Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal declined to grant consent for initiation of contempt proceedings against contempt of court convict Advocate Prashant Bhushan. A Supreme Court Advocate Sunil Kumar Singh had written to the AG in October seeking his consent to initiate contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets targeting the Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde. The AG declined the request as Bhushan has already apologised for his comments.
Bhushan had posted a tweet insinuating that the Madhya Pradesh government provided a chopper to the CJI and other hospitalities during his visit to his home town in Nagpur to influence his decision in a case regarding disqualification of defecting MLAs of the state that was pending before him. As per Government of India’s protocol, any visit, official or unofficial, by the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Governors of other states and several other such VVIPs are considered as state visits. Thus the government was only following the protocol.
“I do not think that it would be in public interest to give consent for proceeding on the basis of the original tweet in view of the subsequent tweet expressing regret,”AG KK Venugopal said in his reply. @pbhushan1 #contemptofcourt pic.twitter.com/gjwDlyrU3B— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) November 28, 2020
Responding to the request for contempt of court case, the Attorney General made some very critical remarks against Prashant Bhushan, and wrote that he was inclined to grant the approval. But due to two developments that happened subsequently, he decided to not grant the sought approval.
The first development is that on 4th November, when Prashant Bhushan had made a U-turn on the issue. On that date, he had posted a follow-up tweet, saying that he was wrong in linking the CJI’s visit to MP with the disqualification case, and had apologised for the same. KK Venugopal wrote that Bhushan took this step after learning that advocate Sunil Kumar Singh had written the AG seeking to initiate contempt of court against him.
The second development that Venugopal cited for declining the request was that on 4th November itself, the case for on disqualification of the MLAs was withdrawn. The case was withdrawn from the Supreme Court as the case had become infructuous, after by-elections were held for the seats vacated due to disqualification of the MLAs.
“I do not think that it would be in public interest to give consent for proceedings on the basis of the original tweet in view of the subsequent tweet expressing regret”, the AG said.
Attorney General slams Prashant Bhushan
Although the Attorney General declined to approve initiating contempt of case against Prashant Bhushan, the AG slammed the activist lawyer for his comments against the CJI. In the written response to Advocate Sunil Kumar Singh’s letter, the AG slammed Bhushan’s comments as “unwarranted, improper, devoid of legal basis and prima facie contumacious”.
The AG made three points to prove how Prashant Bhushan’s allegations were incorrect. First, the CJI is one of the highest constitutional functionaries of the country, and is eligible to receive protocol as per stature of his office. Venugopal noted that apart from entitled to Z plus security, the CJI is also considered state guest as per existing rules of Madhya Pradesh, and therefore state govt is liable for arranging facilities for his reception, transport and boarding.
Secondly, had the CJI travelled via road instead of helicopter, he would have to go through Maoist infested Kanha National Park. Despite the Z plus security, the CJI’s convoy would be very vulnerable to Maoist attack, hence it was prudent and appropriate for the state govt to arrange helicopter for the visit.
Thirdly, Prashant Bhushan linking the facilities provided by the state govt to the CJI to the disqualification case in the Supreme Court was improper, as apart from CJI anyway being entitled to those facilities, the case actually would have no effect on the Madhyra Pradesh govt. The AG noted that the resignations of the MLAs were already accepted by the previous speaker, and the protem speaker after BJP forming the govt had rejected the demand to disqualify the revel MLAs.
As the resignations of the MLAs were already accepted, they were no longer members of the legislative assembly, and therefore there was no question of disqualifying them from the house. Hence, the petition with the Supreme Court to disqualify them was also meaningless, as they were no longer MLAs and the BJP govt in Madhya Pradesh already had majority without the support of those former Congress MLAs, as the strength of the house had come down due to the resignations.
Prashant Bhushan was convicted of contempt by the Supreme Court
This year in August, the Supreme Court had held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court. Bhushan had posted tweets casting aspersions on the Supreme Court and CJI Bobde. Announcing the quantum of punishment for Bhushan, the Supreme Court had asked him to pay either par Rs 1 fine or face three months in jail. Though Bhushan readily submitted Rs 1 in the registry but he later claimed that just because he had paid the fine did not mean that he had accepted the verdict.