Earlier this month, Supreme Court held Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his reckless behaviour on social media. The apex court had taken suo moto cognisance against the senior advocate’s two tweets, one on the last 4 CJIs ‘murdering democracy’, and another tweet on CJI riding a bike and issued notice to Bhushan and Twitter.
While the advocate stood firm on not apologising for his Tweets, the SC on Thursday rejected Prashant Bhushan’s plea to review his statement on the quantum of his sentence in two days by another bench. The next hearing of the case may take place on 31st August 2020.
While this case against the Prashant Bhushan remains pending in the apex court and we are yet to see where the lawyer’s defiance will lead him to, let us look at some of the other cases for which the SC has reprimanded the advocate in the last decade.
2010 contempt case against Prashant Bhushan
In September 2009, the ‘PIL activist’ in an interview with Tehelka magazine had made serious allegations against former Chief Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia. He insinuated that Justice Kapadia had committed ‘judicial impropriety’ by being a part of the forest Bench that heard the Niyamgiri Mining lease in Orissa and ruled in favour of Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite industries. In the same interview, Bhushan claimed that out of the last 16 to 17 Chief Justices, half have been corrupt.
A contempt petition was moved by Senior Advocate Harish Salve, who helped the court as ‘amicus curiae.’ The petition was held to be maintainable and is pending before the Supreme Court for final judgement.
The ‘PIL crusader’ had found himself in trouble in 2013 when the SC began scrutinising coal block allocation since 1993. The three-judge bench headed by Justice R M Lodha had pulled up Bhushan for making “disturbing” remarks against the bench hearing the coal scam case.
In an interview, Bhushan had raised questions on why the bench did not take any action against Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati after it was found that he allegedly lied to the court by saying he did not go through the CBI affidavit before it was filed in the apex court.
The bench had taken strong exception to the statement. However, it refused to proceed against Bhushan and turned down the plea made by other lawyers involved in the coal scam case to take action against him for his contemptuous remarks after the latter apologised.
SC came down heavily on Prashant Bhushan for CPIL
The advocate also steers an organization called the Center for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). The Supreme Court in 2016 was quite flummoxed with the fact that filing PILs was the sole activity of an NGO. The bench headed by then Chief Justice T.S. Thakur said, “Prashant Bhushan, you have an image of a crusader. But can you become the centre for public interest litigation? Can the system be taken for a ride in such a manner? We cannot allow this.”
In 2017, the NGO Common Cause, through Bhushan, had also filed an interim application in the Court accusing Prime Minister Modi of taking bribes from Sahara and Birla when he was the CM of Gujarat. What followed was a major embarrassment for the senior advocate. The Supreme Court dismissed Prashant Bhushan’s plea seeking probe against PM Narendra Modi, observing that mere diaries and loose sheets cannot be taken as admissible evidence in a court of law against constitutional functionaries.
Pulling up Bhushan for submitting documents with “no evidentiary value” the SC said: “Given the shape in which these documents have been collected and filed, we are of the opinion that it would not be safe and proper to order investigation”.
Flustered with the Court’s decision, Bhushan insinuated that the Court was scared of big corporates. He slammed the Supreme Court’s verdict stating that it will go down as “one of the worst judgement” in history, adding that “it is a black day”.
Chit Fund Scheme
Once again in 2017, Prashant Bhushan had managed to irk the Supreme Court during the hearing of a PIL by NGO Humanity Salt Lake, which had sought investigation into banned chit fund schemes. In stern words, the Supreme Court had reprimanded Bhushan, telling him that a private person does not have the right to question the Court.
A Bench led by then CJI Khehar said: “Who are you to ask? If there is something, the parties concerned will approach us or hire you as a counsel. You are a private person who has no authority to ask questions. Whenever there is something substantial, we will pass directions. You point out if a serious fraud has been committed.”
Without mincing its words, the Court questioned Bhushan’s approach regarding the public interest litigation and asked him whether he wanted a “super agency over and above” the apex court.
Medical College bribery case
The year 2017 did not prove to be a very good year for the senior advocate. Yet again, in 2017, there was the medical college case in which the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Mishra had observed: “Mr Bhushan you are now liable for contempt. But you are not worthy to even of contempt.” Bhushan had walked out of the courtroom alleging that he was not allowed to argue.
Judge Loya case
In 2018, while dismissing a host of PILs seeking a probe into the death of Judge Loya, the Supreme Court slammed Prashant Bhushan and his NGO CPIL saying “attempts were made to misrepresent and mislead the court by manufacturing evidence to cast a doubt on the circumstances leading to the death of judge Loya”.
The conduct of Prashant Bhushan also led the Supreme Court to express grave concern over the rising misuse of PILs in its Judge Loya verdict. “The misuse of public interest litigation is a serious matter of concern for the judicial process. It is a travesty of justice for the resources of the legal system to be consumed by an avalanche of misdirected petitions purportedly filed in the public interest which, upon due scrutiny, are found to promote a personal, business or political agenda.”
Prashant Bhushan and his lie on Rafale deal
Prashant Bhushan, who was also one of the founding members of Aam Aadmi Party before Arvind Kejriwal fired him, had submitted a rejoinder affidavit at the Supreme Court on May 9, 2019, in the review petition filed against the Rafale deal. He had then alleged that the government has misled the government in various aspects of the deal in its response which was submitted in a sealed cover. He also accused the government of suppressing information and said that the government obtained the judgement on the basis of fraud.
However, it was seen that in the rejoinder affidavit, Prashant Bhushan had not brought any new allegation, he had merely repeated the same complaints which had been comprehensibly rebutted already. The SC had dismissed the review petition saying that “they lack merit”.
It is reported that Bhushan has argued over 300 PILs in the Courts. While he has seen a significant amount of success with his judicial activism in matters such as the 2G scam and Radia Tapes, it appears that he has tasted only bitter defeat off late.
The 10 cases for which Supreme Court reprimanded Advocate Prashant Bhushan can be viewd here: