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Supreme Court of India
Suresh Chandra Poddar vs Dhani Ram And Ors on 6 December, 2001
Bench: K.T, Thomas, S.N. Phukan
           CASE NO.:
Appeal (civil)  535 of 2001

PETITIONER:
SURESH CHANDRA PODDAR

RESPONDENT:
DHANI RAM AND ORS.

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/12/2001

BENCH:
K.T, THOMAS & S.N. PHUKAN

JUDGMENT:

JUDGMENT

2001 Supp(5) SCR 498

The following Order of the Court was delivered :

This is an instance of how a Tribunal vested with the powers to punish for
Contempt of Court became over sensitive in using such powers. Time and
again this Court has cautioned as to when and in what circumstances
Contempt of Court jurisdiction is to be exercised. Such a power is not
intended to be exercised as a matter of course. Courts should not feel
unduly touchy when they are told that the orders have not been implemented
forthwith. If the court is told that the direction or the order of the
Court has been complied with subsequently, albeit after receipt of notice
of contempt, we except the courts to show judicial grace and magnanimity in
dealing with the action for con-tempt.

The Principal Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal, New Delhi, has
How convicted the Director of Education, Government of NCT of Delhi under
Section 17 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 read with Section 12
of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 and sentenced him to a fine of Rs, 2000
as per the impugned order. The Bench held that the appellant is guilty of
contempt, not because he did not implement the order passed by the Tribunal
but because there was delay in implementing the order.

The order of the Tribunal which is said to have been belatedly complied
with was passed on 3rd November, 1999, the operative portion of which reads
thus :

“For the foregoing reasons, the present O.A. succeeds. The seniority list
published by respondents I to 3 on 21st November, 1995 in so far as the
same shows respondents 4 and 5 senior to applicants is set aside.
Respondents 1 to 3 are now directed to publish a fresh seniority list in
the light of the observations contained in the present judgment and grant
the applicants their due seniority over that of respondents 4 and 5 and
grant them further consequent! reliefs they may be entitled to under rules.
There shall, however, in the facts and circumstances of this case be no
order as to costs.”

What is discernible from the said operative portion is that the Tribunal
did not fix up a time limit within which the said direction has to be
complied with. The contempt action was taken against the appellant on 24th
August, 2000. Appellant submitted in the reply before the Tribunal that the
order of the Tribunal was being challenged before the High Court of Delhi
under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and a Division Bench of the
High Court had admitted the writ petition and issued nonce to the opposite
parties on 24th October, 2000. Despite the pendency of the said writ
petition, appellant in-formed the Tribunal that the direction of the
Tribunal was complied with on 27th October, 2000 itself.

There is no dispute that the appellant has complied with the order of the
Tribunal on 27th October, 2000. There is no dispute that appellants had
chal-lenged the said order before the High Court, Ever since the order of
the Tribunal was passed, speedy steps have been taken by the Department.
Con-sultations were in progress between the Department and the Secretary
(Law and Judicial) and on their instructions the letter was addressed to
the Government’s counsel and on his advise, further steps were taken and
ultimately the Depart-ment moved the High Court under Article 226 of the
Constitution of India. All these things have been stated by the appellant
in full details before the Tribunal. In spite of all those submissions and
in spite of the Tribunal being told that even during the pendency of the
writ petition before the High Court, they imple-mented the order so as to
avert any possible action against them for contempt, the Tribunal has
chosen to convict the appellant and sentenced him to a fine of Rs, 2000.

We may also point out that the appellant, when called upon by the Tribunal
to appear in person, tendered an apology even after showing all the steps
taken for challenging the order of the Tribunal dated 3rd November. 1999.
the Tribunal simply turned down the apology of the appellant for the
following reasonings :

“The Tribunal’s orders are definitely subject to scrutiny of the High Court
under Article 226 of the Constitution, But the orders of the Tribunal are
passed for compliance and not to be thrown aside to gather dust. They have
to be respected with all expedition. Question the order, if you take a
decision to do so promptly and should be filed at the latest within three
months and if one does not succeed there, one has to abide by the order and
comply with the same, at the latest by six months. Any delay thereafter
would have to be treated as wilful violation. If the orders are not
respected it would destroy the confidence of the people in the courts and
if such an object was achieved it would be a great public disaster.”

The Tribunal quoted the following observation of this Court in Principal
Rajni Parekh Arts, K .B. Commerce and B.C.J. Science College, Khambhat and
Anr. v. Mahendra Ambalal Shah,
[1986] 2 SGC 560 .:-

“If any court is to accept an apology of a contemner tendered at a late
stage, it would encourage litigants to flout the orders of courts with
impunity”.

The background in which the said observation was made had been overlooked
and applied it in a different situtation

Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 197 1 has indicated a caution
that while dealing with the powers of contempt, the court should be
generous in discharging the contemner if he tenders an apology to the
satisfaction of the Court; In the present case the apology tendered was
found to be not genuine by the Tribunal. We are dismayed, if not
distressed, that despite delineating on all the steps adopted by the
appellant for challenging the order of the Tribunal before the High Court
and despite the fact that the appellant had implemented the order even
though there was no time schedule to do so, the Tribunal has chosen to
depict the apology tendered by the appellant as one without contri-tion.

Section 13 of the Contempt of Courts Act says that notwithstanding anything
contained in any law for the time being in force, no court shall impose a
sentence “unless it is satisfied that the contempt is of such a nature that
it substantially interferes, or tends substantially to interfere with the
due course of justice” (emphasis supplied).

Even if appellant had not implemented the order and if the appellant had
brought to the notice of the Tribunal that the order of the Tribunal is
under challenge before the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution
of India (the course which has been judicially recognised by a seven Judge
Bench of this Court in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India and Ors., [1997]
3 SCC 261 the Tribunal should have been slow to proceed against the party
in a contempt action. Of course it can be said that no stay was granted by
the Court when the appellant moved the Division Bench of the High Court
under Article 226 of the Constitution. Not granting the stay by itself is
not enough to speed up proceedings against a person in contempt because the
very order is yet to become final. At any rate the Tribunal should have
directed the appellant to implement the direction, in the absence of the
stay order from the High Court, within a time frame fixed by it. We would
have appreciated if the Tribunal had done so and then considered whether
action should be taken in the event of the non implementation of the order
after die expiry of the said time frame.

We have chosen to say so much in this case to give a message to the
Tribunal that contempt jurisdiction is not to be exercised casually but
only sparingly and in very deserving cases. It is appropriate to bear in
mind the adage “It is good to have the power of giant, but not good to use
it always.”

For the aforesaid reasons we set aside the impugned order of the Tribunal
and exonerate the appellant totally from the actions for contempt of court.
The fine, if any remitted, shall be refunded to him.


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