Pratap Singh & ANR Vs. Gurbaksh
Singh  INSC 26 (29 January 1962)
29/01/1962 DAS, S.K.
CITATION: 1962 AIR 1172 1962 SCR Supl. (2)
APR 1968 SC1513 (12,14,15) D 1974 SC 642 (8)
Contempt of Court-Circular letter prohibiting
Government servant from seeking decision of Court before exhausting official
remedies-Proceeding on such circular letter pending suit-It constitutes
contempt of Court-Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 (32 of 1952), s. 3.
The appellants, both public servants,
initiated departmental proceedings against the respondent, another public
servant, for having sued the Government in the Subordinate Judge's Court at
Amritsar for a declaration that a certain sum of money was being illegally
deducted from his salary; the respondent brought the suit before exhausting all
his departmental remedies as required by an official circular which directed
"that in the matter of grievances arising out of a Government Servant's employment
conditions of service the proper course is to seek redress from the appropriate
departmental and Government authorities. Any attempt by a Government servant to
seek a decision on such issues in a Court of law (even in cases where such a
remedy is legally admissible) without first exhausting the normal official
channels of redress can only be regarded as contrary to official propriety and
subversive of good discipline and may well justify the initiation of
disciplinary action against the Government servant". The respondent
complained to the High Court that the two appellants had committed contempt of
court punishable under s. 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952, as their
action was tent amount to interfering with his legal rights to seek redress in
a court of law and amounted to exerting pressure upon him to withdraw the suit,
thereby obstructing the judicial process and interfering with the course of a
suit pending in a Court subordinate to the High Court, The High Court held that
the appellants were clearly guilty of contempt but since they were merely
carrying out the instructions of the Government, the ends of justice would be
sufficiently met if they were directed to abandon the departmental proceedings
and warned against complying with the said instructions. It was contended on
behalf of the appellants that the circular letter, fairly construed, did not
impose any absolute ban but merely imposed an obligation on a Government servant
to exhaust his departmental remedies 839 before taking recourse to a court of
law and as such did not constitute an interference with the course of justice.
^ Held, (per S. K. Das and Subba Rao, JJ.),
that any conduct which interferes with or prejudices parties litigant during
the litigation amounts to contempt of Court. The question is not whether the
action in fact interfered with but whether it had a tendency to interfere with
the due course of justice. There was no doubt that the proceedings initiated in
the present case by the appellants on the basis of the circular letter had only
one tendency, namely, to coerce the respondent to withdraw the pending suit or
not to press it. The appellants must be held guilty of contempt of court, and
it would be no defence to say that they were merely carrying out executive
directions contained in the circular letter.
The question at issue was not whether the
circular letter was valid in the abstract, but whether the action taken against
the respondent on the basis of the circular letter at a time when the suit was
pending amounted to interference with the due course of justice.
Shankar Lal Sharma v. M. S. Bisht, A. I. R.
1956 All. 160, referred to.
S. S. Roy v. State of Orissa, A.I.R. 1960 S. C.
190 and Webster v. Bakewell Rural District Council, L. R. 1916 1 Ch. 300, held inapplicable.
Per Dayal. J.-There could be no doubt that
pressure put on a party to a pending litigation to act in a particular way
would amount to contempt of court, but the initiation of the proceedings by the
appellants revealed no such conduct. The charge-sheet did not indicate that the
departmental proceedings were intended to put pressure on the respondent to
withdraw the suit.
The appellants who were doing their duty
under the circular letter, the validity of which was not in question, could not
be held to be guilty of contempt of Court.
Cheriyan Joseph v. Dr. James Kalacherry,
A.I.R. 1952 Trav. Co. 75, approved.
Shankar Lal Sharma v. M. S. Bisht, A.I.R.
1956 All. 160, considered.
Perera v. The King, 1951 W.N. 208, Rizwan-ul-
Hasan v. The State of Uttar Pradesh,  S.C.R.
581 and Brahma Prakash Sharma v. The State of
Uttar Pradesh,  S.C.R. 1169, referred to.
840 Departmental proceedings against
Government servants for acts of indiscipline are as much in public interest as
contempt proceedings and, consequently, unless departmental action directly
affects the course of judicial proceedings it cannot amount to contempt of
Court. Whether the departmental action would tempt the respondent to withdraw
the suit or deter other Government servants from filing similar suits would be
considerations outside the scope of a contempt proceeding and, therefore,
In re the South Shields (Thames Street)
Clearance Order, 1931, (1932) 172 L.T.J. 76, referred to.
In re William Thomas Shipping Co. H.W. Dillon
Thomas, (1930) 2 Ch. D. 368, distinguished.
In the instant case the departmental enquiry
against the respondent did not constitute a parallel enquiry and tend to
interfere with the course of the litigation pending in Court and therefore, no
contempt of court had been committed.
Saibal Kumar Gupta v. B. K. Sen,  3
S.C.R. 460, applied.
& CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION :
Criminal Appeals Nos. 128 and 129 of 1959.
