Jaiswal Vs. D.K. Mittal & ANR  INSC 76 (22 February 2000)
R.C. Lahoti, J.
This appeal is directed against an order dated 23.11.1989 passed by the High
Court of Allahabad whereby proceedings under Section 12 of the Contempt of
Courts Act, 1971 (hereinafter `the Act', for short) have been directed to be
dropped as barred by Section 20 of the Act.
not concerned with the merits of the allegations made by the appellant and
denied by the respondents, constituting the gravamen of alleged contempt. We
are concerned only with the question whether the bar created by Section 20 of
the Act was attracted to the facts of the case or not.
appears that the appellant was sought to be dispossessed by the Nagar Mahapalika,
Allahabad and Allahabad Development Authority by demolishing and removing
certain construction existing over a piece of land. The appellant filed a Civil
Miscellaneous Writ Petition No.20471 of 1986 before the High Court of Allahabad
seeking a writ or direction commanding the respondents not to dispossess or
interfere with the possession of the appellant. On 19.12.1986 Shri A.K.
the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents gave an undertaking
before the Court in the following terms :
A.K. Mohiley, counsel for Nagar Mahapalika, Allahabad undertakes before us that
the Nagar Mahapalika will not disturb or demolish the construction in question
made by the petitioner till the disposal of the Writ Petition.
undertaking is placed on record. The application accordingly dismissed."
According to the appellant, the employees of the respondents demolished the
appellant's construction in the morning of 11.1.1987. The appellant moved an
application before the Court seeking initiation of proceedings under Section 12
of the Act against the respondents. On 15.1.1987 the Court passed the following
order :- "Issue show cause notice to opposite parties as to why contempt
proceedings should not be initiated against them for defiance of order dated
19.12.1986 passed by this court Nagar Mahapalika and others. List it for orders
on 4.2.87." (underlining by us) The respondents, i.e., the alleged contemners
appeared before the Court and filed their reply. On 16.12.1987 when the matter
came up for hearing before the Court, the Court passed the following order :-
"Apparently till now notice to show cause has been issued to the opposite
parties as to why proceedings be not initiated. Manifestly the application
would become non maintainable after 11.1.1988.
learned Advocate General has very fairly conceded that in view of the matter
having been heard on several dates the notices to show cause to the opposite
parties as to why they should not be punished for disobeying the order of this
court dated 19.12.1986 can be issued." It appears that the abovesaid
order, though it was dictated in the Court, was not signed by the presiding
Judge. The attention of the Court having been invited to this fact, on 6.1.1988
the Court passed the following order:- "6.1.1988 The case could not be
taken up on the date fixed i.e. 5.1.1988. Learned Counsel for the opposite
party, Shri Ashok Mohiley agrees that the notices be issued in view of
statement earlier made by the learned Advocate General fairly conceding that
the notices be issued to show cause why the OPs be not punished to disobeying
the order dated 19.12.1986. Issue notice to the O.Ps. However, notices be not
sent to the opposite parties as Shri Ashok Mohiley accepts them on their
behalf. List for hearing on 28.1.1988.
Judge." (underlining by us) On 23.11.1989 the High Court, without going
into the merits of the allegations made, formed an opinion that mere issuing of
notice for showing cause against did not amount to `initiation of proceedings'
under the Act and inasmuch as the proceedings were not initiated till then the
bar enacted by Section 20 of the Act was attracted and therefore the
application filed by the appellant was liable to the rejected.
short question arising for decision is whether the order dated 6.1.1988 amounts
to initiation of proceedings for contempt.
20 of the Act reads as under:- "20. Limitation for actions for contempt. -
No Court shall initiate any proceedings for
contempt, either on its own motion or otherwise, after the expiry of a period
of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been
committed." The expression - `initiate any proceedings for contempt' is
not defined in the Act. Words and Phrases, (Permanent Edition) defines
`initiate' to mean -an introductory step or action, a first move; beginning;
and `to initiate' as meaning - to commence.
Law Dictionary (Sixth Edition) defines `initiate' to mean commence; start; originate;
inchoate. In Section 20, the word `initiate' qualifies `any proceedings for
contempt'. It is not the initiation of just any proceedings; the proceedings
initiated have to be proceedings for contempt.
expression was dealt with by this Court in CJ of the Orissa High Court AIR 1974
SC 2255. It was held:- "It is only when the court decides to take action
and initiates a proceeding for contempt that it assumes jurisdiction to punish
for contempt. The exercise of the jurisdiction to punish for contempt commences
with the initiation of a proceeding for contempt, whether suo motu or on a
motion or a reference. That is why the terminous a quo for the period of
limitation provided in Section 20 is the date when a proceeding for contempt is
initiated by the Court." Several decisions of the High Courts dealing with
the meaning of the above said word `initiate' in various settings of facts were
also brought to our notice.
we would like to mention only three Division A.V.
