Das & Anr Vs. Sayed Hasibur Rahaman & Ors  Insc 146 (16 March 2001)
C. Banerjee & S.N. Phukan Banerjee, J.
No. 1416 of 1997
introduction of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 in the statute book has been
for purposes of securing a feeling of confidence of the people in general for
due and proper administration of justice in the country. It is a powerful
weapon in the hands of the law courts by reason wherefor it must thus be
exercised with due care and caution and for larger interest.
a special leave petition (1416/1997) was filed before this Court by Paschim Banga
Rajya Bhumijibi Sangh against the judgment of the Calcutta High Court
pertaining to the question of constitutionality of certain provisions of West
Bengal Land Reforms Amendment Acts 1981 and 1986. The said Sangha filed an
Interlocutory Application being I.A.No.3 OF 1999 for issuance of certain
directions which inter alia reads as below:
direct the State of West Bengal and its Revenue Authorities not to initiate any
proceedings for vesting of the land against the members of the Petitioner Sangha
and if any vesting proceeding has been already initiated against the members of
the Petitioner Sangha in that event not to pass any order and maintain
status-quo in respect of the land in question in all respect till the disposal
of the Special Leave Petition (Civil) No.1416 of 1997 pending before this Honble
Court or in alternative clarify that the order dated 20.3.1998 as quoted in
paragraph 19-20 will apply only to the parties thereto and not to the members
of the Petitioner No.1 Sangha.
Interlocutory Application was heard on 29th October, 1999 and this Court was pleased to pass
an order therein to the following effect:
request of Learned counsel for the Applicants four weeks time is granted to
enable him to put on record appropriate information regarding members of the Sangha
for whom the application is moved and the nature of the stay required.
meantime Learned Counsel for the Respondent will also take appropriate
instructions in connection with this I.A.
on 16th December, 1999, this Court in I.A.No.3 passed an interim order to the
effect as below Having heard Learned counsel for the parties, by way of an
interim order, it is directed that status-quo regarding possession on spot
shall be maintained by both the sides in connection with the members of the
Petitioner-Sangha who were before the High Court in the Writ Petition out of
which the present proceedings arise.
supplied) In the meantime, learned senior counsel for the respondent-State of
West Bengal will verify the list of these
members, (Emphasis supplied ) which is furnished to him by Learned Counsel for
the Petitioner and subject to that verification further orders will be passed
after three months.
placed after three months.
application (I.A.No.3) a further order was passed on 17th April, 2000 which
reads as below We have heard learned senior counsel for the Petitioners, Mr. Shanti
Bhushan and Learned Senior Counsel for respondent-State of West Bengal, Mr.
Ray, Learned Senior Counsel for respondent-State of West Bengal is right when
he says that some more time is required as 13,000 persons are listed and they
have to ascertain about their existence on the spot. We grant time up to the
end of July, 2000. I.A. will be placed in the second week of August, 2000. In
the meantime, at the request of Learned Counsel for the Petitioners, Mr. Shanti
Bhusan we grant additional interim relief in continuation of our earlier order
dated 16.12.1999 to the effect that if in the meantime, any vesting orders have
been passed in respect of the lands of members of Petitioner Sangha who were
before the High Court in the matter out of which the present proceedings arise,
then those vesting orders shall not be implemented until further orders."
It is this order which is said to have been violated and thus bringing the
orders of this Court into ridicule. The factum of violation is said to have
been deliberate since in spite of the order as above and even after the service
of the order dated 17th April, 2000 to the authorities of Land Reforms
Department, Government of West Bengal for its compliance, the Petitioner No.1
being a resident of village Amriti, District, Malda, West Bengal and a life
member of the Paschim Banga Rajya Bhumijibi Sangha was served with a notice
dated 5.4.2000 under Section 57 of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act together
with Section 14-T (3) of the said Act read with Rule 4 of the Rules framed thereunder
by the Revenue Officer Cell, Malda asking to submit details of land held by him
and his family members since 7.8.1969 and particulars of land transferred by
him after that date. The records depict that a reply to the said notice was
furnished as early as 30th April, 2000 alongwith the certification of
membership of the Sangha and copy of the order dated 16th December, 1999 passed by this Court. It further
appears that a hearing did take place and the Revenue Officer passed an order
of vesting on 17th
Subsequently, on the factual matrix, it appears that by the notice dated 26th April, 2000 issued by the Revenue Officer,
possession of 37.47½ acres of land was directed to be made over to the Land
Revenue Authority on 27.4.2000. It has been the definite case of the
petitioners that in spite of receipt of both the orders dated 16th December,
1999 and 17th April, 2000, the Block Land & Land Reforms Officer, English Bazar,
Malda came on the site and took possession of the said land.
