M. Karpagavinayagam, J.
1. D. Ravindran, who was elected as the Secretary of the Church Council to hold the said position for a period of three years, i.e., from May 2001 to May 2004, on being aggrieved when the interim order dated 27.4.2004 passed by this Court in favour of the said Secretary has been violated by the Bishop of Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church, filed the contempt petition against the said Bishop. This Court on considering the submissions made by the counsel for the petitioner as well as the contemner, found the contemner guilty of contempt and directed him to pay a fine of Rs. 2,000 which shall be paid to 'Abhaya Nilayam', Chennai. Challenging the same, this Contempt Appeal has been filed.
2. The short facts leading to the filing of the contempt appeal are as follows:
'(a) Rt. Rev. T. Aruldoss, Bishop of Tranquebar, issued a Circular on 21.1.2004 intimating to all the Church Council members that he assumes the functions and responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary, Church Council for the time being with effect from 21.1.2004, by exercising the powers vested on him by Rule No. 128(12) of the Church Rules, since Ravindran, the elected Secretary has been acting against the interests of the Church.
(b) The said D. Ravindran, challenging the Circular, filed writ petition in W.P. No. 1126 of 2004 seeking for a Writ of Certiorari as against the Circular. Pending the writ petition, he obtained the order of stay of the operation of the impugned Circular dated 21.1.2004 issued by the Bishop and all consequential actions taken by him based on the impugned Circular, in W.P.M.P. No. 1177 of 2004 on 21.1.2004 from this Court.
(c) The Bishop and other Church Council members rushed to this Court immediately and filed an application for vacating the said stay in W.V.M.P. No. 110 of 2004.
(d) When the matter for vacating the stay came up for hearing on 27.4.2004, since the petitions could not be argued in full so as to enable the Court for passing a final order due to lack of time, the learned single Judge thought it fit to make an interim arrangement and slightly modified the stay order by indicating that the Secretary can function as the Secretary till his period which expires on 29.5.2004, but no action can be taken by the said Secretary without the prior approval of the Bishop as well as the members of the Church Council.
(e) On 3.5.2004, Mr. D. Ravindran, who was permitted to act as the Secretary, wrote a letter to the Bishop to intimate to him a convenient date so that he would convene the Church Council meeting before 7.5.2004. The Bishop in his reply dated 10.5.2004 indicated that the order making interim arrangement passed by this Court on 27.4.2004 did not recognise his status as Secretary and therefore, his letter is inappropriate and does not require reply.
(f) Again on 14.5.2004, Ravindran, the applicant sent another letter referring to his earlier letter dated 3.5.2004 requesting to give a convenient date to conduct the Church Council meeting on or before 20.5.2004. But, without giving any reply to the applicant, the Bishop sent a meeting notice dated 15.5.2004 calling, upon the members of the Church Council to attend the meeting to be held on 22.5.2004.
(g) On receipt of the message of sending meeting notice by Bishop of Tranquebar, the applicant on 18.5.2004, sent a letter to the Bishop opposing the issuance of notice and contending that the act of not allowing the Secretary to convene the meeting and the Bishop usurping the powers of the Secretary by himself sending the meeting notice would amount to contempt.
(h) Ignoring the above letter, the Bishop sent another meeting notice dated 22.5.2004 calling upon all the members of the Church Council to attend the meeting to be held on 26.5.2004. Under those circumstances, the applicant rushed to this Court and filed the contempt petition.
(i) The stand taken by the contemner before the learned single Judge is that the Church Council has already approved the assumption of the Office of the Secretary of the Church Council by Bishop by the decision taken by the Church Council on 26.1.2004 and the said proceeding dated 26.1.2004 has not been challenged and the order passed by the learned single Judge dated 27.4.2004 did not recognise Ravindran as Secretary and as such, there is no contempt.
(j) Rejecting the said argument, the learned single Judge, while allowing the contempt petition, found the contemner guilty of contempt and imposed fine. This finding is the subject matter of the contempt appeal.'
