New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued show cause notice to an assistant secretary of Maharashtra legislative assembly asking him to explain why contempt proceedings should be not initiated against him for his letter to journalist Arnab Goswami which seems to “intimidate” him for approaching the apex court on the issue of alleged breach of privilege motion.
The apex court also directed that Goswami shall not be arrested in pursuance of the proceedings pending in Maharashtra assembly for alleged breach of privilege motion.
The top court, which termed the statements of the official in an October 13 letter sent to Goswami as unprecedented, said it tends to interfere in the course of administration of justice and is definitely a “serious matter” and “amounts to contempt”.
It said the letter seems to have been written to threaten Republic TV editor-in-chief with a penalty for seeking legal remedy which he exercised as a fundamental right under Article 32 of the Constitution.
“We don’t see that any authority in the country can penalise anybody for coming to this court. What is Article 32 meant for? How can this officer say so? I have never seen a letter like this,” said Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, who was heading the bench also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian.
The issue was brought to the court’s notice by senior advocate Harish Salve, who was appearing for Goswami and referred to the October 13 letter sent by the office of Secretary, Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Secretariat to the journalist.
The bench noted that the letter has been signed by Vilas Athawale, Assistant Secretary of Maharashtra Vidhan Mandal Sachivalaya.
“You were informed that the proceedings of the House are confidential…despite this, it has been observed that you have presented the proceedings of the House before the Supreme Court on October 8, 2020. No prior permission was taken from the Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly before presenting such proceedings in court. You have knowingly breached the orders of the Speaker of Maharashtra Assembly and your actions amount to breach of confidentiality. This is definitely a serious matter and amounts to contempt..,” said the letter, a portion of which was quoted in the court order.
The bench, which took umbrage to the letter, observed that no one can threaten any person in this manner for approaching the court and said, “We find it very difficult to overlook this.”
“The above statements made by Vilas Athawale, Assistant Secretary, Maharashtra Vidhan Mandal Sachivalaya, are unprecedented and tend to interfere in the course of administration of justice. The intention of the author of the said letter viz, Vilas Athawale, Assistant Secretary, Maharashtra Vidhan Mandal Sachivalaya, seems to be to intimidate the petitioner (Goswami) because the petitioner approached this Court and to threaten him with a penalty for seeking legal remedy,” the bench said.
During the hearing, it transpired that the apex court has issued notice to the office of the Secretary of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Secretariat, which happens to be one of the respondents in the matter.
Later, when the order was uploaded on the apex court website, it became clear that show cause notice has been issued to the assistant secretary who had signed the October 13 letter.
The bench noted that office of Secretary of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Secretariat would have been well advised to understand that right to approach the apex court under Article 32 of the Constitution is itself a fundamental right.
“There is no doubt that if a citizen of India is deterred in any case from approaching this court in exercise of his right under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, it would amount to a serious and direct interference in the administration of justice in the country,” the bench said.
The apex court noted that during the hearing, it asked senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Maharashtra, to respond to the letter but he expressed his inability to explain or justify the contents of letter since it is written by the office of Secretary of Assembly secretariat.
“We, therefore, issue notice returnable on November 23, 2020 to Vilas Athawale, Assistant Secretary, Maharashtra Vidhan Mandal Sachivalaya, to show cause why he should not be proceeded against for contempt of this Court in exercise of our powers under Article 129 of the Constitution of India,” the bench said.
“In the meantime, the petitioner (Goswami) shall not be arrested in pursuance of the present proceedings impugned in the instant writ petition,” it said and appointed senior advocate Arvind Datar as amicus curiae to assist it.
It allowed Goswami to implead the Centre as a party and issued notice to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.
In the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, Salve referred to the letter and said Goswami has been threatened for approaching the apex court in the matter.
“This is a matter of utmost seriousness. Case after case is being filed against this man (Goswami),” Salve said, adding that the “journalist should be protected by the court in this matter.”
The court was hearing his plea against show cause notice by Legislative Assembly for initiation of breach of privilege motion against him for reportage related to case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
He had made certain remarks against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackrey in his news debates on the case.