor of the press or the profession of journalism as such, with the result that freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a), is available to all citizens to an equal degree without conferring any greater privilege on the press or the journalists. This does nto by any means minimise the high esteem in which free civilised democratic society like ours holds independent and public-spirited journalists, who express their views fearlessly, but rationally in sober and restrainedlanguage. Freedom of press under our Constitution is no hither than freedom of an ordinary citizen.

10. Now, contempt of Court, has nto been defined either in the Constitution or in any toher statute. Its concept is, however, by now quite well-settled. Contempt by speech or writing we may point out for the purposes of the present case, may be by scandalising the court itself or by abusing parties to actions, or by prejudicing mankind in favor of or against a party before the cause is heard because in the last-mentioned instance, injurious misrepresentation concerning litigating parties may induce them to discontinue the action or to compromise or may deter toher persons, with good causes of action, from approaching the Court. And then, it may also tend to influence in a subtle or sub conscious manner the judicial thinking on the part of the Court. There cannto by anything of greater consequence to a free society like ours, in the very political conception of which Justice has been given the highest and the most honoured place, than to keep the stream of Justice clear and pure with its flow unobstructed, so that parties may proceed with safety, buth to themselves and to their character, and also to ensure that the Courts function in the open in public gaze without any collateral or extra-judicial bias or influence interfering or tending to interfere with their impartial and objective judicial thinking. Unadulterated justice, according to law, is thereforee, designed to have predominance over freedom of speech. To pollute the purity of the fountain of justice by the exercise of the constitutional freedom of speech and expression will, in our view, be a clear abuse and misuse of such freedom. At the same time, reasonable restrictions imposed on this freedom by law relating to contempt must nto be allowed to completely eclipse such freedom, for to do so would deprive our free democratic society of its most useful, effective and ptoent instrument intended to educate and inform the people as also to caution, guide and check those in political power. Free and fearless press appears to us to be essential to the integrated liberty of the citizens in their varied activities and for their mental development and material progress, but it must keep itself within the bounds of law. Keeping buth these aspects in view, and striking a judicious and harmonious balance between them, acceding to each its due importance in our constitutional set-tip we are inclined to hold that for a publication in a newspaper, to amount to contempt, by reason of its tendency or its being calculated to interfere with the course of justice by prejudicing mankind against a party to a proceeding in Court or by pre-judging the issue in such a proceeding, the alleged contemner must be shown to be aware of its pendency or of its being imminent. It seems to us to be a very serious thing to say that a man exposes himself to the severity of the doctrine of contempt where he publishes a thing in ignorance and the Court accepts his proposition that he is actually ignorant. To extend the scope of contempt of Court to those who are unaware of the pendency or of the imminence of the legal proceedings, would amount to an unreasonable restriction of the guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. This may also smack of arbitrariness and thereby violate the recognised rule of natural justice. There may undoubtedly be cases in which the alleged contemner may, by reasonable diligence, have known of the pendency or imminence of the legal proceedings and in such cases, given facts and circumstances may induce the Court to hold the alleged, contemner to be constructively fixed with the requisite knowledge, but that is nto the case here. We are, thereforee, clearly of the view that Shri Ranbir Singhhas nto been shown to be guilty of any contempt of Court and we discharge the rule against him.

11. This brings us to the case of Shri Des Raj Chaudhry, the alleged contemner No. 1. It is true that even against him, the petitioner has nto averred in the application that he was aware of the pendency of the writ petition. Dr. Aggarwal has, however submitted that admittedly, Shri D.R. Chaudhry is the leader of the Congress party in Delhi Municipal Corporation and the writ petition highlights the acute conflict between the Jan Sangh and the Congress, the two main rival political parties fighting for control of the Delhi Municipal Corporation. The writ petition, it is pointed out, was admitted in this Court on 1st May, 1967 and soon thereafter all the four respondents to the said petition were served. In these circumstances; it is contended that it is highly unlikely, if nto impossible, that Sh. Des Raj Choudhry was unaware of the pendency of the writ proceedings and of the controversy raised therein. In our opinion, when this Court is asked by a private party to proceed against someone for contempt of Court, the former is ordinarily expected, before approaching this Court, to satisfy himself about the guilt of the alleged contemner and the petition initiating contempt proceedings should, as a general rule, contain the material from which a safe and reasonable inference irresistibly flows that the alleged contemner is prima facie guilty of the offence charged. Contempt of Court is an offence against the fair and impartial administration of justice and this Court' summary jurisdiction to punish an alleged contemner for such a serious offence, should nto be invoked too lightly, and certainly nto when the material does nto seem at least prima facie to bring home to the alleged contemner all essential ingredients of the offence. In our opinion, Shri Des Raj Choudhry is also nto shown on the material on the record to be aware of the pendency of the writ petition and of the precise controversy arising thereof with the result that this requirement is wanting in his case as well. The interests of justice, thereforee, do nto require any action for contempt by this Court against him either.

12. But even assuming, as suggested by Shri Aggarwal that Shri Des Raj Chaudhry can reasonably be presumed to be aware of the pendency of the writ petition and of the controversy raised therein, we are far from satisfied that the article in question tends or is calculated to prejudice the mankind against Surat Singh in respect of the proceedings initiated by the said writ petition. There is no reference in the impugned article to the proceedings of the said writ petition or to its contents, and reading the impugned article, whether in isolation or in conjunction the rest of it, we are unable to discren in it any reason tendency to extra judicially interfere with or influence the due course of Justice or to prejudice the fair trial of the writ petition.

13. There is one factor to which we may also appropriately advert at this stage. The article was published on 24th July, 1964. The present application was evidently drafted on 16th August, 1967 and even Surat Singh's supporting affidavit was attested on 18th August, 1967. The application was, however, presented in this Court on 18th September, 1967, full one month thereafter. In our view, an application of this nature should be moved with the greatest promptitude and the delay of one month, on the facts and circumstances of this case, seems to suggest that the petitioner was nto bona fide trying to assert the law of contempt, but was presumably inspired by the desire to utilise these summary proceedings to serve some collateral purpose toher than the causeof justice. Summary powers of punishing for contempt, drastic, as they are in their consequence, have to be used sparingly and only in serious cases where contempt is clearly established and the cause of justice demands action. The usefulness of this power indisputably depends on the wisdom and restraint with which it is exercised and this Court would be disinclined to allow it to be used for any purpose toher than that of maintaining the impartiality and objectivity of justice according to law. As observed in State v. Tribhuvan Nath Verma : AIR1959Pat262 the Court has to be very astute and has to take scrupulous care that this power is nto misused. Incidentally, this decision was cited by the petitioner's counsel and reliance was placed on paragraph 21 of the judgment at p. 266, but that passage does nto seem to us to help the petitioner. The rule against Shri Des Raj Chaudhry is thus also discharged.

14. In the final result, this petition fails and is dismissed with costs of buth the respondents which we fix at Rs. 150/- each.

H.R. Khanna, J.

15. I agree.

S.K. Kapur, J.

16. I agree.

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