Ahead of the Supreme Court’s hearing on contempt proceedings against Prashant Bhushan for his alleged ‘contemptuous’ remarks against present and former CJIs, he and his sympathisers have launched a multi-pronged response to dissuade the court from going ahead with contempt cases.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari on July 22 had initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets — one accusing the Chief Justice of India of riding a stationary heavy bike without mask or helmet while keeping courts under lockdown; and the other attributing role to four former CJIs in the alleged destruction of democracy in last six years of undeclared emergency.
On July 24, the same bench had asked Bhushan to be prepared on August 4 to defend the 2009 contempt proceedings drawn against him for insinuating that half of 16 former CJIs were corrupt. It had refused to adjourn hearing on this old case till September or when the physical hearing in court resumed. Justice Mishra retires on September 2.
On July 27, a statement was released by 131 persons, many of whom were in the past represented by Bhushan in court, expressing solidarity with the activist lawyer and criticising the SC for taking recourse to contempt proceedings for his tweets. Days later, another release was issued by Bhushan’s office saying 11 former judges of the SC and HCs have endorsed the statement by the 131 persons.
Next, a joint petition in Supreme Court was filed by eminent editor N Ram, former minister Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan challenging the constitutional validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Court Act, which made “publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which scandalises or tend to scandalise or lower or tends to lower the authority of any court” an offence.The trio, who had come together along with Yashwant Sinha to question the Rafale fighter jet purchase deal in 2018, in their petition through advocate Kamini Jaiswal said the provision violated a person’s right to free speech guaranteed under Article 19 and right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
On Saturday, Bhushan himself filed another writ petition through Jaiswal seeking stay of the suo motu contempt proceedings initiated on July 22. He faulted the SC Registry for listing before the bench a contempt petition which had no approval from either the attorney general or the solicitor general, as needed under the Contempt of Court Act. He said since the petition itself was defective and could not have been listed before the court, the initiation of suo motu proceedings too was afflicted by the defect. He sought a stay on these proceedings. He also sought dropping of the 2009 contempt proceedings against him saying these proceedings had a chilling effect on his right to free speech and violated his right to free speech.
On Saturday, Bhushan’s office said that the statement of 131 persons expressing solidarity with the activist lawyer has now been endorsed by former judges of the Supreme Court — Justices Ruma Pal, GS Singhvi, Ashok K Ganguly, Gopala Gowda, Aftab Alam, J Chelameswar, Vikramjit Sen and Madan Lokur. It also said former HC judges AP Shah and Anjana Prakash too have endorsed the Bhushan-solidarity statement.