3. Mr. B. Kumar, the learned Senior Counsel would contend that the order dated 27.4.2004 passed by the learned single Judge, is not clear and since the said order indicated that he was not given any recognition as Secretary, the Bishop due to urgency, had convened the meeting so that the election could take place within the stipulated period with the approval of the Church Council to avoid any vacuum in the administration of the Church Council, especially when the Church Council decision dated 26.1.2004 has not been challenged. He would cite the decisions in Welfare Association of A.C.G.E. In P.E. v. Arvind Verma ; Hari Nath Sharma (Ras) v. Jaipur Development Authority ; Mrityunjoy Das v. Syed Hasibur Rahaman ; Indian Airports Employees Union v. Ranjan Chatterjee ; and Chhotu Ram v. Urvashi Gulati
4. In justification of the reasonings given by the learned single Judge for finding the contemner guilty of contempt, Mr. AR.L. Sundaresan, the learned counsel for the respondent, would submit that there is a clear contempt and the punishment is appropriate, especially in the light of the fact that the contemner has not chosen to file any affidavit tendering unconditional apology. He would cite the judgment in Jhareswar Prasad Paul v. Tarak Nath Ganguly .
5. We have considered the submissions of the counsel for the parties and also gone through the other records.
6. At the outset, it is to be stated that the contention urged by the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the appellant that the order, passed by the learned single Judge dated 27.4.2004 is not clear and as such, nonobservance of the order would not amount to wilful disobedience, has to be rejected in limine.
7. The order dated 27.4.2004 is very clear indicating that the applicant Ravindran shall be allowed to continue as Secretary till his period expires on 29.5.2004. However, this order put a restriction on the Secretary that he should not take any action without the prior approval of the Bishop and the Church Council. It was also directed that the Secretary shall not enter into any financial transactions during the currency of this arrangement.
8. This would clearly indicate that he was allowed to continue as Secretary subject to some restriction. Only on the basis of the said order, the applicant Ravindran on 3.5.2004, wrote a letter to Bishop asking him for a convenient date so that he could convene the meeting.
9. There is no dispute that it is the duty of the Secretary to convene the meeting of the Church Council. When such being the case, the Bishop cannot and should not write a letter on 10.5.2004 stating that 'Hence your letter cited above in the capacity of. Secretary is inappropriate and does not require a reply.' The wordings in the letter dated 10.5.2004 would clearly reveal that even though the order dated 27.4.2004 recognised Ravindran as Secretary till 29.5.2004, the Bishop did not incline to recognise him as Secretary nor allow him to act as Secretary.
10. Again, a letter was sent by the applicant Ravindran on 14.5.2004 requesting for a convenient date to conduct the Church Council meeting. But, ignoring the said letter, the Bishop sent meeting notice in the capacity of the Secretary to all the members concerned on 15.5.2004 and again on 22.5.2004 and convened two meetings on 22.5.2004 and 26.5.2004.
11. In the meantime, the applicant sent another letter dated 18.5.2004 stating that convening a meeting by Bishop himself, that too in the capacity of the Secretary, would amount to contempt of Court. Despite the receipt of the said letter, the contemner has chosen to convene a meeting by sending another notice dated 22.5.2004 which was held on 26.5.2004. Therefore, it cannot be contended that the act has been committed without understanding the order.
12. We are very clear that there is nothing in the order of the learned single Judge dated 27.4.2004 to give rise to any element of doubt with reference to that. It is true, as laid down by the various Courts in Welfare Association of A.C.G.E. In P.E. v. Arvind Verma ; Hari Nath Sharma (Ras) v. Jaipur Development Authority ; Mrityunjoy Das v. Syed Hasibur Rahaman ; Indian Airports Employees Union v. Ranjan Chatterjee ; and R v. City of London Magistrates' Court 1997 (3) All ER 551 that when the order in question does not give any clarity or when there are two views are possible in construing and giving effect to the order in question, the nonobservance of the order cannot be said to be contempt. But in this case, as indicated above, the order is very clear and the Secretary also has indicated about the clarity of the order through three letters which all have been ignored by the Bishop. Therefore, we do not find any infirmity in the reasonings given by the learned single Judge.