Rao - 1984 Cri. L.J. 1171 and Kishan Singh Honourable Mr. T.Anjaiah, Chief
Minister and others - 1985 Cri. L.J. 1428 by the Andhra Pradesh High Court and
Housing Society, Nagarvel, Ahmedabad and others - AIR 1980 Gujarat 194 by
Gujarat High Court.
this Court's decision in Bardakanta Mishra, in the two decisions abovesaid the
Division Benches of the Andhra Pradesh High Court speaking through Jagannadha Rao,
J.(as His Lordship then was) stated that the word `initiation' of contempt
proceedings has a distinct connotation and cannot be equated with the mere
presentation of the petition and observed :- "initiation of the contempt
proceeding is the time when the Court applies its mind to the allegations in
the petition and decides to direct, under S.17 the alleged contemners to show
cause why he should not be punished." In order to appreciate the exact
connotation of the expression `initiate any proceedings for contempt' we may
notice several situations or stages which may arise before the Court dealing
with contempt proceedings. These are :
a private party may file or present an application or petition for initiating
any proceedings for civil contempt;
the Court may receive a motion or reference from the Advocate General or with
his consent in writing from any other person or a specified Law Officer or a
Court subordinate to High Court;
the Court may in routine issue notice to the person sought to be proceeded
the Court may issue notice to the respondent calling upon him to show cause why
the proceedings for contempt be not initiated;
Court may issue notice to the person sought to be proceeded against calling
upon him to show cause why he be not punished for contempt.
cases contemplated by (i) or (ii) above, it cannot be said that any proceedings
for contempt have been initiated. Filing of an application or petition for
initiating proceedings for contempt or a mere receipt of such reference by the
Court does not amount to initiation of the proceedings by Court. On receiving
any such document it is usual with the Courts to commence some proceedings by
employing an expression such as `admit', `rule', `issue notice' or `issue
notice to show cause why proceedings for contempt be not initiated'. In all
such cases the notice is issued either in routine or because the Court has not
yet felt satisfied that a case for initiating any proceedings for contempt has
been made out and therefore the Court calls upon the opposite party to admit or
deny the allegations made or to collect more facts so as to satisfy itself if a
case for initiating the proceedings for contempt was made out. Such a notice is
certainly anterior to initiation. The tenor of the notice is itself suggestive
of the fact that in spite of having applied its mind to the allegations and the
material placed before it the Court was not satisfied of the need for
initiating proceedings for contempt; it was still desirous of ascertaining
facts or collecting further material whereon to formulate such opinion. It is only
when the Court has formed an opinion that a prima facie case for initiating
proceedings for contempt is made out and that the respondents or the alleged contemners
should be called upon to show cause why they should not be punished then the
Court can be said to have initiated proceedings for contempt. It is the result
of a conscious application of the mind of the Court to the facts and the
material before it. Such initiation of proceedings for contempt based on
application of mind by the Court to the facts of the case and the material
before it must take place within a period of one year from the date on which
the contempt is alleged to have been committed failing which the jurisdiction
to initiate any proceedings for contempt is lost. The heading of Section 20 is
`limitation for actions for contempt'. Strictly speaking, this section does not
provide limitation in the sense in which the term is understood in the
Limitation Act. Section 5 of the Limitation Act also does not, therefore,
20 strikes at the jurisdiction of the Court to initiate any proceedings for
at the concept of contempt and need for care and circumspection to be exercised
before initiating proceedings for contempt would show the necessity for
enacting Section 20 and devising therein the concept of `initiation of
proceedings for contempt'.
of an independent judiciary and an atmosphere wherein Judges may act
independently and fearlessly is the source of existence of civilisation in
society. The writ issued by the Court must be obeyed.
the binding efficacy attaching with the commands of the Court and the respect
for the orders of the Court which deter the aggrieved persons from taking the
law in their own hands because they are assured of an efficacious civilised
method of settlement of disputes being available to them wherein they shall be
heard and their legitimate grievances redeemed. Any act or omission which
undermines the dignity of the Court is therefore viewed with concern by the
society and the Court treats it as an obligation to zealously guard against any
onslaught on its dignity. In Re, Clements, Republic of Costa Rica V. Erlanger - (1876) 46 L.J.
