Bathina Ramakrishna Reddy Vs. The
State of Madras  INSC 7 (14 February 1952)
AIYAR, N. CHANDRASEKHARA SASTRI, M. PATANJALI
(CJ) MAHAJAN, MEHR CHAND DAS, SUDHI RANJAN
CITATION: 1952 AIR 149 1952 SCR 425
CITATOR INFO :
E 1954 SC 10 (12) F 1959 SC 102 (3) E 1971 SC
221 (15,18) R 1978 SC 727 (44) RF 1989 SC 1 (8)
Contempt of Courts Act (XII of 1926), s. 2
(3)--Indian Penal Code (XLV of 1860), s. 499--Contempt of subordinate
Court--Jurisdiction of High Court to take cognizance Contempt punishable as
defamation under Penal Code--Whether jurisdiction ousted--Scope and object of
Contempt of Courts Act.
Sub-sec. (3) of section 2 of the Contempt of
Courts Act, 1926, excludes the jurisdiction of the High Court to take
cognisance of a contempt alleged to have been committed in respect of a Court
subordinate to it only in cases where the acts alleged to constitute contempt
are punishable as contempt under specific provisions of the Indian Penal Code,
but not where these acts merely amount to offences of other description for
which punishment has been provided for in the Indian Penal Code.
The fact that defamation of a judge of a
subordinate Court constitutes an offence under sec. 499 of the Indian Penal
Code does not, therefore, oust the jurisdiction of the High Court to take
cognisance of the act as a contempt of court.
Defamatory statements about the conduct of a
judge even in respect of his judicial duties do not necessarily constitute contempt
of Court. It is only when the defamation is calculated to obstruct or interfere
with the due course of justice or proper administration of justice that it
amounts to contempt.
Kisan Krishna Ji v. Nagpur Conference of
Society of St. Vincent de Paul (A.I.R. 1943 Nag. 334) disapproved. V.M. Bason
v. A.H. Skone ([.L.R. 53 Cal. 401) explained. Subordinate Judge. First Class
Hoshangabad v. Jawaharlal (A.I.R.
1940 Nag. 407), Narayan Chandra v. Panchu
Pramanick (A. L R. 1935 Cal. 684), Naresh Kumar v. Umaromal (A.I.R. 1951 Cal.
489), Kaulashia v. Emperor (I.L.R. 12 Pat.
1), State v. Brahma Prakash (A.I.R. 1950 All. 556), Emperor v. Jagannath
(A.I.R. 1938 All. 358), Bennet Colman v. C.S. Monga (I.L.R. 1937 Lah. 34)
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 13 of 1951. Appeal by special leave from the judgment and order of
the High Court of Madras (Rajamannar C.J. and Balakrishna Ayyar J.) dated 10th
April, 1950, in Contempt Application No. 10 of 1949.
426 S.P. Sinha (S.S. Prakasam, with him), for
R. Ganapathy Iyer, for the respondent.
1952. February 14. The Judgment of the Court
was delivered by MUKHERJEA J.---This appeal has come up before us on special
leave granted by this court on May 23, 1950, and it is directed against a
judgment of a Division Bench of the Madras High Court dated April 10, 1950, by
which the learned Judges found the appellant guilty of contempt of court and
sentenced him to serve simple imprisonment for three months.
The appellant is the publisher and managing
editor of a Telugu Weekly known as "Praja Rajyam" which is edited and
published at Nellore in the State of Madras. In the issue of the said paper
dated 10th February, 1949, an article appeared under the caption "Is the
Sub-Magistrate, Kovvur, corrupt?" The purport of the article was that
Surya Narayan Murthi, the stationary Sub-Magistrate of Kovvur, was known to the
people of the locality to be a bribe taker and to be in the habit of harassing
litigants in various ways. He was said to have a broker, through whom
negotiations in connection with these corrupt practices were carried on.
Several specific instances were cited of cases tried by that officer, where it
was rumoured that he had either taken bribes or had put the parties to undue
harassment, because they were obdurate enough to refuse the demands of his
The article, which is a short one, concludes
with the following paragraph:-"There are party factions in many villages
in Kovvur Taluk. Taking advantage of those parties many wealthy persons make
attempt to get the opposite party punished either by giving bribes or making
recommendations. To appoint Magistrates who run after parties for a Taluk like
this....... is to betray the public. It is tantamount to failure of justice.
Will the Collector enquire into the matter and allay the public of their
fears?" 427 The attention of the State Government being drawn to this
article, an application was filed by the Advocate General of Madras before the
High Court on November 14, 1949, under section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act
(Act XII of 1926) praying that suitable action might be taken against the
appellant as well as three other persons, of whom two were respectively the
editor and sub-editor of the paper, while the third was the owner of the Press
where the paper was printed.
