Contempt plea against Prashant Bhushan : Activists move Supreme Court in his support

Ten social activists have come out in support of lawyer Prashant Bhushan in the Supreme Court, contending that the contempt proceedings initiated against him appears to be an assault on freedom of speech and expression.

The activists have filed an application to intervene in the contempt plea filed by Attorney General K K Venugopal against Bhushan for his tweets in which he had said that the government appeared to have misled the top court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of meeting of the high-powered selection committee headed by the prime minister, in the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director.

The activists, including Aruna Roy, Arundhati Roy and Shailesh Gandhi, have said in their application that they were “concerned” about initiation of the contempt proceeding against Bhushan for exercising his ‘freedom of speech’ without fear.

Besides, a separate application has also been filed in the top court by five senior journalists, including former union minister Arun Shourie, seeking to intervene in the case.

Shourie and four others have said in their application that the court, while issuing notice to Bhushan on February 6 on the contempt plea, had said it would examine whether in sub-judice matters, advocates and litigants briefing the media would amount to an interference in course of administration of justice.

During the hearing earlier, the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had said that court was not averse to media reporting of cases but lawyers appearing in sub-judice matters should restrain themselves from making public statements.

The court had issued notice to Bhushan and had asked him to respond to the contempt pleas within three weeks.

In their application, the 10 social activists have said, “It appears that the initiation of present contempt proceedings are an assault on the freedom of speech and expression of the citizen of this country and an attempt to stifle this right by using the power of contempt.”

Besides Aruna Roy, Arundhati Roy and Shailesh Gandhi, the other applicants who have sought to intervene in the matter are Wajahat Habibullah, Harsh Mander, Jayati Ghosh, Prabhat Patnaik, Indu Prakash Singh, Bezwada Wilson and Nikhil Dey.

They have said Bhushan’s tweets “merely pointed to the discrepancy” between publicly available letter of a member of the high powered committee and the claim of government and the tweets “in no way made any disparaging remarks against the AG (Attorney General) or his conduct”.

“The notice issued in this case by the court to Prashant Bhushan indicates that the court wants to deal with the larger issue of lawyers and litigants commenting publicly about pending court proceedings and whether any restraint should be put on lawyers and litigants comments on pending court proceedings,” the application, filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal, said.

It said any restraint on lawyers and litigants on commenting on pending court proceedings in matters of public interest would have a “seriously deleterious impact” on not merely the freedom of speech of lawyers and litigants but also on right of people and civil society to be informed about it.

In separate application seeking to intervene in the matter has been filed by Shourie and four other senior scribes — Mrinal Pande, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Manoj Mitta and N Ram.

They have said in their application that any restraint on lawyers and litigants from commenting on matters pending in court would also amount to restraints on media from carrying those comments and any such order by the court would have “serious consequences on the freedom of the press, its rights under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and its ability to inform the people about important public interest issues pending in the courts”.

They have said that barring media or anybody through the media from writing or commenting about pending court proceedings would have the effect of depriving the people of information which they are entitled to know.

Referring to several orders passed by the top court earlier, the application said that a consistent view has been taken and media or any other commentators cannot be barred from commenting or reporting on pending court proceedings involving matters of public interest.

Supreme Court disposes plea challenging Nageswara Rao’s appointment as interim CBI chief.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday disposed of a plea challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran said no further interference is required as the relief has already been granted with the appointment of a full time CBI Director.

The verdict came on a plea of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Common Cause, which had challenged the appointment of Rao as interim CBI director.

In a previous hearing on February 1, the top court had said that it was “averse” to the arrangement of an interim CBI Director and the Centre should “immediately” appoint a regular chief of the probe agency.

The bench had said the agency was not functioning properly and the officers were fighting and levelling corruption allegations against each other which was wholly unbecoming of them.

The court had also said that the new CBI director who would be appointed must “trace the movements of files” during the period when former CBI chief Alok Kumar Verma was reinstated to the post for two days.