Appeals from the judgment and order dated
November 5, 1958, of the Punjab High Court in Cr.
O. Nos. 20 and 27 of 1957.
B. K. Khanna, K. L. Hathi and P. D. Menon,
for the appellants.
Bhagat Singh Chawla and K. R. Chowdhuri, for
1962. January 29. The Judgment of Das and
Subba Rao JJ, was delivered by Das, J. Dayal, J.
delivered a separate Judgment.
S. K. DAS, J.-These are two appeals on
certificates granted by the Punjab High Court under Art. 134(1)(c) of the
Constitution. They have been heard together and this judgment will govern them
The appeals are from the judgment and order
of the said High Court dated November 5, 1958, by which it found the two
appellants guilty of an 841 offence punishable under s. 3 of the Contempt of
the Courts Act, 1952 (XXXII of 1952) and directed them, by way of punishment,
to abandon the departmental proceedings which had been taken against the
respondent Gurbaksh Singh for an alleged contravention of the instruction
contained in a circular letter dated January 25, 1953, issued by the Chief
Secretary to the Punjab Government and warned them against complying with the
The relevant facts are these. Gurbaksh Singh
respondent in the two appeals, was a Forester in the Punjab Forest Department.
Pratap Singh, appellant in Criminal Appeal no. 128 of 1959, was, at the
relevant time, Chief Conservator of Forests, Punjab. Bachan Singh, appellant in
the other appeal, was Divisional Forest Officer, Amritsar. It appears that in
the year 1950 the respondent supplied three lacs cubic feet of timber to the
various ordnance Depots under orders of the then Chief Conservator of Forests.
In 1954, the then Chief Conservator of Forests sent a letter to the respondent
alleging that there had been a short supply in the timber which was sent to the
Ordnance Depot at Chhoke and that there had been a loss of Rs. 11,366 to the
Government. By an order conveyed in a letter dated July 16, 1956, the State
Government directed the Chief Conservator of Forests to recover ten per cent.
of the loss i.e. Rs. 1,136 and odd annas from the respondent Gurbaksh Singh.
The letter further stated that the recovery sought to be made from the salary
of the respondent was in accordance with the rules contained in the Punjab
Civil Services (Punishment and Appeal) Rules, 1952, and that an opportunity had
already been given to the Forester to submit an explanation and the order for
recovery was made after considering his explanation. Gurbaksh Singh then
instituted a suit in the Court of the 842 Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar
for a declaration that the order of recovery made against him was void and
without effect. The suit was followed by a petition under Art. 226 of the
Constitution which was, however, dismissed by the Punjab High Court on May
20,1957. When the summons in the suit instituted in the Court of the Senior
Subordinate Judge, Amritsar, was served on the State Government, the Under
Secretary to the said Government in the Forest and Animal Husbandry
Departments, sent a memorandum to the Chief Conservator of Forests in which the
attention of the latter was drawn to a circular letter issued by the Chief
Secretary on January 25, 1953. The letter has been quoted in extenso in the
judgment of the High Court and was in these terms :
"I am directed to say that the question
of Government servants having recourse to Courts of law in matters arising out
of their employment or conditions of service has been engaging the attention of
Government for some time past and it is considered necessary to lay down that
in the matter of grievances arising out of a Government servant's employment or
conditions of service the proper course is to seek redress from the appropriate
departmental and Governmental authorities. Any attempt by a Government servant
to seek a decision on such issues in a Court of law (even in cases where such a
remedy is legally admissible) without first exhausting the normal official
channels of redress, can only be regarded as contrary to official propriety and
subversive of good discipline and may well justify the initiation of
disciplinary action against the Government servant. These instructions may,
therefore, be brought to the notice of all Government servants of your
department/office." 843 The Under Secretary said in his memorandum that as
the respondent had not exhausted the departmental remedies open to him before
going to a court of law, he had rendered himself liable to disciplinary action
as per the instructions contained in the circular letter. The Under Secretary
then said :
"It may please be intimated immediately
as to what action you propose to take against him." On receipt of this
memorandum, the appellant Pratap Singh sent a copy thereof to the Conservator
of Forests, South Circle, and directed that the respondent should be proceeded
with in accordance with the instructions aforesaid and a copy of the
proceedings recorded and orders passed in the case should be forwarded to him.