On receiving notice, the appellant appeared
before the High Court and filed an affidavit taking sole responsibility for the
article objected to and asserting that the article was published because of his
anxiety to uphold the highest traditions of the judiciary in the land and to
create popular confidence in courts, the duty of which was to dispense justice
without fear or favour and without any discrimination of caste, creed or
community. It was said that before the article was published, numerous
complaints had reached him from various quarters imputing corruption and
disreputable conduct to this Magistrate and the only desire of the appellant
was to draw the attention of the higher authorities to the state of public
opinion in the matter and to invite an enquiry into the truth or otherwise of
the allegations which were not asserted as facts but were based only on
The High Court after hearing the parties came
to the conclusion that the publication in question did amount to contempt of
court, as it was calculated to lower the prestige and dignity of courts and
bring into disrepute the administration of justice. As the appellant was not
prepared to substantiate the allegations which he made and which he admitted to
be based on hearsay and did not think it proper even to express any regret for
what he had done, the court sentenced him to simple imprisonment for three
The other three respondents, through their
counsel, tendered unqualified apology to the court and the learned Judges
considered that no further action against them was necessary.
428 The propriety of the decision of the High
Court so far as it relates to the appellant has been challenged before us in
this appeal and Mr. Sinha, who appeared in support of the same, raised before
us a two-fold contention; his first and main contention is that as the contempt
in this case was said to have been committed in respect of a court subordinate
to the High Court and the allegations made in the article in question
constitute an offence under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, the
jurisdiction of the High Court to take cognizance of such a case is expressly
barred under section 2 (3) of the Contempt of Courts Act. The other contention
advanced by the learned counsel relates to the merits of the case and it is
urged that in publishing the article objected to, the appellant acted in
perfect good faith, and as the article amounted to nothing else but a demand
for enquiry into the conduct of a particular person who was believed to be
guilty of corrupt practices in the discharge of his judicial duties, there was
no contempt of court either intended or committed by the appellant.
So far as the first point is concerned, the
determination of the question raised by the appellant would depend upon the
proper interpretation to be put upon section 2(3) of the Contempt of Courts Act
which runs as follows :-"No High Court shall take cognizance of a contempt
alleged to have been committed in respect of a court subordinate to it where
such contempt is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code."
According to Mr. Sinha, what the sub-section means is that if the act by which
a party is alleged to have committed contempt of a subordinate court
constitutes offence of any description whatsoever punishable under the Indian
Penal Code, the High Court is precluded from taking cognizance of it. It is
said that in the present case the allegations made in the article in question
amount to an offence of defamation as defined by section 499 of the Indian
Penal Code and consequently the jurisdiction of the High Court is barred.
Reliance 429 is placed in support of this
proposition upon the decision of the Nagpur High Court in Kisan Krishna Ji v.
Nagpur Conference of Society of St. Vincent de Paul(1). This contention, though
somewhat plausible at first sight, does not appear to us to be sound. In our
opinion, the sub-section referred to above excludes the jurisdiction of High
Court only. in cases where the acts alleged to constitute contempt of a
subordinate court are punishable as contempt under specific provisions of the
Indian Penal Code but not where these acts merely amount to offences of other
description for which punishment has been provided for in the Indian Penal
Code. This would be clear from the language of the sub-section which uses the
words "where such contempt is an offence" and does not say
"where the act alleged to constitute such contempt is an offence". It
is argued that if such was the intention of the Legislature, it could have
expressly said that the High Court's jurisdiction will be ousted only when the
contempt is punishable as such under the Indian Penal Code. It seems to us that
the reason for not using such language in the sub-section may be that the
expression "contempt of court" has not been used as description of
any offence in the Indian Penal Code, though certain acts, which would be
punishable as contempt of court in England, are made offences under it.
It may be pointed out in this connection that
although the powers of the High Courts in India established under the Letters
Patent to exercise jurisdiction as Superior Courts of Record in punishing
contempt of their authority or processes have never been doubted, it was a
controversial point prior to the passing of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1926,
as to whether the High Court could, like the Court of King's Bench in England,
punish contempt of courts subordinate to it in exercise of its inherent
jurisdiction. The doubt has been removed by Act XII of 1926 which expressly
declares the right of the High Court to protect subordinate courts against
contempt, but (1) (1943) A.I.R. 1943 Nag. 334.
