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 issues notice to lawyer Prashant Bhushan on contempt plea by AG and Centre

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought a response from activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan on contempt pleas by Attorney General K K Venugopal and the Centre for his tweets allegedly criticising the court over the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director.

Bhushan was given three weeks to reply.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha said it would deal with the larger question of whether it is open for lawyers or any other person to criticise the court in a sub judice matter which would lead to influencing public opinion.

Criticising the court may also lead to interference in the course of justice, the bench added.

“This issue required to be heard in length, notice issued,” it said, listing the matter for further hearing on March 7.

Bhushan, in his tweets, alleged that the Centre, represented by Venugopal, misled the apex court on the issue of Rao’s appointment.

On Tuesday, the Centre moved the apex court seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets and said they amounted to making false statement in a pending case. This was days after Venugopal’s contempt petition against Bhushan.

Venugopal, in his contempt plea, referred to the extracts of the minutes of the meeting of the high powered selection committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Justice A K Sikri and leader of the largest opposition party Mallikarjun Kharge.

The Centre’s plea also referred to the contents of Venugopal’s petition and submitted that they be also read as part of its plea.

Venugopal’s petition referred to Bhushan’s February 1 tweets in which he alleged that the government appeared to have misled the apex court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the meeting of the high-powered selection committee.

Through his tweets, Venugopal said, Bhushan appeared to have deliberately intended to cast aspersions on the “integrity and honesty” of the attorney general who had placed the minutes of the meeting before the apex court during the February 1 hearing.

On February 1, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause challenging the Centre’s decision to appoint Rao, an IPS officer, as interim CBI director.

Venugopal said in his petition that Bhushan’s tweets “scandalise or tend to scandalise and lower or tend to lower the authority of this court”.

He said during the hearing on February 1, he had handed over to the bench the minutes of meeting of the high-powered committee held on January 9 and January 10.

According to the petition, signatures of all the three members of the committee — were affixed in the decision taken by the panel.

Venugopal said Bhushan, in one of his tweets on February 1, had said, “I have just confirmed personally from the leader of opposition Mr Kharge that no discussion or decision in HPC meet was taken re-appointment of Nageswara Rao as interim Director of CBI. The govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting.”

The attorney general said the statement/confirmation attributed to Kharge could never have been made by him for the simple reason that he himself had signed the minutes of the meeting which also contained the final decisions of the high-powered committee.

“If the minutes of the meeting were to be fabricated, the members of the high powered committee who constituted the majority would have to be parties to such fabrication as their signatures are contained on the very same page on which the decision is recorded in the minutes,” the plea had said.

Supreme Court to examine Shanti Bhushan’s PIL on allocation of cases

The Supreme Court today decided to examine a PIL filed by former law minister Shanti Bhushan challenging the existing roster practice of allocation of cases by the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

A bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan sought the assistance of Attorney General K K Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in dealing with the PIL stating that the CJI cannot exercise arbitrary power in allocation of cases.

However, the bench took objection when Bhushan’s counsel made an attempt to bring to its notice the unprecedented January 12 press conference held by four of the court’s most senior judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — who had accused Chief Justice Dipak Misra of arbitrarily allocating cases.

“We are not going to go into it. We are not concerned with it for many reasons and obvious reasons. Don’t say all this,” the bench said.

The supreme court will now hear the matter on April 27. The bench said it has already held that the CJI is the ‘master of roster’.

The bench was referring to the apex court’s April 11 verdict, which said the Chief Justice of India is the “first among equals” and occupies a unique position with the “exclusive prerogative” to allocate cases and set up benches to hear cases.

At the outset, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Shanti Bhushan, said the petition raises the substantial question of interpretation of constitutional provisions and also questions how matters are being listed in the apex court contrary to the Supreme Court Rules.

Dave claimed the CJI was exercising his power only in in exceptional matters but the supreme court registry should be bound by its own rules.