On receipt of the said orders, the Conservator of Forests, South Circle, passed
an office order appointing Bachan Singh, appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 129
of 1959, to hold an enquiry against the respondent for having contravened the
instructions contained in the circular letter quoted above. Bachan Singh then
drew up a charge-sheet against the respondent and asked him to submit an
explanation in writing within 15 days. In the charge-sheet it was stated that
the respondent had gone to a court of law before exhausting all his
departmental remedies and this was contrary to official propriety and subversive
of good discipline. The charge-sheet appears to have been drawn up on or about
August 30, 1957. Then, on September 14,1957, the respondent made an application
to the High Court to the effect that the two appellants had committed contempt
of court punishable under s. 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952. In that
petition the allegation made was that appellant Pratap Singh had framed and got
served a charge- sheet on the respondent and appellant Bachan Singh was holding
an enquiry into the 844 charge, which was tantamount to interfering with the
legal rights of the respondent to seek redress in a court of law and also
amounted to exerting pressure upon him with the intent of restraining him from
pressing his suit. This, it was stated, amounted to an obstruction of the
judicial process and interfered with the course of justice in respect of the
suit which was pending in the court of the Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar,
a court subordinate to the High Court. The High Court issued notice to the
appellants and after hearing the parties came to the conclusion that though the
appellants were clearly guilty of an offence punishable under s. 3 of the Contempt
of Courts Act, 1952, they were merely endeavouring to comply with the
instructions of the Government, the legality or propriety of which they had no
reason to doubt. In that view of the matter, the High Court expressed the view
that the ends of justice would be amply met if the two appellants were directed
to abandon the departmental proceedings which had been taken against the
respondent and furthermore, if they were warned against complying with the
instructions contained in the circular letter issued by the State Government.
On behalf of the appellants three points have
been urged in support of the contention that they were not guilty of the
offence of contempt of court. Firstly, it has been argued that the petition
dated September 14, 1957, by which the respondent prayed for action against the
appellants for contempt of court, stated that the contempt was in respect of
the High Court in which a writ petition under Art. 226 of the Constitution had
been filed. That writ petition, it is pointed out, was dismissed on May 20 1957
and the charge- sheet against the respondent was drawn up on August 30, 1957,
i.e., about three months after the writ petition in the High Court had been
dismissed. The argument before us is that where the contempt is criminal in its
nature, the 845 specific offence charged should be distinctly stated and each
step in the proceedings to punish it should be fairly, properly and strictly
It is argued that the application on behalf
of the respondent a made a grievance of interference with the due course of
justice in the matter of the writ petition filed in the High Court, but the
High Court held the appellants guilty of a different offence, namely, of
interference with the course of justice in respect of the suit pending in the
Court of the Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar.
The second point which has been taken on
behalf of the appellants is that on a fair construction of the terms of the
circular letter on which the two appellants took action against the respondent,
it should be held that it did not constitute an interference with the course of
justice, inasmuch as it did not impose any absolute ban on a Government servant
to have recourse to a court of law for the redress of his grievances arising
out of his employment or conditions of his service, but merely imposed an
obligation on a Government servant to exhaust his departmental remedies before
taking recourse to a court of law. It has been argued that on this view of the
circular letter, the action taken by the appellants against the respondent did
not constitute an interference with the course of justice in respect of the
suit which was pending in the court of the Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar.
Thirdly, it has been contended that in any
view of the matter appellant Pratap Singh, who took no action beyond endorsing
the memorandum of the Under Secretary was not guilty of contempt of court.
We propose now to deal with these three
points in the order in which we have stated them.
The first point can be very shortly disposed
It appears that the respondent filed two
petitions on September 14, 1957, in the Punjab High Court which gave rise to
two cases nos. 20 and 27 of 1957. These two cases were heard together. In the
petition 846 which gave rise to case no. 20 of 1957, a grievance was made of
interference with the course of justice in the High Court in respect of the
writ petition which was dismissed by the High Court on May 20, 1957. But in the
second petition filed on the same day, which gave rise to case no.
27 of 1957, the respondent clearly stated as
follows in para. 9 of his petition :
"Previously the petitioner filed a
petition under Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act in this Hon'ble Court in
respect of this very charge-sheet on the ground that this chargesheet related
to the writ petition that had been filed by the petitioner (Civil Writ no. 528
of 1956). Now. however, the respondents are taking up the plea that the
charge-sheet (annexure `A') is not in respect of the writ petition filed in the
High Court but concerns the suit which has been filed by the petitioner and
which is awaiting decision in the Court of the Subordinate Judge at
Amritsar." It is clear, therefore, that the High Court had before it two
petitions against the appellants, in one of which a grievance was made of
interference with the course of justice in respect of the writ petition and in
the other a grievance was made of interference with the course of justice in
respect of the suit which was awaiting decision in the court of the Senior Subordinate
The respondent further stated that "by
forcing and coercing him to withdraw his suit or otherwise not to press
it" the appellants were obstructing the course of justice and had,
therefore, committed contempt of court punishable under s. 3 of the Contempt of
Courts Act, 1952. In view of these allegations in the second petition filed on
September 14, 1957, the first point urged on behalf of the appellants must be
We now come to the second point which is of a
more substantial nature. We have already quoted 847 the terms of the circular
letter dated January 25, 1953. There was some argument before us as to whether
the said circular letter contained executive instructions only or laid down a
rule as to a condition of service. Our attention was drawn to some institutions
or departments of Government, where a rule in similar terms laid down as one of
the conditions of service that it is improper for a Government servant to take
recourse to a court of law before he has exhausted the normal official channels
of redress. Learned Advocates for the parties were, however, agreed that no
rule laying down the conditions of service of Government servants serving in
the department to which the respondent belonged imposed an obligation similar
to that imposed by the circular letter. We have, therefore, proceeded in this
case on the footing that the circular letter contained executive instructions
only and did not embody a rule governing the conditions of service. Therefore
we have not thought it necessary to consider what the position would be if such
a rule were made a condition of employment for certain Government servants,
Other considerations would then arise such as, the authority of the rule-making
power to make such a rule, and we must make it clear that we are expressing no
opinion on those other considerations.