430 subject to this restriction, that cases
of contempt which have already been provided for in the Indian Penal Code
should not be taken cognizance of by the High Court. This seems to be the
principle underlying section 2(3)of the Contempt of Courts Act. What these
cases are need not be exhaustively determined for purposes of the present case,
but some light is undoubtedly thrown upon this matter by the provision of
section 480 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which empowers any civil, criminal
or revenue court to punish summarily a person who is found guilty of committing
any offence under sections 176, 178, 179, 180 or section 228 of the Indian
Penal Code in the view or presence of the court. We are not prepared to say, as
has been said by the Patna High Court in Jnanendra prasad v. Gopal(1), that the
only section of the Indian Penal Code which deals with contempt committed
against a court of justice or judicial officer is section 228. Offences under
sections 175, 178, 179 and 180 may also, as section 480 of the Criminal Procedure
Code shows, amount to contempt of court if the "public servant"
referred to in these sections happens to be a judicial officer in a particular
case. It is well known that the aim of the contempt proceeding is "to
deter men from offering any indignities to a court of justice" and an
essential feature of the proceeding is the exercise of a summary power by the
court itself in regard to the delinquent. In the cases mentioned in section 480
of the Indian Penal Code, the court has been expressly given summary powers to
punish a person who is guilty of offending its dignity in the manner indicated
in the section. The court is competent also under section 482 of the Criminal
Procedure Code to forward any case of this description to a Magistrate having
jurisdiction to try it, if it considers that the offender deserves a higher
punishment than what can be inflicted under section 480. Again, the court is
entitled under section 484 to discharge the offender on his submitting an
apology, although it has already adjudged him to punishment under section 480
(1) I.L.R 12 Pat. 172.
431 or forwarded his case for trial under
section 482. The mode of purging contempt by tendering apology is a further
characteristic of a contempt proceeding. It seems, therefore, that there are
offences which are punishable as contempt under the Indian Penal Code and as
subordinate courts can sufficiently vindicate their dignity under the
provisions of criminal law in such cases the legislature deemed it proper to
exclude them from the jurisdiction of the High Court under section 2(3) of the
Contempt of Courts Act; but it would not be correct to' say that the High
Court's jurisdiction is excluded even in cases where the act complained of,
which is alleged to constitute contempt, is otherwise an offence under the
Indian Penal Code.
This view has been taken and, in our opinion
quite rightly, in a number of decisions by the Calcutta,(1) Patna,(2)
Allahabad(3) and Lahore(4) High Courts. The only authority which Mr. Sinha
could cite in support of his contention is the decision of the Nagpur High
Court in Kisan Krishna Ji v. Nagpur Conference of Society of St. Vincent de
Paul("). The authority is undoubtedly in his favour as it proceeds upon
the assumption that the idea underlying the provision of section 2(3) of the
Contempt of Courts Act is that if a person can be punished by some other
tribunal, then the High Court should not entertain any proceeding for contempt.
It is to be noticed that the learned Judge, who decided this case, himself took
the opposite view in the case of Subordinate Judge, First Class, Hoshangabad v.
Jawaharlal(6) and definitely held that the prohibition contained in section
2(3) of the Contempt of Courts Act refers to offences punishable as contempt of
court by the Indian Penal Code and not to offences punishable otherwise than as
contempt. This decision was neither noticed nor dissented from in the
subsequent case, and it is quite possible that (1) Narayan Chandra v. Panehu
Pramanik (A.I.R. 1935 Cal. 684); Naresh Kumar.v. Umaromar (A.I.R. 1951 Cal.
(2)Kaulashia v. Emperor (12 Pat. 1).
(3) State v. Brahma Prakash (A.I.R. 1950 All.
Emperor v. Jagannath (A.I.R. 1938 All. 358).
(4) Bennett Coleman v. G. S. Monga (I.L.R.
1937 Lah. 34).
(5) A.I.R. 1943 Nag. 334.
(6) A.I.R. 1940 Nag. 407.
56 432 the attention of the learned judge was
not drawn to this earlier pronouncement of his, in which case the matter would
certainly have been more fully discussed. We think further that the decision of
the Calcutta High Court in V.M.