is the situation as regards the land belonging to petitioner No.2 and
possession 20.76 acres of land was also obtained by the Block Land & Land
Reforms Officer, English Bazar, Malda. This act of obtaining possession from
the applicants herein is stated to be a deliberate violation of this Courts
order and thus cannot but be ascribed to be contemptuous in nature.
the learned Senior Advocate appearing in support of the petition for Contempt
contended that the high handedness of the executive authorities is apparent in
the deliberate action of taking over possession of land from two of the members
of the Samiti even after coming to know of the orders of this Court and
resultantly committing an act of gross contempt.
this Court passed an order on 17th April, 2000 as a continuation of the earlier
order dated 16th December, 1999 to the effect that if in the meantime, any
vesting order has been passed in respect of the land of members of petitioners Sangha
who were before the High Court in the matter out of which the present
proceeding arise, then those vesting orders shall not be implemented until
further orders. The order dated 16th December, 2000 also categorically records the maintenance of status quo
regarding possession on spot by both the State and Private Respondents. As
regards however the Private Respondents, the order was directed to be made
applicable to the cases of the members of the petitioners Sangha who were
before the High Court in the Writ Petition out of which the present proceeding
to state that Land Reforms Legislation in States have been introduced with a
view to proceed with the socialistic approach as enshrined in the Constitution.
The amendments have been effected in the main provisions of the act, validity
of which stands further scrutiny before this Court. We are however, not called
upon to delve into these issues neither we intend to do the same. The noting
aforesaid is just to introduce the subject for our consideration though in a
separate jurisdiction being of extra- ordinary nature but as conferred by and
under the statute.
however, at this juncture consider the counter affidavit as filed by the
alleged Contemnors and assess the situation as to whether there is any
deliberate act on the part of the revenue officers of the State or an omission
to note the true effect of the order which has resulted in such an action which
is said to be contemptuous in nature. The alleged Contemnors No.2 and 3 being Sayed
Kadar Hossain and Chitaranjan Chakraborti stated that as officers of the
Government, they have tried to discharge their duties to the best of their
ability, capacity and understanding. There was never any motive or intention to
violate or disobey the orders of this Court. In paragraphs 4 and 5 alleged
contemnors stated as below.
respectfully submit that as understood by us that the number of the Petitioner Sangha
who were before the High Court in the Writ Petition were understood by us as parties
on the date on which the Writ Petition was filed.
petitioners themselves have admitted that they became members only in 1992-93,
and the order of this Honble
Court would not be
applicable then as they were not members of the Sangha on the date of filing
the Writ Petition. If the interpretation given by the Petitioners was sought to
be accepted, then there could be no occasion for this Honble Court making the order for verification
of members of the Sangha. We never proceeded with the matter to violate the
orders of this Honble
also submit that in the proceedings, the Petitioners were given full
opportunity of being heard and in fact the Petitioner appeared through Advocate
and made submission and after considering the facts and circumstances of the
case and also the material on record, the Revenue Officer being the competent
Authority under the Act (Contemnor No.2) recorded the following finding:
appears from certificate which was issued by that Sangha that Sl. No. of Life
Membership of raiyat Mrityunjoy Das is 2698/93. It is clear that the raiyat
obtained membership in the year 1993 and he was not the member of the said Sangha
during the time of filing the Writ Applicant or before the Honble High Court.