Assuming that the circular letter contained
certain executive instructions what then is the position? It should perhaps be
made clear at the very outset that the question before us is not so much the
validity of the circular letter in the abstract, but the propriety of the
action taken against the respondent on the basis of the circular letter at a
time when his suit was awaiting decision in the court of the Senior Subordinate
Judge at Amritsar. It must not, however, be assumed that we are holding the
circular letter to be valid in the sense that compliance with it will, in no
circumstances, amount to contempt of court. We do not come to any such 848
conclusion. The argument before us is that the circular letter did not impose
an absolute ban on a Government servant seeking redress of his grievances
arising out of his employment or service conditions in a court of law ; it is
submitted that all that it did was to ask Government servants to exhaust first
the normal Official channels of redress before proceeding to a court of law.
The emphasis, it is stated, is on propriety and discipline in the conduct of a Government
servants and it has been submitted that judged from that point of view the
circular letter cannot be said to constitute an interference with the course of
justice in any court of law.
Theoretically and in the abstract, this may
be true; and if the circular letter merely lays down that Ordinarily a
Government servant should exhaust his departmental remedies before going to a
court of law, no objection can be taken to it.
Speaking generally, a Government servant does
not ordinarily go to court unless and until he fails to get what he considers
to be justice from the departmental authorities. But we have to consider in
this case a somewhat different problem, namely, the action taken against the
respondent during a pending litigation, as though going to a court of law
before exhausting departmental remedies must in all cases be visited with
What, after all, is contempt of court?
"To speak generally, contempt of court may be said to be constituted by
any conduct that tends to bring the authority and administration of the law
into disrespect or disregard, or to interfere with or prejudice parties
litigant or their witnesses during the litigation." (Oswald's Contempt of
Court, 3rd Edition, page 6.) We are concerned in the present case with the
second part, namely, "to interfere with or prejudice parties litigant
during the litigation". In the case under our consideration the respondent
had instituted a suit in the court of the Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar,
849 in respect of his grievance that a certain sum of money was being illegally
deducted from his salary. On behalf of the respondent it was alleged that he
had no further departmental remedies to exhaust, inasmuch as the order by which
a part of his salary was being deducted was a final order made by the Punjab
Government after considering the respondent's explanation. On behalf of the
appellants it has been contended that the respondent had still a further remedy
by way of an appeal to the Governor. That is a matter with which we are not
really concerned, as it relates to the question whether the respondent had or
had not violated the terms of the circular letter. We are concerned with the
action that was taken against the respondent on the footing, right or wrong,
that he had violated the instructions. Of the circular letter. His suit was
pending in the court of the Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar.
When the summons in the suit was served on
the Government, the Under Secretary to Government, drew the attention of one of
the appellants to the circular letter and asked the latter to intimate to
Government what action he proposed to take against the respondent. Appellant
Pratap Singh then forwarded the memorandum of the Under Secretary to the
Conservator of Forests, South Circle, and in his forwarding endorsement Pratap
Singh directed that the respondent should be proceeded with in accordance with
the instructions in the circular letter and that a copy of the proceedings
recorded and orders passed should be forwarded to him. It appears, therefore,
that appellant Partap Singh was not merely content with forwarding the
memorandum of the Under Secretary.
He directed his subordinate officer to take
action against the respondent. In accordance with that direction a proceeding
was drawn up against the respondent and the appellant Bachan Singh was asked to
enquire into it. The appellant Bachan Singh then drew up a 850 charge-sheet and
in that charge-sheet it was stated that the respondent had gone to a court of
law before exhausting all his departmental remedies. What would be the effect
of these proceedings on the suit which was pending in the court of the Senior
Subordinate Judge, Amritsar ? From the practical point of view, the institution
of the proceedings at a time when the suit in the court of the Senior
Subordinate Judge, Amritsar, was pending could only be to put pressure on the
respondent to withdraw his suit, or face the consequences of disciplinary
action. This, in our opinion, undoubtedly amounted to contempt of court. There
are many ways of obstructing the Court and "any conduct by which the
course of justice is perverted, either by a party or a stranger, is a contempt;
thus the use of threats, by letter or otherwise, to a party while his suit is
pending; or abusing a party in letters to persons likely to be witnesses in the
cause, have been held to be contempts". (Oswald's Contempt of Court, 3rd
Edition, page 87). The question is not whether the action in fact interfered,
but whether it had a tendency to interfere with the due course of justice. The
action taken in this case against the respondent by way of a proceeding against
him can, in our opinion, have only one tendency, namely, the tendency to coerce
the respondent and force him to withdraw his suit or otherwise not press it. If
that be the clear and unmistakable tendency of the proceedings taken against
the respondent, then there can be no doubt that in law the appellants have been
guilty of contempt of court, even though they were merely carrying out the
instructions contained in the circular letter.
