A group of sixteen prominent civil society members, led by human rights activist Aruna Roy, have filed an application to implead themselves in the ongoing contempt case against Advocate Prashant Bhushan in Supreme Court. The apex court has instituted suo moto contempt proceedings against Bhushan for two of his tweets that were critical of the Supreme Court and the office of the Chief Justice of India.
Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Finance Secretary EAS Sarma, and former IFS officer Deb Mukharji are among 16 members who have approached the apex court.
In their plea, they have contended that the initiation of the contempt proceedings against Prashant Bhushan for expression of an opinion relating to the functioning of the Supreme Court, is manifestly unjust and unconstitutional. They argue that the opinion expressed by Bhushan can be held by any reasonable person. The contempt proceedings are thus a violation of rights of not just of Bhushan’s but also of the wider public.
The application filed through Advocate-on-Record Prasanna S states that the applicants are interested in the administration of justice and an independent judiciary. They are of the considered view that the contempt proceedings against Bhushan would stifle the right of free speech and expression of not just Bhushan but also of many citizens of this country.
“The Application is an earnest and bonafide attempt to sustain the perception & tradition of this Hon’ble Court as a progressive, deliberative and democratic institution”, reads the application.
They state that the apex court as an institution, described as the sentinel on the qui vive, ought to allow debate and discussion regarding its functioning and must not appear to stifle such expression through the invocation of its power of contempt.
“It is further urged that this Hon’ble Court ought to be open to public discussion about its functioning without those expressing their honest opinion fearing retribution or action of criminal contempt”, states the application
According to the plea, the contempt proceedings will have a chilling effect on honest critical expression by all members of the general public who have an interest in the country’s democracy and the Rule of Law.
The plea points out that criminal contempt as an offence has been circumscribed and made redundant in many modern democracies, including the USA and the UK.
“As a modern democracy such as India’s moves from a “culture of authority to a culture of justification”, it is clear that criminal contempt as defined under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the provision under which the captioned Contempt Petition arises, has to be interpreted and/or read down in keeping with the times and the ‘march of the law’”, the plea states.
RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj; JNU Professor Jayati Ghosh; child rights activist Shantha Sinha; journalist P. Sainath; Carnatic music vocalist, T M Krishan; founders & Trustees of the ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’ (ADR), Jagdeep S. Chhokar; Emeritus Professor at JNU Prabhat Patnaik; founder of National Convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) Bezwada Wilson; founder of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) Nikhil Dey; the Founder President of Samaj Parivartana Samudaya (SPS), Dharwad in Karnataka SR Hiremath; Human Rights defender Paul Divakar and feminist writer Syeda Hameed are also the applicants.
Read the Application