H.G. Rangangoud Vs.
M/S. State Trading Corporation of India Limited & Ors.
J U D G M E N T
aggrieved by the order passed by the Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court
initiating proceeding for contempt in exercise of its suo motu power, has preferred
these special leave petitions.
of unnecessary details the facts giving rise to the present appeals are that
the appellant applied on 16th of April, 2003 for grant of mining lease for iron
ore over an area of 350 acres in Yeshawanthnagar Range of the Kumarswamy Reserve
Forest Area within Sandur Taluk in Bellary District of the State of Karnataka. The
State Government processed the request and in exercise of powers under Section 5
(1) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957
(hereinafter referred to as `the Act') by its letter dated 9th of February, 2004
recommended to the Central Government for grant of mining lease in favour of the
appellant to the extent of 16.8 hectares.
However before any decision
could be taken, the Central Government issued notification dated 27th of June, 2005
in exercise of the power under Section 17 A (1A) of the Act and reserved iron
ore deposits in the area in question for exploitation by State Trading Corporation
of India Limited, a public sector undertaking. In view of the aforesaid reservation
the Central Government returned the proposal of the State Government to grant mining
lease to the appellant by its letter dated 21st of July, 2005.
Aggrieved by the aforesaid
notification appellant preferred WP No. 19339 of 2005 (H.G. Rangangoud v.
Minister of Coal & Mines, represented by the Secretary & Ors.) before the
Karnataka High Court, inter alia praying for quashing the notification reserving
the iron ore deposits in favour of the State Trading Corporation of India
The writ petition filed
by the appellant was heard along with another writ petition filed by Salgaocar Mining
Industries Private Limited and the learned Single Judge by its judgment and order
dated 14th of August, 2007 quashed the aforesaid notification dated 27th of June,
2005. Armed with the order of the High Court, appellant represented to the State
Government to consider his application for grant of mining lease by its representation
dated 18th of September, 2007.
After one day of filing
of the representation i.e. on 20th of September, 2007 the State Trading Corporation,
aggrieved by the order of the learned Single Judge preferred appeal before the High
Court. Said appeal was posted for consideration on 3rd of October, 2007 and the
Division Bench of the High Court taking into consideration the `enormity' of the
case and finding that all the parties have been served and represented,
directed for its final disposal on 11th of October, 2007.
However, no interim order
was passed. As directed, the matter was heard and reserved for judgment but
before the judgment could be pronounced the State Trading Corporation, the appellant
before the High Court, brought to its notice that "when the matter was in the
hearing process, Government of Karnataka has sent a communication to the Union of
India for mining lease in favour of the writ petitioners".
The Division Bench of
the High Court, when informed about the aforesaid fact "called upon the Government
Advocate to explain this situation". The explanation was furnished in
which it was inter alia stated that "as there was no interim order granted
in the writ appeal and keeping in view the fact that if the mining area is not
sanctioned to the writ petitioners the existing mining operation would be
forced to close down and keeping in view the jeopardy to the workmen, such recommendation
has been made."
The explanation put forth
by the State Government did not find favour with the High Court and on its prima
facie finding that the aforesaid conduct "amounts to interference with the
due course of judicial process" initiated suo motu criminal contempt
proceedings against the appellant herein and K. Jayachandra, Under Secretary to
the Government of Karnataka, Commerce and Industries Department. While doing so
the High Court observed as follows:
going through the affidavit as well as the records, prima facie it appears to us
that there is a clear attempt on the part of the writ petitioner Mr. H.G.
Rangangoud and the concerned official to take such action when the grant of
lease/licence itself was seized and was under consideration by this Court thereby
cause on the merit or decision of this court."
P. Vishwanatha Shetty, Senior Advocate appearing on behalf of the appellant submits
that the appellant had filed the representation in the light of the order of
the learned Single Judge even before the appeal was filed against the judgment
of the learned Single Judge and hence it cannot be said that the appellant in
any way interfered with the due course of judicial process.