We have been referred to a large number of
decisions dealing with various aspects of contempt of court. We consider it
unnecessary to refer to them all, because it is clear to us that any conduct
which interferes with or prejudices parties litigant 851 during the litigation
is undoubtedly contempt of court. There is, however, one decision which is very
much in point and to which we must refer. In Shankar Lal Sharma v. M. S Bisht
(1) in very similar circumstances it was held by the Allahabad High Court that
if any kind of threat or any action which may amount to a threat is held out to
a person who approached the Civil Courts for a redress of his grievances, with
a view to induce him to forego the assistance of the Civil Courts the action
amounts to a contempt of court. In that case also an employee of the Public
Works Department of Uttar Pradesh moved the High Court for the grant of a writ.
While the writ petition was pending in the High Courtís the Chief Engineer.
P.W.D., U.P., purporting to act in accordance
with certain directions contained in a circular letter asked for an explanation
from the employee as to why he has submitted a writ application to the High
Court. The learned Judges expressed the view that there was no doubt that the
action taken by the Chief Engineer in accordance with the instructions
contained in the circular letter amounted to a threat with a view to induce the
employee to forego the assistance of the Civil Courts. An unqualified apology
having been tendered in the case, no further action was taken.
On behalf of the appellants reliance was
placed on the decision of this Court in S. S. Roy v. State of Orissa(2). That
was a case in which a First Class Magistrate misconceiving his powers and
exercising a jurisdiction act vested in him by law and without any justifying
circumstances made an order under s. 144, Code of Criminal Procedure, by which
a Civil Court peon was restrained from executing a warrant of arrest issued by
an Additional Munsif in connection with the execution of a money decree: the
Magistrate was not influenced by any extraneous consideration or dishonest
motive in making the 852 order and it was held that the Magistrate was not
guilty of contempt of the Court of the Additional Munsif, because there was
nothing to suggest any wilful culpability on his part. We are unable to agree
with the learned Advocate for the Appellants that the principle of that
decision should apply to the present case. The appellants in the instant case
were not judicial officers who misconceived their powers. They were no doubt
carrying out executive instructions given by their employer, but they carried
out those instructions at a time when a civil suit was pending and they carried
out the instructions in such a manner as to exert pressure on the respondent to
withdraw the suif.
That in the finding at which the high Court
arrived and on that finding the appellants were clearly guilty of contempt of
court. The decision in Webster v. Bakewell Rural District Council (1) on which
also learned Advocate for the appellants relied is not in point. That was case
in which the yearly tenant of a cottage and land, adjoining a highway and
farming part of a settled estate issued a writ against the local authority for
an injunction to restrain an alleged trespass on his land; the solicitor of the
tenant for life wrote to the local authority with a view to arrange the matter
and at the same time wrote to the tenant that the tenant for life required him
to withdraw the writ, and that, if he did not comply, his tenancy would be
determined. It was held that the solicitor had not committed a conr tempt of
The decision proceeded on the footings that
the tenant for life had the right to turn out the yearly tenant and there was
nothing to prevent the tenant for life, who was the landlord, from exercising
his legal rights if he did so honestly to protect the rights he had in the
"We have, therefore, come to the
conclusion that the appellants were guilty of contempt of the 853 Court of the
Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar and in awarding the sentence the High Court
correctly took into consideration the circumstance that the appellants were
merely carrying out the instructions contained in the circular letter.
Though that circumstance does not afford a
defence to the charge, it is undoubtedly a consideration relevant to the
As to the third point that appellant Pratap
Singh took no action beyond endorsing the memorandum of the Under Secretary, we
have already dealt with it and pointed out that he not merely endorsed the
memorandum of the Under Secretary but directed the Conservator of Forests,
South Circle, to institute a proceeding against the respondent for having
contravened the instructions contained in the circular letter.
This disposes of all the points urged on
behalf of the appellants. In our opinion, there are no grounds for interference
with the judgment and order of the High Court dated November 5, 1958. The
appeals are accordingly dismissed.
RAGHUBAR DAYAL, J,-I have held the advantage
of perusing the judgment of my learned brother, S. K. Das, J., but regret my
inability to agree that the appellants are guilty of contempt of Court.
The facts leading to the conviction of the
appellants in the two appeals, have been fully mentioned in the majority
judgment and I need not repeat them here. For the purpose of these cases, I
assume the validity of the Circular issued by the Government in 1953. That has
not been challenged by the opposite party. If an employee acts against the
directions contained in the Circular, it is just and proper that action be
taken. If action is taken and that be considered per se to amount to the
commission of contempt of Court, the directions in the Circular can be
disobeyed with impugnity and 854 the Circular, though valid, would remain a
dead letter. It would then be incongruent to hold that any action taken in
pursuance of it would per se amount to contempt of the Court to which the
Government servant had gone for adjudication.
