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Above: CJI Ranjan Gogoi (left) had recently ordered former interim director, CBI, M Nageswara Rao (right) and the agency’s legal adviser to sit in a corner of the courtroom till it rose for the day

Exasperated by the conduct of accused, judges are passing orders which, to ordinary minds, may appear strange

By Venkatasubramanian     

In February 12, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi passed an unprecedented order. He ordered former interim director of the CBI, M Nageswara Rao and the agency’s legal adviser, S Bhasuran, to sit “in the corner of the court room” for contempt of court till it rose for the day. They were also directed to pay Rs 1 lakh each as fine within a week. Their offence was that they “wilfully” disobeyed orders of the Court not to transfer an investigating officer probing the Muzaffarpur shelter home abuse case.

Rao and Bhasuran sat in the visitors’ gallery of Court No 1, avoiding eye contact with anyone, for the remainder of the day as atonement. Their apology was hardly convincing to the Court as they insisted in their affidavits that the officer concerned, AK Sharma, a joint secretary, was transferred because it was a promotion and that they assumed that they could get the Court’s consent for it retrospectively. Although the Court has the power to sentence a contemner to sit in the courtroom till it rises for the day, to ask someone to sit in a corner of the courtroom, as if to humiliate him, is unheard of.

The Chief Justice of India’s unconventional order was similar to others passed by judges elsewhere.

2G CASE

On February 7, Justice Nazmi Waziri of the Delhi High Court ordered five respondents in the 2G appeal case to plant 3,000 trees each for seeking more time to file their responses. They were Swan Telecom Private Limited’s promoter, Shahid Balwa, director of Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Private Limited Rajeev Agarwal, and the three firms, Dynamic Realty, DB Realty Limited and Nihar Constructions Private Limited. Justice Waziri directed them to appear before the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) on February 15 for planting the trees in Delhi’s South Ridge forest area. The DCF was asked to allot them the land for this exercise. The companies were to be represented through their authorised signatories.

Justice Waziri also ordered the private secretary to former Union minister A Raja to plant 300 trees, allowing him to file his response in the case as a last opportunity. The Court stipulated that the plants should be indigenous, three and a half years of nursery age and six feet in height. The respondents were asked to submit photographic proof in the Court ensuring the plants’ good health.

On October 9 last year, Justice Waziri noted in his order in CBI v A. Raja & Others: “It is stated on behalf of the respondents that the entire records have not yet been made available to them. Nevertheless, on the basis of the records available, some respondents have filed preliminary response.  The TCR (Trial Court Records) have been digitized. Let a digitized copy of the entire case file along with the TCR be made available to the parties through their counsel within two weeks from today. Replies by the respondents may be filed within six weeks. Rejoinder, if any, be filed before the next date. List for further proceedings on 07.02.2019.”

The case history shows that the first hearing of the appeal was on March 21 last year when Justice SP Garg issued a notice to all the respondents by all permissible modes, returnable on May 25, 2018. The response should be filed within four weeks from the date of service, and the rejoinder filed within two weeks thereafter, he had said. He had also directed requisitioning of the TCR along with the e-record.

On May 25, the counsel appearing for the respondents sought more time. Justice Garg granted them six weeks with a rejoinder (if any) to be filed within two weeks thereafter. He also directed the issue of a notice to the unserved respondents by all permissible modes, returnable on August 10, 2018, with a response (if any) to be filed within four weeks from the date of service, and rejoinder (if any) to be filed within two weeks thereafter. He also ordered a copy of the petition to be made available to the contesting respondents within a week in CD form.

On August 10, the counsel for some respondents stated that they were not supplied with the records of the case in CD form. They were also aggrieved that they did not get the lower court records. “Let it be requisitioned, digitized and made available in two weeks,” Justice Waziri, who began to hear the case, had held. On August 10, only res­pondent No. 1 (A Raja) had filed his reply.

The February 7 order may appear bizarre, but many would say it is justified to uphold the majesty of the Court. The respondents had taken this for granted by their repeated pleas for more time for filing responses. This seemed as if they were keen to delay the hearing of the CBI’s appeals for no reason.

GILLETTE INDIA CASE

On February 28, 2017, seemingly exasperated by the delays perpetrated by the case counsel in Gillette India Ltd. vs Reckitt Benckiser (India) Pvt. Ltd., Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court posted the matter for further hearing on November 3, 2020. He also directed Gillette India to deposit Rs 10 lakh to cover a potential order of costs for wasting the Court’s time. He held: “No application for priority hearing will be entertained; at least not until the Plaintiffs deposit in advance an amount of not less than Rs 10 lakhs to cover a potential order of costs for this attempt to consume scarce judicial time in a battle over advertisements of rival depilation products for women.”

Justice Patel recorded the reason for his order. “There is not the slightest urgency, and this is evident from the delay thus far and the application for three weeks’ time for an affidavit in rejoinder. Parties are in the meantime free to advertise, counter-advertise and re-advertise their respective products with such statements as they believe are permissible or as their in-house legal thinks fit.”

This activist mode of various courts shows that they want their orders to be taken seriously and if not, punishment will follow.

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