Bason v. A. H. Skone(1) which was the basis
of the decision of the learned Judge in the subsequent case does not really
support the view taken in it. In the Calcutta case what happened was, that a
clerk of the Attorney, who appeared for the respondent decree holder, went to
serve a notice under Order 21, Rule 37(1), of the Civil Procedure Code upon the
appellant judgment-debtor. The judgment debtor refused to take the notice and
abused and assaulted the Attorney's clerk. Upon that, contempt proceedings were
started against him and Mr. Justice C.C. Ghosh, sitting on the Original Side of
the High Court of Calcutta, held the appellant guilty of contempt and fined him
Rs. 200. On appeal, this judgment was affirmed by the appellate Bench and there
was a general observation made by Chief Justice Sanderson at the close of his
judgment that it is not desirable to invoke the special inherent jurisdiction
of the High Court by way of proceeding for contempt if ordinary proceedings in
a Magistrate's court are sufficient to meet the requirements of a case. This
was not a case under section 2(3) of the Contempt of Courts Act at all and no
question either arose or was decided as to whether if an act is otherwise
punishable as an offence under the Indian Penal Code the jurisdiction of the
High Court under that section would be ousted. Undoubtedly the High Court had
jurisdiction in that case and whether such jurisdiction, which is certainly of
a special character and is exercised summarily, should be called in to aid in
the circumstances of a particular case would depend upon the discretion of the
court. This has, however, no bearing on the point that has arisen for
consideration before us. We would hold, therefore, that the right view was
taken by the learned Judge of the Nagpur High Court in the earlier case and not
in the later one, (1) I.L R. 53 Cal. 401.
433 It is next urged by Mr. Sinha that even
assuming that this view is correct, the language of section 499 of the Indian
Penal Code is wide enough to cover a case of contempt of court. What is said
is, that if a libel is published against a judge in respect of his judicial
functions, that also is defamation within the meaning of section 499 of the
Indian Penal Code and as such libel constitutes a contempt of court, it may be
said with perfect propriety that libel on a judge is punishable as contempt
under the Indian Penal Code. We do not think that this contention can be
accepted as sound. A libellous reflection upon the conduct of a judge in
respect of his judicial duties may certainly come under section 499 of the
Indian Penal Code and it may be open to the judge to take steps against the
libeller in the ordinary way for vindication of his character and personal
dignity as a judge; but such libel may or may not amount to contempt of court.
As the Privy Council observed in Surendra Nath Banerjee v. The Chief Justice
and Judges of the High Court,(1) "although contempt may include
defamation, yet an offence of contempt is something more than mere defamation
and is of a different character." When the act of defaming a judge is
calculated to obstruct or interfere with the due course of justice or proper
administration of law, it would certainly amount to contempt. TIle offence of
contempt is really a wrong done to the public by weakening the authority and
influence of courts of law which exist for their good. As was said by Willmot,
C.J.(2) "attacks upon the judges excite in the minds of the people a
general dissatisfaction with all judicial determinations...... and whenever
man's allegiance to the laws is so fundamentally shaken it is the most fatal
and dangerous obstruction of justice and in my opinion calls out for a more
rapid and immediate redress than any other obstruction whatsoever; not for the
sake of the judges as private individuals but because they are the channels by
which the King's justice is conveyed to the people".
(1) I.L.R. 10 Cal. 109 at 131.
(2) Willmot's Opinions page 256; Rex v.
Davies 30 at p.
434 What is made punishable in the Indian
Penal Code is the offence of defamation as defamation and not as. contempt of
court. If the defamation of a subordinate court amounts to contempt of court,
proceedings can certainly be taken under section 2 of the Contempt of Courts
Act, quite apart from the fact that other remedy may be open to the aggrieved
officer under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. But a libel attacking the
integrity of a judge may not in the circumstances of a particular case amount
to a contempt at all, although it may be the subject-matter of a libel proceeding.
This is clear from the observation of the Judicial Committee in the case of The
Matter of a Special Reference from the Bahama Islands(1). The first contention
of Mr. Sinha, therefore, fails.
The second point raised by the learned
counsel does not appear to us to have any real substance. The article in
question is a scurrilous attack on the integrity and honesty of a judicial
officer. Specific instances have been given where the officer is alleged to
have taken bribes or behaved with impropriety to the litigants who did not
satisfy his dishonest demands. If the allegations were true, obviously it would
be to the benefit of the public to bring these matters into light. But if they
were false, they cannot but undermine the confidence of the public in the administration
of justice and bring judiciary into disrepute. The appellant, though he took
sole responsibility regarding the publication of the article, was not in a
position to substantiate by evidence any of the allegations made therein.
He admitted that the statement was based on
hearsay. Rumours may have reached him from various sources, but before he
published the article it was incumbent upon him as a reasonable man to attempt
to verify the informations he received and ascertain, as far as he could. whether
the facts were true or mere concocted lies. He does not appear to have made any
endeavour in this direction. As the appellant did not act with reasonable care
and caution, he cannot be said to have acted (1)  A.C. 138.
435 bona fide, even if good faith can be held
to be a defence at all in a proceeding for contempt. What is more, he did not
express any regret for what he had done either in the High Court or before us
and his behaviour does not show the least trace of contrition. In these circumstances,
we think that the appeal cannot succeed and must be dismissed.
Agent for the appellant: S. Subrahmanyam.
Agent for the respondent: P.A. Mehta.