There is nothing in the charge-sheet framed
against the appellants by Bachan Singh, Divisional Forest officer, which can
amount to contempt of Court. The Charge relates to misconduct and indiscipline.
The evidence in support of the charge is mentioned in the charge sheet to be
that Gurbaksh Singh had gone to the Court of law before exhausting all the
souroes as ordered in the Circular and which was contrary to official propriety
and that thereby he had rendered himself liable to disciplinary action. There
was nothing in the description of the charge or in the description of the
evidence in support of it, which, in any way, referred to the merits of the
case or directed Gurbaksh Singh to do, in connection with that case. For the
purposes of the charge laid against him, the merits of the civil case were
irrelevant. The charge was with respect to misconduct and indiscipline which
exnsisted simply in his going to Court without exhausting all the normal
official channels of redress.
Gurbaksh Singh had simply to point out that he
had exhausted all the official channels open to him and that therefore, he had
not acted in contravention of the directions given in the Circular.
The charge-sheet did not, in any way,
threaten Gurbaksh Singh with any consequences in view of his continuing his
suit. His continuing the suit will not be in contravention of the Circular and
therefore, will not be misconduct or indiscipline on account of his
contravening the directions of the Circular. I am unable, therefore, to
conclude from the Departmental charge-sheet against Gurbaksh Singh during the
pendency of his suit in Court that the Departmental proceedings were in 855
order to put pressure on him to withdraw his suit or face the consequences of
Even if Gurbaksh Singh does not withdraw the
suit, the basis of the charge against him would stand and he will have to meet
it. There is no indication in the charge-sheet, or in any other circumstance,
that in case he withdraws the suit the charge would be dropped. He committed
the act of indiscipline and he has to answer for it if the Department considers
it expedient to take Departmental action.
I do not dispute the legal proposition that
if any pressure is put on a party in order to make him act in a particular
manner with respect to pending litigation, that would amount to contempt of the
Court in which the matter be pending. I however fail to see any such conduct on
the part of the appellants in the action taken by them against Gurbaksh Singh.
Reference may now be made to certain cases
having a bearing on the question before us for determination.
The cases reported as Hrishikesh Sanyal v. A.
P. Bagchi (1) and Radhey Lal v. Niranjan Nath (2) hold that a person does not
commit contempt of Court if during the pendency of a certain proceeding he
takes recourse to other judicial proceedings open to him, even though the
latter proceedings put the other party to loss, because everybody is entitled
to take recourse to law.
It was held in Baldeo Sahai v. Shiva Datt (3)
that the plaintiff's son's serving a notice on the defendant telling him that
either he should pay damages for a defamatory statement about him in the
written statement within a certain time or he would bring action against him
for defamation, did not constitute contempt of Court.
In Kamta Prasad v. Ram Agyan (4) it was held
that a party cannot be said to be interfering with 856 the course of justice
and to be guilty of contempt of Court when he makes an offer for the settlement
of the dispute between the parties out of Court and, as part of the settlement,
suggests that the pending litigation should be withdrawn and, failing it,
threatens to take legal proceedings open to him under the law. Reliance was
placed for this view on the decision in Webster v. Bakewell Rural District
The principle behind all these cases is that
such action of the person which he takes in pursuance of his right to take
legal action in a Court of law or in just making a demand on the other to make
amends for his acts will not amount to interfering with the course of justice,
even though that may require some action on the part of the other party in
connection with his own judicial proceeding, as a party is free to take action
to enforce his legal rights.
The case reported as Shankar Lal Sharma v. M.
S. Bisht(2) does go against the appellants. I however do not agree with the
conclusion in that case that the calling for an explanation from the employee
as to why he had submitted a writ application in the High Court, in
contravention of certain directions contained in the Government Circular of
1952, was an attempt to hold out a threat of Departmental action against him in
order to induce him to withdraw the application he had presented for the
protection of his rights under the Constitution.
On the other hand, in the case reported as
Cheriyan Joseph v. Dr. James (3), a different view was expressed. The plaintiff
instituted a suit for a declaration that a certain resolution was not binding
upon the church or the parish in which he resided and for a permanent
injunction to restrain 857 the defendants from acting in pursuance of that
resolution. The Vicar of that church was one of the defendants. The Bishop's
letter to the plaintiff contained a threat to excommunicate him and to claim
damages from him in case he did not withdraw his suit forthwith. The plaintiff
was subsequently excommunicated. Thereafter, he applied for contempt of Court
proceedings against the Bishop and the Vicar, alleging that the letter and the
excommunication were calculated to interfere and obstruct the course of
justice, as their object was to cow him down into submission and to compel him
under the threat of excommunication to abandon the suit which he had filed and
which he was entitled to prosecute. In considering the question, it was
"On the other hand the contents of the
letter indicate that it was conceived by respondent 1 (the Bishop) and that he
was acting in the exercise of his legitimate right of safeguarding the
interests of the church. We are not prepared to assume as the petitioner's
learned counsel wants us to assume that respondent 2 (the Vicar) was
responsible for the dispatch of this letter.