Accordingly he submits
that the order initiating the proceeding for criminal contempt deserves to be set
aside. Ms. Anitha Shenoy appears on behalf of the State of Karnataka and submits
that the act of filing the representation by the appellant and the recommendation
made by the Under Secretary in no way interferes with the due course of judicial
process and in such a state of affairs she is not in a position to defend the order
of the High Court.
At the same breath
she reminds us that contempt is a matter between the court and the contemnor
and this Court may take the view which it considers just and proper.
have given our most anxious consideration to the submissions advanced and at the
outset we may observe that this Court seldom interferes with an order initiating
a contempt proceeding and ordinarily relegates the person charged with contempt
to file a show cause before the court which had initiated the proceeding.
But this is not an absolute
rule and in the facts of a given case when this Court comes to the conclusion that
the allegation made, even when not denied do not constitute contempt, interferes
with the order initiating contempt proceeding so as to avoid unnecessary harassment
to the person served with contempt notice. We proceed to consider the present appeal
bearing in mind the aforesaid principle.
is relevant here to state that the proceeding has been initiated against the
appellant for criminal contempt on the ground that the act done by the
appellant amounts to interference with the due course of judicial process. The
expression "criminal contempt" has been defined under Section 2 (c) of
the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 and in the present case we are concerned with Section
2 (c) (ii), the same reads as follows:
- In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, - xxx xxx xxx (c)
"criminal contempt" means the publication (whether by words, spoken or
written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter
or the doing of any other act whatsoever which - xxx xxx xxx (ii) prejudices,
or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial
proceeding; or xxx xxx xxx." From a plain reading of the aforesaid
provision it is evident that an act which prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere
with the due course of judicial proceeding comes within the mischief of
The power to punish for
contempt is inherent in Courts of record and described as a necessary incident
to every court of justice. The power is inalienable attribute of court and inheres
in every Court of record. This power though inherent to the High Court is given
a constitutional status by Article 215 of the Constitution. It is to secure public
respect and confidence in the judicial process.
Rule of law is the basic
rule of governance of any civilized democratic polity. It is only through the courts
that rule of law unfolds its contours and establishes its concept. For the judiciary
to carry out its obligations effectively and true to the spirit with which it
is sacredly entrusted the task, constitutional courts have been given the power
to punish for contempt, but greater the power; higher the responsibility.
the present case, even before filing of the appeal the appellant has brought to
the notice of the State Government the order passed by the learned Single Judge
and sought its implementation. In the representation he had not voiced and could
not have voiced any opinion on the appeal as the same was not filed till then.
The Under Secretary while
making recommendation also did not voice any opinion on the pending appeal. It
has to be borne in mind that any attempt to influence the outcome of the matter
pending before the court to prejudice the parties therein may prejudice or
interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding but in our opinion,
mere filing of the representation and making recommendation thereon in no way
prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any
In our opinion, it is
criminal contempt to voice opinion on a case pending in court as that would seem
to influence the outcome of the matter and to prejudice the parties therein. However,
we hasten to add that fair reporting of court proceedings and fair comments on the
legal issues do not amount to contempt. The order of the learned Single Judge was
not stayed. Further, mere filing of the appeal would not operate as a stay of
order appealed from.
tested on the aforesaid anvil we are of the opinion that the act alleged in no way
prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial
proceeding. From the conspectus of the discussion aforesaid we have no doubt in
our mind that the proceeding initiated against the appellant as also the Under Secretary
to the Government of Karnataka, Commerce and Industries Department is not just and
appropriate and an abuse of the process of the court. This being so, we are duty
bound to interfere at this stage itself.
it is that Under Secretary to the Government of Karnataka, Commerce and Industries
Department against whom the contempt proceeding has been initiated by the
impugned order, not chosen to file any petition before this Court but in view
of what has been observed above we are of the opinion that it shall be too technical
to deny him the relief by this Court, which has jurisdiction for doing complete
justice in any cause or matter pending before it. Therefore, he shall also be entitled
to the same relief as that of the appellant.
these appeals are allowed, the impugned judgment and order is set aside.
................................................J. (CHANDRAMAULI KR. PRASAD)