26 May 2022 07:12 AM
THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 10 MARCH, 2019
Shillong Times Filed for Contempt, Pay or Go To Jail
SHILLONG/NEW DELHI: “Sit in the corner, pay Rs 2 lakhs each within seven days, or face 6 months jail” sums up the order by Meghalaya Judge Sudip Ranjan Sen to the editor and publisher of the well known Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim and Shobha Chaudhri respectively. This is being viewed by journalists in New Delhi as a ruling that could have far reaching repercussions for the freedom of the press.
The ‘punishment’ has been awarded by the Division Bench of the High Court of Meghalaya comprising Chief Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice SR Sen for a report in the Shillong Times criticising an order of Justice Sen for retirement benefits for judges.
“We sentence both the contemnors to sit in the corner of the Courtroom till the rising of the Court and impose a fine of Rs 2 lakh each which is to be deposited with the Registry within a week and then to be deposited in the welfare fund of this High Court”, the Bench ruled. The court also directed that in default of payment, both the contemnors will have to undergo simple imprisonment for six months and the paper will automatically come to an end (banned).
Sen was in the news in December 2018 for his comments supporting a Hindu nation. He had said as reported in the media at the time, “Pakistan declared itself an Islamic country and India, since it was divided on the basis of religion, should have also been declared a Hindu country but it remained a secular country. Even today, in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Parsis, Khasis, Jaintias and Garos are tortured and they have no place to go and those Hindus who entered India during Partition are still considered foreigners, which in my understanding is illogical, illegal and against the principle of natural justice.”
This has created a storm of protest in the country, with political parties raising serious objections to the ruling by the Meghalaya High Court disposing of a petition of a man denied domicile certificate by the state. Justice Sen had actually urged the framing of a new law on the issue with, “I am confident that only this government under Narendra Modi ji will understand the gravity and will do the needful as requested above, and our Chief Minister Mamata ji will support the national interest in all respects."
The subsequent storm compelled the Judge to issue a ‘clarification’ within two days saying, “I would like to make it clear that when I mentioned the government under Shri Narendra Modi ji, it is inclusive of the Hon’ble ministers and Hon’ble members of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. I also mentioned the Chief Minister of West Bengal, which did not mean that the chief ministers of other states were not included. My request was to the policymakers and lawmakers of this country."
And again that he was not a “religious fanatic”, not cherishing political ambitions and that "Secularism is one of the basic structures of our Indian Constitution. It should not further be divided on the basis of religion, caste, creed, community or language (sic)."
The Division Bench of the High Court of Meghalaya has fined both the Editor and the Publisher of The Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim and Shobha Chaudhuri, respectively, for a report in the daily which criticised an order of Justice SR Sen on the retirement benefits of the judges.
In the Shillong Times case, after examining the report on December 10, 2018 under the caption ‘When Judges judge for themselves’ and other comments on the social media, the court said “the contemnors have no regrets at all and no respect for the Indian Judicial System; rather they are trying to challenge the system instead of asking an apology, which is not at all acceptable”. The report had had said that according to the order at the time for more perks for judges, Sen, who is scheduled to retire in March, wanted several provisions for retired chief justices and judges and their spouses and children.
“Besides providing medical facilities for the spouses and children, the order stressed the need for providing protocol, guest houses, domestic help, mobile/internet charge at the rate of Rs 10,000 and mobile for Rs 80,000 for judges,” the report said.
The court also observed that on March 1, the matter came up again for hearing before the Division Bench where the counsels for the contemnors, K. Paul appeared along with Thapa and they admitted the fact regarding the news item and social media report and further submitted that the procedure adopted by the court was defective and in the criminal contempt proceeding, a formal charge needs to be framed and then evidence be taken as well as the contemnors should be given a chance to reply.
“He also tried to put in different views on technicalities, which is totally misleading and we believed that it is against the principle of professional ethics. Furthermore, we observed that even today, there was no regret or apology from the contemnors”, the court said.
The court also pointed out that after conclusion of the argument on March 1, the contemnors in the second half of the day appeared to have filed two affidavits in the registry without any permission and they have tendered unconditional apology, which appears to be a calculated strategy so as to avoid punishment.
“The contemnors all along have contested the matter and finally realising that the contest is not in their better interest have tendered unconditional apology at the last moment. The contemnors being responsible persons should not have indulged in the acts falling within the purview of derogation to the administration of justice”, the division bench said.
The court said the backdrop of the petition is that all of a sudden, the state government withdrew the protocol service to the retired Judges and their family members without consulting this High Court. When it came to the notice, the Chief Justice called for a meeting where the Chief Secretary , Law Secretary, the Commissioner & Secretary, GAD were asked as to how they withdrew the facilities which were already given earlier, but they had no answer.
“Therefore, they were asked to rectify it immediately and to restore the protocol service to the retired Judges and their family members. Unfortunately, after a lapse of two months also when the matter was not solved, the retired Judges and their family members faced problems and a suo motu proceeding was drawn”, the court said.
Later, a notice was issued and since the government remained silent, necessary order was passed directing to comply within a month. “Thereafter, when the government failed to do so, a contempt proceeding was drawn and the Chief Secretary, , Law Secretary and the Commissioner & Secretary, GAD, were asked to appear in person. Thereafter, the Government moved an appeal before the Division Bench and the matter is pending before the Division Bench”, the court said.
“Therefore, the question of a particular Judge on the verge of retirement taking steps for himself or his family does not arise”, the court added .
Hence, the report which appeared in The Shillong Times is totally false and without any basis, he said.
The court also reminded the contemnor number 1 that “we are judges and our job is to deliver justice for the people in general and we have our own disciplinary methods”.
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