‘You are throwing mud at all and sundry but we refuse to back off’; Supreme Court holds Suraz India Trust Chairman guilty of contempt

“The raison d’etre of contempt jurisdiction is to maintain the dignity of the institution of judicial forums. It is not a vindictive exercise nor are inappropriate statements by themselves capable of lowering the dignity of a Judge. These are often ignored but where despite all latitude a perennial litigant seeks to justify his existence by throwing mud at all and sundry, the Court has to step in.”

Supreme Court: Coming down heavily upon a contemnor, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul* and MM Sundresh, JJ has held that the power to punish for contempt is a constitutional power vested in this Court which cannot be abridged or taken away even by legislative enactment.

Brief background

  • Exemplary costs of Rs. 25 lakhs were imposed on one Rajiv Daiya, the chairman of an NGO Suraz India Trust, for filing a series of frivolous petitions against judges, judicial officers and court staff. The Court had held that extremely important matters are taken up for consideration on a daily basis and judicial time gets wasted because individuals not competent to assist the Court insist without due cause to be granted a prolonged hearing.
  • The costs were not deposited and Daiya sought to submit unconditional apology with a prayer that the costs imposed on him be waived and that he be pardoned against charges of contempt.
  • Stating that he had no sufficient funds to make payment of the costs, he claimed to have regularly taken loans for meeting various requirements, which were being deducted from his emoluments. In the liabilities he sought to put forth the expenses towards his daughter’s study apart from the liability of marriage of his daughter.
  • The same was declined while permitting the Registry to take action for recovery. Since the recovery did not take place, the Registry had placed the matter before the Court.
  • The Court, however, noted that,
  • “The so-called unconditional apology is again a recital of his alleged grievances in the earlier proceedings. It seeks to canvas that the proceedings for recovery of costs had actually come to an end, which was factually not so as it was his endeavour to seek modification of the order of costs.”
  • Not only this, on 26.03.2021, an e-mail was addressed to the Assistant Registrar (PIL Section) stating that Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul should recuse himself as he had moved for sanction of prosecution before the President of India against him.
  • On 02.04.2021, Daiya addressed a letter to the Chief Justice of India requesting information to take suo motu cognizance of the criminal complaint against the Assistant Registrar and officers/officials of the PIL (Writ) Section.
  • He also had not complied with the orders and was seeking to wriggle out of the proceedings by raising all kinds of objections, i.e., that the matter should not be heard by the Bench but by a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India.
  • Since Daiya was found to be bent upon violating the directions of the Court, the Court deemed it appropriate to issue notice of contempt to Daiya returnable on 12.04.2021.
  • The affidavit filed by the State of Rajasthan informed that Daiya was working in the office of the Government Advocate-cum-Additional Advocate General at Jodhpur, which was an office separate from the office of the Advocate General of the State. He had been issued show cause notice under relevant service rules applicable and had been suspended and transferred since his conduct before various courts as the Chairman of the Trust was in violation of the relevant service rules.

Analysis

“… the easier path is to recuse or give up the matter instead of inviting so much trouble. But then that is not the course for which the Judges have taken oath. Sometimes the task is unenviable and difficult but it must be performed for the larger good of the institution. Such litigants cannot be permitted to have their way only because they can plead and write anything they feel like and keep on approbating by sometimes apologising and then again bringing forth those allegations. We have thus chosen the more difficult path.”

Taking note of the fact that all kinds of pleadings were being made in an issue of what was simply of recovery of costs from the Trust/ Daiya and that letters were also written to scandalise the Court and prevent the Court from taking action to ensure recovery of costs, the Court noticed that it was clearly an endeavour to browbeat the Court which the Court would not countenance.

Noticing that the contemnor has apparently made a profession of filing public interest petitions of subjects of which he may not know much and then seeking to scandalise the Court to grant him relief failing which he will continue to scandalise the Court, the Court held that,

“… there is no absolute licence when appearing in person to indulge in making aspersions as a tendency to scandalise the Court in relation to judicial matters. Motivated and calculated attempts to bring down the image of the judiciary in estimation of public and impair the administration of justice must bester themselves to uphold their dignity and the majesty of law.”

It was held that the contemnor has apparently made a profession of filing public interest petitions of subjects of which he may not know much and then seeking to scandalise the Court to grant him relief failing which he will continue to scandalise the Court.

The Court further said that the contemnor’s actions to scandalise the Court cannot be countenanced. He continues with his contumacious behaviour. The apologies submitted by him are only endeavours to get out of the consequences again followed by another set of allegations, thus, a charade. The last apology can hardly be called an apology seeing the contents.

“We have little doubt that what the contemnor has been endeavouring is to have his way or, alternatively, I will throw mud at all and sundry, whether it be the Court, its administrative staff or the State Government so that people, apprehensive of this mud thrown, may back off. We refuse to back off and are clear in our view that we must take it to its logical conclusion.”

On the question of right to be heard on sentence, the Court said that though it is a contempt on the face of the Court by the reason of the pleadings filed by him and the Court is not mandated to give him a hearing on the issue of sentence, it would still give him one more chance and, thus, consider it appropriate to list the petition to hear the contemnor on the question of final sentence.

[Suraz India Trust v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 833, decided on 29.09.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

Know Thy Judge| Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

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