Three judges of the apex court — Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices A K Sikri and N V Ramana had recused themselves from hearing the matter.

In its petition in the apex court, the NGO had sought specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of appointing the CBI director.

The plea had alleged that the October 23 last year order of the government appointing Rao as interim CBI director was quashed by the top court on January 8 but the Centre “acted in a completely malafide, arbitrary and illegal manner” to appoint him again in “complete contravention” of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

On January 10, Rao, additional director in CBI, was made interim chief till the appointment of a new director, after the removal of Verma.

On February 4, Rishi Kumar Shukla, a 1983-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, took charge of the probe agency as a full-fledged director.

Contempt notice: M Nageswara Rao reaches Supreme Court

M Nageswara Rao reaches Supreme Court to appear in connection with the contempt notice issued against him by the court for transferring the CBI officer probing the Bihar shelter home cases.

The court had issued the notice to Rao for transferring joint director A K Sharma out of CBI.

Rao on Monday admitted that as interim chief of the CBI he committed a “mistake” in transferring Sharma and apologised to the top court, saying he had no intention to circumvent its orders.

Rao, who filed an affidavit in response to the contempt notice issued to him on February 7, said he was praying for an unconditional and unqualified apology by the court.

Supreme Court expresses displeasure at non-appointment of regular CBI director

The Supreme Court Friday asked the Centre why it has not appointed a regular CBI director and said it was “averse” to the appointment of an interim chief for the agency for a long period.

A bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha said the post of CBI director was sensitive and the government should have appointed a regular director by now.

Attorney General K K Venugopal told the court that a high-powered committee, headed by the prime minister, will hold a meeting on Friday to select a new CBI director.

He also told the court that the Centre had taken the approval of the high-powered committee before appointing IPS officer M Nageswara Rao as the interim CBI director.

Taking account of the attorney general’s submissions that the committee will hold a meeting on Friday, the apex court posted the matter for hearing on February 6.

The bench was hearing a petition of NGO Common Cause challenging the appointment of Rao as interim CBI Director.

During the hearing the bench said the process of appointing a CBI director should have been over by now as it was known that the earlier CBI chief was going to retire in January.

The court also told the attorney general that the new CBI director who would be appointed must “trace the movements of files” during the period when former CBI chief Alok Kumar Verma was reinstated to the post for two days.

The attorney general placed before the bench in a sealed cover the minutes of the meeting of the high-powered committee held earlier.

The last meeting of the committee took place on January 24 but it remained “inconclusive”.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner NGO, told the bench that the apex court must also look into the aspect of transparency in the process of appointing the CBI director.

“You want an immediate appointment. Let us stop there. Let the appointment be made first.If you have any grievance that the process is not followed and transparency was not there then you can challenge it later,” the bench told Bhushan.

The top court on Thursday had set up a fresh bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra to hear a petition challenging the Centre’s decision to appoint Rao as interim CBI director after Justice N V Ramana had recused himself from hearing it citing social reasons.

Justice Ramana had expressed his disinclination to hear the matter saying he belongs to Andhra Pradesh, from where Rao hails, and had attended the wedding of the IPS officer’s daughter who is married to an advocate known to him.

He became the third judge of the apex court to recuse himself from hearing the matter after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and the second senior-most judge in the top court Justice A K Sikri. Both had recused themselves earlier from adjudicating the case.

In its petition in the apex court, the NGO has sought specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of appointing the CBI director.

It has alleged that Rao’s appointment was not made on the basis of the recommendations of the Selection Committee.

The plea has alleged that the October 23 last year order of the government appointing Rao as interim CBI director was quashed by the top court on January 8 but the Centre “acted in a completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal manner” to appoint him again in “complete contravention” of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

It has sought a direction to the Centre to appoint a regular CBI director forthwith.

The plea has also sought immediate direction to the government to ensure that “all records” of deliberations and rational criteria related to short-listing and selection of the CBI director be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act.