13. However, at the end, the learned Senior Counsel Mr. B. Kumar would submit that the Bishop has actually misconstrued the order and he ought to have obtained a legal opinion with, reference to that before sending any reply to the applicant which has not been done and as such, he realises that he has committed grave blunder in not giving effect to the order and since he has realised the mistake now, he is prepared to file a detailed affidavit tendering his apology and also seeking pardon for the act committed by him without understanding the consequences.
14. As correctly pointed out by the counsel for the respondent, the applicant, in the earlier affidavit filed by the appellant, he has not chosen to admit his mistake. Now, when we indicated our mind, the counsel for the appellant would request this Court to give one more opportunity to the appellant to file a detailed affidavit expressing the regret and tendering apology for his act and also giving undertaking that he would see that the act of violation of the order of the Court would not recur in future. Accordingly, the matter was adjourned to 18.7.2005.
15. When the matter is taken up today (18.7.2005), Rt. Rev. T. Aruldoss has filed two affidavits tendering unconditional apology and also expressing willingness to pay some costs to any charitable organisation as a measure of true repentance for the mistakes committed by him.
16. Though it was argued by the learned Senior Counsel for the appellant that the affidavit filed before the learned Single Judge would not convey his voluntary nature of apology, it is now clear from the two affidavits filed by the Bishop today that he has realised his mistake and tendered unconditional apology after fully understanding the consequences of the act committed by him. The relevant portions of both the affidavits are as follows:
'I am the Bishop of Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church and the appellant in the above contempt appeals.
I have the utmost regard and respect for the judiciary and the judicial system. I realize that as a Bishop and loyal servant of the Church, I should have displayed utmost caution and understanding in my communication to the respondent. I express sincere regret for my actions. I tender an unconditional apology to this Hon'ble Court and pray that this Hon'ble Court may be pleased to accept the same.
I have filed an, affidavit dated 14.7.2005 wherein I have expressed sincere regret for my actions and I have tendered my unconditional apology to this Hon'ble Court. Further to the same I am filing this additional affidavit.
I realise that calling myself as Secretary was not proper on my part. I sincerely regret for such action and I once again tender my unconditional apology. As a measure of true repentance I undertake to pay the Tamil Nadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre, High Court, Madras a sum of Rs. 10,000 within three days. I once again pray that this Hon'ble Court may be pleased to accept my unconditional apology.'
17. In view of the above statements, tendering unconditional apology, which is voluntary in nature, we feel that it would be appropriate to accept the same and discharge the appellant from the contempt proceedings. Accordingly, the appellant is discharged from the contempt proceedings.
18. It is noticed that already he was found guilty by the learned single Judge and was directed to pay fine of a sum of Rs. 2000 to 'Abhaya Nilayam'.
19. Though we set aside the conviction and the consequent payment of fine of Rs. 2000, we do not incline to pass any orders directing the 'Abhaya Nilayam' to return the amount. In fact, the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the appellant himself would submit that the amount, which has been paid as a fine, may be considered as donation. Accordingly, the same is treated as donation.
20. In view of the undertaking that the appellant would pay a further costs of Rs. 10,000 to Tamil Nadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre, High Court, Madras, it would be appropriate to direct him to pay the said costs namely, Rs. 10,000 as donation to the Tamil Nadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre, within three days from today, since in our opinion, it would reflect the realisation of the mistake committed by him. Accordingly, the same is ordered.
21. It is made clear that this Court has only considered the various aspects only with regard to the finding rendered by the learned single Judge with reference to the contempt and those aspects will not have any bearing in the other proceedings pending before the other forums. It is made further clear that we are not deciding anything about the validity of the Church Council proceedings, which could be decided on its own merits by the appropriate forums.