“In democracy there is nothing called absolute discretion,” he said, questioning the manner in which some sensitive cases were assigned to particular benches in the top court.

He also clarified that they were not against any individual and don’t propose to make any personal allegations against anyone.

The bench, however, said it would be “very difficult” to decide which was a sensitive matter and which was not.

“As far as CJI being the ‘master of roster’ is concerned, there is no dispute. In a way you are challenging the manner in which this power is exercised,” the bench said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was also in the court room, said they had come to the court “with a heavy heart”.

“The problem is that we are troubled. Truly troubled. We are not against any individual. This is the highest court of this land. We have to respect the institution. We are troubled how it is being handled today. We are not attributing any motives,” Sibal said.

The bench, after hearing the submissions, told ASG Tushar Mehta, who was present in the court room, that it would like to have the assistance of the attorney general or him in the matter.

Bhushan’s petition came up for hearing a day after a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar, who is the most senior judge after the CJI, refused to order its listing saying he did not want his order to be reversed again in 24 hours.

After Chelameswar’s refusal, Bhushan’s son and advocate Prashant Bhushan mentioned the matter before a bench headed by the CJI which had allocated it for hearing before a bench headed by Justice A K Sikri, who is number six in seniority.

When Shanti Bhushan filed the PIL, Prashant Bhushan had written to the secretary general of the apex court stating that the matter should not be listed before a bench that includes the CJI.

The petition names the CJI as one of the respondents along with the registrar of the Supreme Court.

In his PIL, Shanti Bhushan has stated that the “master of roster” cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.

The petition said the CJI’s authority as the master of roster is “not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power that is vested in the chief justice alone and which may be exercised with his sole discretion”.

It said that such an authority should be exercised by the CJI in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court in keeping with the various pronouncements of the court.

The petition assumes significance in light of the January 12 press conference when the judges said the situation in the top court was “not in order” and many “less than desirable” things have taken place.

PIL in SC over CJI’s administrative authority as of roster

Senior advocate and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan today filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the administrative authority of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) as the master of roster and for laying down the principles and procedure to be followed in preparing it for allocation of cases.

He filed the PIL through his advocate and son Prashant Bhushan who wrote a letter to the supreme court’s secretary general stating that the matter should not be listed before a bench that includes the CJI.

In the letter, Prashant also said that it would be appropriate that the petition be listed before three senior-most judges of the top court for allocating it before an appropriate bench.

In the petition, CJI Dipak Misra has been named as one of the respondents along with the registrar of the Supreme Court.

The senior advocate has stated that the “master of roster” cannot be unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.

The petition said the CJI’s authority as the master of roster is “not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power that is vested in the chief justice alone and which may be exercised with his sole discretion.”

It said that such an authority should be exercised by him in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court in keeping with the various pronouncement of this court.

This petition assumes significance as on January 12 this year four senior most judges- Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph- of the Supreme Court had called a press conference and said that the situation in the top court was “not in order” and many “less than desirable” things have taken place.

The four judges had also raised the issue of allocation of important and sensitive PILs before junior judges of the supreme court.

Reveal source of documents against CBI director: SC

The Supreme Court on Monday directed advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has levelled allegations against CBI Director Ranjit Sinha of protecting accused in the 2G case, to reveal the name of the whistleblower from whom he got CBI documents and guest list at the top cop’s residence.

A bench headed by Justice H L Dattu asked Mr. Bhushan to name the whistleblower in the sealed envelope on the next date of hearing and said that it will go into the merits of allegations after knowing the source of information, as it may have ramification on the reputation of the director and also affect the ongoing trial in the 2G scam.

It said that the affidavit filed by Mr. Bhushan is not in consonance with the Supreme Court rules and asked him to reveal the source from whom he got all the documents.

The director questioned the very existence of the diary before the apex court and said that 90 per cent of the entries were fudged though some entries may be genuine.