385, Sir George Jessel M.R. said :- "It seems to me that this jurisdiction
of committing for contempt, being practically arbitrary and unlimited, should
be most jealously and carefully watched, and exercised; if I may say so, with
the greatest reluctance and the greatest anxiety on the part of Judges, to see
whether there is no other mode which is not open to the objection of
arbitrariness and which can be brought to bear upon the subject. I say that a
Judge should be most careful to see that the cause cannot be fairly prosecuted
to a hearing, unless this extreme mode of dealing with persons brought before
him on accusations of contempt should be adopted. I have myself had on many
occasions to consider this jurisdiction, and I have always thought that,
necessary though it may be, it is necessary only in the sense in which extreme
measures are sometimes necessary to preserve men's rights, that is if no other
pertinent remedy can be found, probably that will be discovered after
consideration to be the true measure of the exercise of the jurisdiction."
The jurisdiction to punish for contempt is summary but the consequences are
serious. That is why the jurisdiction to initiate proceedings in contempt as
also the jurisdiction to punish for contempt in spite of a case of contempt
having been made out are both discretionary with the Court. Contempt generally
and criminal contempt certainly is a matter between the Court and the alleged
Contemnor. No one can compel or demand as of right initiation of proceedings
for contempt. Certain principles have emerged. A jurisdiction in contempt shall
be exercised only on a clear case having been made out. Mere technical contempt
may not be taken note of. It is not personal glorification of a Judge in his
office but an anxiety to maintain the efficacy of justice administration system
effectively which dictates the conscience of a Judge to move or not to move in
contempt jurisdiction. Often an apology is accepted and the felony condoned if
the Judge feels convinced of the genuineness of the apology and the prestige of
the Court having been restored.
of initiation of contempt proceedings may be suo motu, on a Reference being
made by the Advocate General or any other person with the consent in writing of
the Advocate General or on Reference made by a Subordinate Court in case of
criminal contempt. A private party or a litigant may also invite the attention
of the Court to such facts as may persuade the Court in initiating proceedings
for contempt. However, such person filing an application or petition before the
Court does not become a complainant or petitioner in the proceedings.
just an informer or relator. His duty ends with the facts being brought to the
notice of the Court.
thereafter for the Court to act on such information or not to act though the
private party or litigant moving the Court may at the discretion of the Court
continue to render its assistance during the course of proceedings. That is why
it has been held that an informant does not have a right of filing an appeal
under Section 19 of the Act against an order refusing to initiate the contempt
proceedings or disposing the application or petition filed for initiating such
proceedings. He cannot be called an aggrieved party.
case at hand the order which was passed on 15.1.1987 had called upon the
respondents only to show cause why contempt proceedings be not initiated.
the cause was shown the Court was to make up its mind whether to initiate or
not to initiate proceedings for contempt. It was not an initiation of
will ignore the order dated 16.12.1987 as it was not signed. But the order
dated 6.1.1988 issuing notices to the opposite parties to show cause why they
be not punished for disobeying the order dated 9.12.1986, shows and it will be
assumed that the Court had applied its mind to the facts and material placed
before it and had formed an opinion that a case for initiating proceedings for
contempt was made out. Need for issuance of such notices was conceded to by the
Advocate General as also by the counsel for the respondents. That is why it
directed the respondents to be called upon to show cause why they be not
punished for disobedience of the order of the Court. The proceedings were
therefore initiated on 6.1.1988 and were within the limitation prescribed by
Section 20 of the Act. The impugned order directing dropping of the proceedings
is based on an erroneous view of Section 20 of the Act and hence is liable to
be set aside.
appeal is allowed, the impugned order is set aside. The proceedings are
restored to the file of the High Court which shall hear the parties and then
proceed ahead in accordance with law.
Before parting, we may make it clear that during the
course of hearing we had asked the learned counsel for the parties about the
result of the main writ petition wherein the undertaking was given on behalf of
the respondents. The learned counsel for the parties were not duly instructed
to assist this Court on this aspect. The findings arrived at by the Court in
the main case, if the same has been disposed of, would have a material bearing
on the discretion of the Court to proceed or not to proceed ahead with the
proceedings for contempt. We leave that aspect to be taken care of by the High