Source- Live Law
Mehal Jain & Radhika Roy
24 Nov 2020
The Supreme Court on Tuesday considered the petition filed by Arnab Goswami, against the breach of privilege notice issued by the Maharashtra Assembly against him.
On November 6, the Court had issued contempt notice upon Assistant Secretary of the Maha Legislative Assembly for sending an allegedly “intimidating” letter to Goswami & to show cause as to why contempt should not be issued in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution, LiveLaw reported on Tuesday.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami had told the bench that the letter of Assistant Secretary, Vilas Athawale, questioned Goswami for producing communications of the Speaker and Privilege Committee before Court as they are confidential in nature.
On Tuesday, the bench headed by CJ S. A. Bobde was informed that the Secretary, in his reply filed last night, has asserted that he acted on the instruction and under the directions of the Speaker. The bench deliberated on whether to issue notice to the Speaker, according to LiveLaw.
“We received the reply of the Secretary of the Maharashtra Legislative Secretariat late last night. None of us have read it”, said the CJ at the outset on Tuesday.
“Yes. And it raises an interesting question of law- shorn of details, should a notice be issued to the Speaker? He (the Secretary) has repeatedly said that he was only acting on the directions of the Speaker. I will put the matter to Your Lordships before any pale of doubt”, began Senior Advocate Harish Salve.
“I have placed before Your Lordships the show-cause notice and the annexures to the notice. I was following the Hansard Rule, for what happened in the House can only be shown by the official publications. The affidavit says that he was acting under the instructions of the Speaker to issue the show-cause notice”, he continued.
“So he has said all this but not withdrawn the letter?”, asked the CJ.
At this point, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appearing for the Secretary, advanced, “I have not withdrawn because I wish to contest! There is no contempt. There are 4 judgments of this court which directly help me!”
“So we will adjourn the matter by 2 weeks. Till then, everyone can file anything they want”, said the CJ.
“All of us can put in written submissions. Then Your Lordships can list it for hearing some day?”, suggested Mr. Salve.
“What do you say, Mr Datar?”, inquired the CJ from Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, having been appointed Amicus Curiae in the matter.
“I have not seen the rejoinder. I understand that the question is whether the filing of the writ petition would amount to contempt”, said Mr. Datar. He indicated the 1964 constitution bench judgment of the Supreme Court in a reference under Article 143 in Keshav Singh’s case- “Mr. B. Solomon appeared for Keshav Singh. It was held that filing of the writ petition is not contempt. I also have US authorities on this point”.
“We look forward to your assistance. Is your client here, Mr. Dave?’, asked the CJ.
“He is in Delhi. He is in my office”, replied Mr. Dave.
“Your statement is good enough for us”, said the CJ.
“Could Your Lordships please exempt him from personal appearance at the next occasion?”, requested Mr. Dave.
“No, no…”, said the CJ.
It was pointed out to the bench that on account of the COVID situation flying between Delhi and Maharashtra is difficult and that there are formalities of undergoing RT-PCR tests.
“Is it? Then your request seems reasonable. We will grant it”, allowed the CJ.
“We are not opposing it at all. But the secretary has said that he was acting at the behest of the Speaker. Could Your Lordships lay down the law in case the Speaker says that he has not been personally served or that he has not been heard?”, prayed Mr. Salve.
“That is not necessary. There is no contempt or any obstruction of justice! He is saying that he relied on the Speaker’s directions, but that does not mean the Speaker should come…”, Mr. Dave sought to interject.
“Mr. Salve is not on contempt but on whether the Speaker should be served”, clarified the CJ.
“But Your Lordships have to first hold if there is contempt!”, pressed Mr. Dave.
“No. We first serve and then we decide. It is not the other way round! The apprehension is that the Speaker should not say that the proceedings were held without him. If there is no contempt, there will be no prejudice. But just because the Secretary is saying he relied on the Speaker’s instructions, the Speaker cannot be denied the chance to say whether this is right or wrong”, observed the CJ.
“I assure you that you will drop the proceedings on the next occasion!”, urged Mr. Dave.
“What we do on the next occasion is for us to decide. You don’t tell us!”, remarked the CJ.
“I am on the law…”, pleaded Mr. Dave.
“We are also on the law”, said the CJ.
“I am only saying that even if there is a one in a trillion chance…”, Mr. Salve sought to submit.
“Today the ED has raided the office of the MLA who had filed the complaint against Goswami! Will that be contempt? I don’t see a request in this behalf from Mr. Salve”, argued Mr. Dave.
“If there is an off-chance that Mr. Dave is wrong – and being a lawyer, he would agree that there may be things we feel strongly about but may eventually be wrong – could Your Lordships please record a finding…”, prayed Mr. Salve.
“We see what you are saying. The Secretary has made the statement that he did everything on the Speaker’s instructions and directions, but if the Speaker says that the statement is not right, then he should get a chance! Mr. Datar, please address us on this also”, observed the CJ.
“This person is acting as the agent of the Speaker. So that would make the Speaker the proper and the necessary party. Mr. Dave is on merit- if there is no contempt, then everything goes. But if the Speaker disowns the statement that the Secretary had acted on his directions…?”, advanced Mr. Datar
“Yes. If there is no contempt of court, then everybody is discharged! But if there is contempt, then they should be here and should be heard!”, noted the CJ.
At this point, Senior Advocate A. M. Singhvi, having represented the state of Maharashtra at the previous occasion, sought to make a submission in connection with a separate matter- “May I…”, he began.
“You had washed your hands off at the last occasion…”, commented the CJ.
Then, the bench proceeded to adjourn the matter by 2 weeks.