Advocate Vikash Singh, appearing for the top cop, submitted that somebody else is controlling the proceedings in the case and raised questions on how a media group published a story in advance that Bhushan will be depositing the original guest list before the apex court.

He alleged that a corporate house is working behind all these controversies and it is intended to benefit the accused in the 2G scam.

The bench also wanted to know the stand of CBI in the controversy but the senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the agency, refused to get into it, saying that it is a matter between advocate Prashant Bhushan and the director.

It then directed its registry to keep all documents and affidavits filed by the CBI director in a sealed cover and deposit them with the Secretary General for safe custody.

The apex court posted the matter for further hearing on September 22.

Prima facie case appears against HP CM: Centre

HP CMA prima facie case of money laundering appears to be made out against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, the Centre today told the Delhi High Court.

The bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini also took note of allegations of receipt of unaccounted money to the tune of nearly Rs 5 crores by the chief minister and filing of revised Income Tax returns for years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 by him.

The revised IT returns showed an increase in agricultural income to the tune of Rs 6.10 crore, a PIL, filed by NGO ‘Common Cause’, claimed.

“Meanwhile, the Income Tax department shall file before the court the tax assessment records and other documents of Respondent no.5 (Singh),” the bench, also comprising Justice Jayant Nath, said.

During the brief hearing, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Centre, said, “There was enough prima facie material available on record to say that a case of money laundering is made out against respondent no. 5 (Singh).”

The ASG was responding to the submissions made by Prashant Bhushan, who is representing the NGO, that an undue delay has been caused by the agency in registering an FIR despite the fact that there is sufficient material to prosecute Singh.

Only the CBI can say about the exact status of the investigation, the ASG said.

Reacting to the Centre’s submission, Singh said he has “nothing to fear as I have done no wrong”.

He said in Shimla that the matter is subjudice but he expects all the investigating agencies to be “just and fair”.

Without naming any individual, the Himachal CM said he was being framed in these cases “but I will fight it out”.

During the high court proceedings, Bhushan cited a Supreme Court judgement and said the CBI, which had lodged the preliminary enquiry long back, should have completed it within a week. It should have lodged an FIR, he said.

The bench is hearing the PIL alleging that Singh, during his tenure as the Chief Minister and Union Minister, had indulged in corruption, money laundering and forgery.

He also amassed assets disproportionate to the known sources of income, the PIL alleged.

(Source: PTI)

Court warns Kejriwal for skipping hearing

KejriwalA court here today warned former Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and three AAP leaders that “coercive process” would be initiated against them if they fail to appear on the next date of hearing in a defamation case.

Metropolitan Magistrate Sunil Kumar Sharma posted the matter for hearing May 24 and said: “Ensure that everybody is present on the next date (of hearing) otherwise I will initiate coercive process.”

The court was hearing a defamation suit filed against Kejriwal and others by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal’s son Amit, following a May 15, 2013 press conference of Kejriwal in which he alleged conflict of interest, saying Sibal had appeared in the Supreme Court for telecom firm Vodafone while his father was the communications minister.

The court allowed the exemption plea of Kejriwal and three AAP leaders, Manish Sisodia, Prashant Bhushan and Shazia Ilmi, sought on the ground they were busy campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls.

But, it warned them and told their counsel, Rahul Mehra, that he should ensure that they appear before him on the next date of hearing.

The court also imposed a cost of Rs.2,500 each on Sisodia, Bhushan and Ilmi after they failed to appear in court.

(Source: IANS)

Centre seeks details from AAP on foreign funding

kejriwalThe central government Tuesday informed the Delhi High Court that it has sought detailed information from the AAP over allegations of receiving foreign funds, saying this was in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

Filing an affidavit before a bench of Acting Chief Justice BD Ahmed and Justice Siddharth Mridul, the centre said the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has only given details of account numbers and not the source of the funds.