He was legally bound to obey the commands of
his Bishop and all that he did was to comply with the direction given to him by
the Bishop in as innocuous a manner as possible.
Therefore, in our judgment, respondent 2
cannot be taken to task for obeying an order sent to him by respondent 1."
On the question of the letter amounting to contempt of Court, it was said at
the end of the same page:
"The facts seem to us to be more similar
to the case reported as Webster v. Bakewell Rural District Council (L.R. 1916 1
There 858 it was held that the threat to
assert one's legal rights against another if he chose to continue in action
started by him, would not amount to contempt. In the present case also the
threat held out by respondent 1 was that the petitioner had already incurred a
censure by the church and that if he persisted in asserting his rights in the
suit filed by him in the Court of the District Munsif of Alleppy, respondent I
would exercise the lawful right of excommunicating the petitioner for the
wrongful act done by him." The Vicar was not held guilty of contempt of
Court. I think in this case the Judges took a correct view of thee matter.
The case before us is a still stronger case
for holding that no contempt of Court took place since the action taken against
Gurbaksh Singh did not ask him to withdraw the suit he had instituted.
The observations of the Privy Council in
Perea v. The King(1) lead to the same conclusion.
Mr. Perera, a member of the House of
Representatives of Ceylon and is such a Visitor of the Jail, made certain
remarks in the Visitor's Book, which were considered to amount to contempt of
court by the Supreme Court of Ceylon. On appeal, the Privy Council said.
"Their Lordships are satisfied that the
order against the appellant ought not to have been made... But Mr. Perera, too,
has rights that must be respected, and their Lordships are unable to find anything
in his conduct that comes within the definition of contempt of court. That
phrase has not lacked authoritative interpretation. There must be involved some
'act done' or writing published calculated to bring a court or a Judge of the
859 court into contempt or to lower his authority'; or something 'calculated to
obstruct or interfere with the due course of justice or the lawful process of
See, Reg. v. Gray (1900) 2 Q.B. 36.
What has been done here is not at all that
kind of thing. Mr. Perera was acting in good faith and in discharge of what he
believed to be his duty as a member of the legislature. His information was
inaccurate, but he made no public use of it, contenting himself with entering
his comment in the appropriate instrument, the visitors' book, and writing to
the responsible Minister. The words that he used made no direct reference to
the Court, or to any judge of the court, or, indeed, to the course of justice,
or to the process of the courts.... Finally his criticism was honest criticism
on a matter of public importance. When these and no other are the circumstances
that attend the action complained of there cannot be contempt of court."
It can be said in the present case that the appellants acted in good faith and
in discharge of what they believed to be their duty as officers of Government
to comply with the directions given in the Circular to which attention had been
drawn by the Under Secretary to the Government, by his letter enquiring what action
was proposed to be taken against Gurbaksh Singh. The action taken was on the
departmental basis. No publicity was given to it. The words used in the charge
made no reference to the merits of the case, to the judge or the Court or to
the course of justice or to the process of the Courts. The action was taken in
the interest of discipline of the services and therefore in public interest.
860 In Rizwan-ul-Hasan v. The State of Uttar
Pradesh(1) this Court said.
"As observed by Rankin C.J., in
Anantalal Singha v. Alfred Henry Watson (I.L.R. 58 Cal. 884, 895), the
jurisdiction in contempt is not to be invoked unless there is real prejudice
which can be regarded as a substantial interference with the due course of
justice and that the purpose of the court's action is a practical purpose and
it is reasonably clear on the authorities that the court will not exercise its
jurisdiction upon a mere question of propriety." It follows that even if
the action of the appellants be considered to be improper, that will not
justify holding them guilty of contempt of Court when their action in no way
prejudiced the trial of the suit.
In Bradima Prakash Sharma v. The State of
Uttar Pradesh(2), it was stated:
"It would be only repeating what has
been said so often by various judges that the object of contempt proceedings is
not to afford protection to judges personally from imputations to which they
may be exposed as individuals; it is intended to be a protection to the public
whose interests would be very much affected if by the act or conduct of any
party, the authority of the court is lowered and the sense of confidence which
people have in the administration of justice by it is weakened." Contempt
of Court proceedings are in public interest and so are Departmental proceedings
against Government employees for any act of indiscipline committed by them. It
is therefore only when the Departmental action directly affects the course of
the judicial proceeding that it can 861 amount to interfering with the course
of justice and consequently, to contempt of Court. If it does not do so, there
can be no case of contempt of Court.
