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Haridas Das vs Smt. Usha Rani Banik & Ors on 16 July, 2007

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Delhi High Court
Court On Its Own Motion vs M.K. Tayal And Ors. on 11 September, 2007
Author: R Sodhi
Bench: R Sodhi, B Chaturvedi

JUDGMENT R.S. Sodhi, J.

1. On 21.5.2007, a Senior Advocate of this Court, Sh. R.K. Anand, placed before us a copy of the Newspaper "Mid Day" dated 18.5.2007 (Friday) in which he alleged that a scandalous article maligning the former Chief Justice of India and tending to lower the image of the judiciary in the eyes of common man has been published. The Newspaper was placed before us and we, on going through the news item, were prima facie of the view that the publication did tend to lower the image of the judiciary in the eyes of public. Consequently, we issued show cause notice to Sh. M.K. Tayal, Editor, Mid Day, Mr. Vitusha Oberoi and Mr. S.K. Akhtar, its Printer and Publisher.

2. On 25.5.2007, Sh. R.K. Anand, learned Senior Advocate filed yet another copy of the Newspaper "Mid Day" dated 19.5.2007 which carried a cartoon by Mr. Md. Irfaan Khan, Cartoonist. The cartoon depicted the former Chief Justice of India in his robes holding a bag with currency flowing out. It also depicted a man sitting on the side walk saying "Help! The mall is in your court" which we thought was also aimed at lowering the image of the judiciary. Consequently, we issued show cause notice to Mr. Md. Irfaan Khan also.

3. Upon notice being served, the contemnors have filed their affidavits in which they have taken up a defense that sons of the former Chief Justice of India have benefited by orders made by the Supreme Court and that they were operating their businesses from the official residence of Justice Y.K. Sabharwal. They claimed that whatever has been stated in the publications is the truth which, according to them, is a permissible defense.

4. We have carefully gone through the affidavits filed by the contemnors and have heard extensive arguments advanced by Mr. Shanti Bhushan, learned Senior Advocate. It is contended before us that the attack in the Press is focused on the Ex-Chief Justice of India at a time when he has ceased to be in office and therefore, cannot be termed as denigrating the authority of the Supreme Court. It is contended that propriety demanded that the Chief Justice of India ought not to have been on the Bench which passed orders concerning sealing of properties where non-conforming activities were going on and further that it is the duty of a journalist to expose the corruption in the judiciary at the highest level. He also contends that the material on record is ample proof of the fact that the sons of the former Chief Justice of India were beneficiaries of sealing of commercial premises. Learned Counsel further contends that he is not challenging the correctness of the order of the Supreme Court but the order of former Chief Justice of India, who was presiding member of the Bench and who by his impropriety passed orders sealing premises in which commercial activities were being conducted in Delhi in order to benefit his sons' business.

5. We have carefully gone through the articles published as also the cartoon. We find the manner in which the entire incidence has been projected appears as if the Supreme Court permitted itself to be led into fulfillling an ulterior motive of one of its members. The nature of the revelations and the context in which they appear, though purporting to single out former Chief Justice of India, tarnishes the image of the Supreme Court. It tends to erode the confidence of the general public in the institution itself. The Supreme Court sits in divisions and every order is of a Bench. By imputing motive to its presiding member automatically sends a signal that the other members were dummies or were party to fulfilll the ulterior design. This we find most disturbing. There is sufficient case law on the subject and we need hardly add any further material to it. Suffice it to say, the Supreme Court in Haridas Das v. Smt. Usha Rani Banik and Ors. Civil Appeal No. 7948 of 2004, has clearly laid down the 'Laxman rekha' which we feel the publications have crossed. The publications in the garb of scandalizing a retired Chief Justice of India have, in fact, attacked the very institution which, according to us, is nothing short of contempt. We, therefore, hold Mr. M.K. Tayal, Editor Mid Day, Mr. S.K. Akhtar, Publisher, Mrs. Vitusha Oberoi, Resident Editor and Mr. Md. Irfaan Khan, the Cartoonist, guilty of contempt of court. The matter to be listed on September 21, 2007, when the contemnors shall be present to be heard on the question of sentence.