The affidavit filed through advocate Sumeet Pushkarna said that while the AAP claims to have received Rs 30 crore from Indians living abroad, the actual details of the contributors were missing in the response filed by the party to the central government.

It said the AAP also did not provide details on the transactions in the bank accounts and how it utilised that amount.

A fresh notice has been sent to AAP by the central government seeking details on the transactions and utilisation of foreign funds received by it.

On March 12, the bench had sought response from the central government on a public interest litigation that alleged the AAP received foreign funds.

The AAP had earlier told the court that it was the only party whose financial records and other details were open for public view and got donations of Rs.30 crore from Indian citizens only, out of which Rs 8.5 crore came from NRIs

Earlier, the court had directed the central government to go through details of the money donated to the AAP since its inception Nov 26, 2012 and to take action if anything was found in violation of the FCRA.

The plea named former Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, advocates Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan and party member Manish Sisodia.

It said the AAP and its members were promoted and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) of the US through various companies and trusts such as Ford Foundation.

The court will hear the matter May 7.

(Source:IANS)

Government’s Lokpal bill not strong: AAP

aaThe Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Sunday rejected the Lokpal bill under consideration in parliament, saying it was weak and would not prevent corruption, but work instead to “protect the corrupt”.

“This Lokpal bill does not provide for formation of Lokayuktas, there is no provision for whistle blower protection, and it is not free of the government,” said AAP member Prashant Bhushan.

“What is the point of passing this Lokpal bill, it will not stop corruption at all,” he said, adding it would only “protect the corrupt”.

 AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, said there was no independence for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

“They are not making CBI independent in this bill. If this happens, even the prime minister may go to jail in 2G or some other scam,” he said.

The Lokpal bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha and greatly amended by a select committee of Rajya Sabha, was tabled for debate in the upper house Friday.

The bill, once passed by the house of elders, will be sent once again to the lower house for approval.

The government has said it is committed to the passage of the bill in this session, which ends Friday.

(Source: IANS)

SC seeks details on power to allocate coal blocks

supreme courtThe Supreme Court Wednesday asked the central government to clarify as to who had the power to allocate coal blocks – the centre or the states – and sought details about a committee that vetted applications for the allocation of blocks.
The poser came from a bench of Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph when it was told that coal mines that were not mentioned in the scheduled list of the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1973 and those that surfaced thereafter were under the control of the states.

The court was told that all the coal mines discovered after the 1973 act belonged to the states and were covered under the Mines and Minerals Development (Regulation) Act and the recommendation for their allocation should come from the concerned States.

The court asked Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati to inform it who had the power to allocate coal blocks and what procedure the government had followed.

The judges said that it was on the “decision making process” and it has to be tested on constitutional provision.
Details related to the constitution and powers of the screening committee which vetted the applications for the allocation of coal blocks and made recommendations were also sought by the court.

As petitioner advocate M.L. Sharma concluded his arguments, the court asked Prashant Bhushan, representing a petitioner NGO, to address the court on the inter-play between Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act and the Mines and Minerals Development (Regulation) Act.

Bhushan was also asked to address the court on the scope of Section 34 of the Coal Mines Nationalizations’ Act.

Besides other aspects, Section 34 of Coal Mines (Nationalizations) Act provides for the “manner in which the coal mine shall be managed by a government company or a custodian”.

The court said this in the course of the hearing of two public interest litigations – one by Sharma and other by NGO Common Cause – seeking the cancellation of coal blocks which were allocated in an allegedly irregular manner.

Earlier in his four and half hour long submissions, Sharma told the court that the coal that could be extracted from the blocks allocated to the private companies was far in excess of the total requirements of these companies over a period of 30 years.

It is “substantial” and clearly shows that “there is no application of mind”, Justice Lodha said pointing to Sharma’s submission that the allocation of excess capacity of coal blocks was “unfair, unreasonable and unjustified”.

Sharma cited several instance of coal blocks being allocated to State Electricity Boards were passed on to private players in joint venture agreement.

(Source: IANS )