In Re the South Shields (Thames Street)
Clearance Order, 1931(1) certain articles were published suggesting that the
appellants by their appeal were keeping the tenants out of the new houses, that
they were hindering the progress of housing in the borough and causing the
corporation to lose the rent of the new houses. It was argued that the articles
constituted contempt not as affecting the mind of the Court that would hear the
appeal, but as tending to deter the appellants and other from coming to the
Court and presenting their appeal and that the articles were thus calculated to
affect the course of justice. It was held that the rule ought not to be granted
as the issue of the writ of attachment in the case would be an extension of the
jurisdiction of the court on contempt beyond anything that could justify it.
It is to be noticed that in that case nothing
was said on the merits of the matter for consideration in the appeal, though
reference was made to the adverse results of the pendency of the appeal on the
tenants, the corporation and the progress of housing and it was said that in
view of the publicity of such contemplated adverse effects, the appellants and
other persons might be deterred from taking similar matters to Court and
therefore those articles cause obstruction to the course of justice. Such a
contention was not accepted, as it would be extending the jurisdiction of the
Court in matters of contempt. Such a possibility of a certain act with respect
to the conduct of a party or a few persons interested in similar cause in
future was held not to amount to contempt of Court.
I have already stated that no threat is held
out to Gurbaksh Singh in the contents of the charge-sheet with respect to
withdrawing or not 862 withdrawing the suit. Any consideration that to avoid
Departmental action he be tempted to withdraw the suit or that other Government
servants would be deterred from instituting similar suits, will be beyond the
scope of considerations for the determination of the question whether the
appellants committed contempt of Court or not.
In In re The William Thomas Shipping Co. H. W.
Dillon & Sons. Ltd. v. The Company, In re Sir Robert Thomas (1) it was
"I think that to publish injurious
misrepresentations directed against a party to the action, especially when they
are holding up that party to hatred or contempt, is liable to affect the course
of justice, because it may in the case of a plaintiff, cause him to discontinue
the action from fear of public dislike, or it may cause the defendant to come
to a compromise which he otherwise would not come to, for a like reason."
This would make publication of injurious misrepresentations against a party to
an action, contempt of Court, if they had a tendency to cause that party to
come to a compromise which he otherwise would not come to. The facts of the
present case do not in any way correspond to this case even if on his own,
Gurbaksh Singh, to avoid Departmental action, discontinues the suit, as the
action taken does not in any way make such injurious misrepresentation of the
party, if any, as would hold him up to hatred or contempt.
Lastly, I may refer to the judgment of this
Court in Saibal Kamar Gupta v. B. K. Sen (2).
Proceeding in revision against the Sessions
Judge's orderfor further enquiry on a complaint filed by one Bimala Kanta Rov
Choudhury against B. K. Sen, under s. 497, I. P. C., were pending in the 863
High Court. B. K. Sen held the office of Commissioner of the Calcutta
Corporation. The Corporation appointed a Special Committee of three Councillors
to enquire into the allegations levelled against certain officials, including
B. K. Sen, of the Corporation, who were alleged to have been taking advantage
of their office in carrying on business in their own names. The Special
Committee issued a questionnaire to B. K. Sen. Some of the questions related to
his giving appointments to certain persons who were related to certain
witnesses in the case, his giving appointments to certain persons and condoning
the punishment previously inflicted on one person, as they were helping him in
continuing the defence in that case and to his being instrumental in securing
the appointment of another probable prosecution witness. The High Court
considered this action of the Special Committee to amount to gross contempt of
Court and convicted the members of the Special Committee for it. On appeal to
this Court, the order was set aside. This Court said in the majority judgment.
"The record does not establish that at
any time the appellant had made comments on the case under s. 497, Indian Penal
Code, pending against B. K. Sen or in respect of any matter pending in
connection with that case in the Calcutta High Court....The questionnaire
nowhere suggested that B. K. Sen had made these appointments in order to suborn
prosecution witnesses in that case or that he had made the appointments with a
view to preventing Bimala Kanta Roy Choudhury from producing witnesses to prove
his case against B. K. Sen....The Special Committee had embarked upon an
enquiry on the directions of the Corporation in order to discover malpractice
on the part of the Corporation's servants. Malpractices of the 864 part of a
servant of the Corporation would presumably include making unworthy
appointments. The ascertainment of the motive for the appointment would be
merely incidental to the main purpose of the enquiry. It would be difficult to
conclude therefrom that the Special Committee were holding a parallel enquiry
on matters pending decision by a court of law and that thereby their action
tended to interfere with the course of justice." The same, with greater
emphasis, can be said in the present case. The Departmental enquiry against
Gurbaksh Singh did not tend to interfere with the course of justice. Bachan
Singh, appellant, was conducting the enquiry under the orders of Pratap Singh.
Pratap Singh directed the enquiry under orders from Government. Neither of them
would commit contempt of Court in discharging his duty.
I am therefore of opinion that the facts of
the case do not make out that the appellants, by their alleged conduct,
committed contempt of Court. I would therefore allow their appeals.
BY COURT: In accordance with the opinion of
the majority, these appeals are dismissed.