Telangana High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Telangana High Court: A Division Bench of P Naveen Rao and M G Priyadarshini, JJ. dismissed the petition and held that contempt has taken place and no apology must be given.

The facts of the case are such that the appellants sold some of the suit schedule properties in spite of decree granted to her by the trial Court and trying to alienate some more, she filed I.A.No.1 of 2019 praying to grant injunction against the respondents not to alienate suit schedule properties. The instant Contempt case was filed alleging violation of the directions issued by this Court in I.A.No.1 of 2019 in A.S.No.260 of 2017.

Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines ‘civil contempt’ to mean wilful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a Court.

Issue 1: Has there been an alleged violation of deliberate and wilful violation of the orders of the Court and thus committed contempt of Court?

The Court observed that if a party, who is fully in the know of the judgment/order of the Court, is conscious and aware of the consequences and implications of the order of the Court, acts in violation thereof, it must be held that disobedience is wilful. To establish contempt of court, it is sufficient to prove that the conduct was wilful, and that the contemnor knew of all the facts which made it a breach of the undertaking. Whether the conduct of contemnor is deliberate and wilful can be considered by assessing the material on record and attendant circumstances.

The Court remarked The sanctity to judicial proceedings is paramount to a society governed by law. Otherwise, the very edifice of democracy breaks and anarchy rains. The Contempt of Courts Act is intended to correct a person deviating the norm and trying to breach the law/assuming law on to himself. It intends to secure confidence of the people in the administration of justice by disciplining those erring in disobeying the orders of the Court/undertaking given to court.

The Court further observed that the respondents did not deny that the property sold is part of the suit schedule land on which decree is granted to the petitioner. Firstly, the property is covered by the preliminary decree of the trial court and in terms thereof petitioner is entitled to 1/6th share. Contrary to the judgment and decree, it could not have been sold. This decree is not stayed by this Court. Secondly, the order dated 13-8-2019 was passed in the presence of the counsel appearing for them. Therefore, they can not plead ignorance. Thus, the sale transaction undertaken by them is clearly in violation of the orders of the Court. In the facts of this case, it is also safe to assume that the violation is deliberate and willful.

Issue 2: Whether offering apology is bona fide to purge the petitioner from contempt?

Section 12(1) of the Contempt of Courts Act, and the explanation thereto, enables the Court to remit the punishment awarded for committing contempt of court on an apology being made to the satisfaction of the Court.

The court observed that an apology can neither be a defence nor a justification for an act which tantamount to contempt of Court. An apology can be accepted in cases where the conduct, for which the apology is given, is such that it can be “ignored without compromising the dignity of the court”, or it is intended to be evidence of real contrition. It should be sincere. Apology cannot be accepted in case it is hollow, there is no remorse, no regret, no repentance, or if it is only a device to escape the rigour of the law. Such an apology is merely a “paper apology”.

The Court observed that in the facts of this case also, it is seen that apology offered is not sincere and bona fide. It is clear from facts on record that it is made only to escape the consequence of deliberate and willful disobedience of the order of the Court. Contemnors did not accept their mistake and expressed apology at the first opportunity offered to them.

The Court remarked, ‘Wilfully and deliberately they have sold the suit schedule property in utter violation of the orders of this Court. It is intended to frustrate the judgment and decree rendered by the trial Court and orders of this Court and deprive the petitioner the fruits of her success.’

The Court thus held “Contemnors are held guilty of contempt; their apology is rejected and is imposed sentence of imprisonment with fine.”[Veldanda Srilatha v. Gundumalla Anantha Reddy, Contempt Case No. 1034 OF 2021, decided on 29-04-2022]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case dealing with willful disobedience of the order passed by the Supreme Court in the year 2008 with respect to the levy made while upholding Section 21 of the Assam Agricultural Produce Market Act, 1972, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh*,JJ has held that vicarious liability as a principle cannot be applied to a case of contempt and that the appellants cannot be implicated for alleged action of their subordinates.

The Court noticed that in the present case, it was the specific case of the appellants that they did not violate the directives of the court. Also, there was no material to either establish their knowledge on the action of their subordinates, or that they acted in collusion with each other.

In Ram Kishan v. Tarun Bajaj, (2014) 16 SCC 204, the Court explained that in order to punish a contemnor, it has to be established that disobedience of the order is “wilful”.

“The word “wilful” introduces a mental element and hence, requires looking into the mind of a person/contemnor by gauging his actions, which is an indication of one’s state of mind. “Wilful” means knowingly intentional, conscious, calculated and deliberate with full knowledge of consequences flowing therefrom. It excludes casual, accidental, bona fide or unintentional acts or genuine inability. Wilful acts does not encompass involuntarily or negligent actions. The act has to be done with a “bad purpose or 9 without justifiable excuse or stubbornly, obstinately or perversely”. Wilful act is to be distinguished from an act done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly or inadvertently. It does not include any act done negligently or involuntarily. The deliberate conduct of a person means that he knows what he is doing and intends to do the same. Therefore, there has to be a calculated action with evil motive on his part. Even if there is a disobedience of an order, but such disobedience is the result of some compelling circumstances under which it was not possible for the contemnor to comply with the order, the contemnor cannot be punished.”

Taking note of the aforementioned ruling and also the facts of the case at hand, the Court explained that the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 explains a civil contempt to mean a willful disobedience of a decision of the Court. Therefore, what is relevant is the “willful” disobedience. Knowledge acquires substantial importance qua a contempt order.

“Merely because a subordinate official acted in disregard of an order passed by the Court, a liability cannot be fastened on a higher official in the absence of knowledge.”

Further, when two views are possible, the element of willfulness vanishes as it involves a mental element. It is a deliberate, conscious and intentional act. What is required is a proof beyond reasonable doubt since the proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature.

Similarly, when a distinct mechanism is provided and that too, in the same judgment alleged to have been violated, a party has to exhaust the same before approaching the court in exercise of its jurisdiction under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. It is well open to the said party to contend that the benefit of the order passed has not been actually given, through separate proceedings while seeking appropriate relief but certainly not by way of a contempt proceeding. While dealing with a contempt petition, the Court is not expected to conduct a roving inquiry and go beyond the very judgment which was allegedly violated. The said principle has to be applied with more vigor when disputed questions of facts are involved and they were raised earlier but consciously not dealt with by creating a specific forum to decide the original proceedings.

[DR. U.N. BORA, EX. CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER v. ASSAM ROLLER FLOUR MILLS ASSOCIATION, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 968, decided on 26.10.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice MM Sundresh