So the raiyat is not entitled to get benefit of the order of the Honble Supreme
Court dated 16.12.1999.
copy of the order dated 17.4.2000 in this regard is annexed herewith and marked
as Annexure- R 1/1.
further submit that we have not tried to justify the conduct any way, by making
the aforesaid statements and have stated these only to explain the
circumstances and if any lack of understanding as aforesaid has resulted in
violation of this order and consequently the Contempt of Court, I repent for
the same and tender my unqualified apology before this Honble Court. I further
submit that whatever I have done was in the course of my official work as a
Government servant and I have no personal interest whether the process of Land
Reforms continues or halts. On the face of this order of this Honble Court, or in that way any Order of any
Court, which I am duty bound to obey. I again submit that if my interpretation
of the order of this Honble Court was wrong that was because of my limitations
to understand but there is nothing malafide in it and I cannot think of
over-reaching or flouting the order of this Honble Court in any way or under
state of pleadings as above, Mr. Tapas Chandra Ray, the learned Senior Advocate
appearing for the Respondents with his usual eloquence submitted that the order
of this Court dated 16th December, 1999 pertaining to the maintenance of status
quo regarding possession, has been rather categorical in its application: This
Court has restricted its applicability to the members of the petitioners Sangha
who were before the High Court in the Writ Petition and not all and sundry. Mr.
Ray drew the attention of the Court to a portion of the order (as emphasized in
page 3 hereof) and submitted that a contra interpretation to the order would
not only be grossly irregular but be totally unsubstantiated. The user of the
words who were before the High Court in the writ petition shall have to be
attributed some meaning and the intention has been rather clear and categorical
as to its applicability. Mr. Ray contended that this Court obviously could not
indulge in surplusage or record a specific order without attributing any
meaning thereto and it is in this context Mr. Ray further contended that in any
event, if two explanations are available and out of which one stands adopted by
the alleged contemnors which cannot by any stretch, be termed to be wholly
unwarranted, question of returning a verdict of guilty in an Application for
Contempt does not and cannot arise.
however, is the submission of Mr. Sanyal and Mr. Ganguli for the petitioners
with reference to the user of the words present proceeding by this Court which
cannot as contended but mean that the order has been intended to apply to the
applicants before this Court, in addition to the members who were members on
the date of filing of the Writ Petition and this by no stretch be restrictive
otherwise the order would only be partial and a majority of the persons
proceeding with this litigation as parties herein would be deprived of the same
a situation which cannot possibly be conceived in the matters of an order of
this Court since this Court confers benefit on to those who seek relief in a
proceeding before this Court indeed an attractive submission.
however, proceeding with the matter any further, be it noted that exercise of
powers under the Contempt of Courts Act shall have to be rather cautious and
use of it rather sparingly after addressing itself to the true effect of the
contemptuous conduct. The Court must otherwise come to a conclusion that the
conduct complained of tentamounts to obstruction of justice which if allowed,
would even permeat in our society (vide Murray & Co. v. Ashok Kr. Newatia
& Anr.: 2000 (2) SCC 367) this is a special jurisdiction conferred on to
the law courts to punish an offender for his contemptuous conduct or
obstruction to the majesty of law. It is in this context that the observations
of the this Court in Murrays case (supra) in which one of us (Banerjee,
J.) was party needs to be noticed.
purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the
Courts of law since the image of such a majesty in the minds of the people
cannot be led to be distorted. The respect and authority commanded by Courts of
Law are the greatest guarantee to an ordinary citizen and the entire democratic
fabric of the society will crumble down if the respect for the judiciary is
undermined. It is true that the judiciary will be judged by the people for what
the judiciary does, but in the event of any indulgence which even can remotely
be termed to affect the majesty of law, the society is bound to lose confidence
and faith in the judiciary and the law courts thus, would forfeit the trust and
confidence of the people in general.
other aspect of the matter ought also to be noticed at this juncture viz., the
burden and standard of proof.
common English phrase he who asserts must prove has its due application in the
matter of proof of the allegations said to be constituting the act of contempt.
As regards the standard of proof, be it noted that a proceeding under the
extra-ordinary jurisdiction of the Court in terms of the provisions of the
Contempt of Court Act is quasi criminal, and as such, the standard of proof
required is that of a criminal proceeding and the breach shall have to be
established beyond reasonable doubt. The observations of Lord Denning in Re Bramblevale
(1969 3 All ER 1062) lend support to the aforesaid. Lord Denning in Re Bramblevale
contempt of court is an offence of a criminal character. A man may be sent to
prison for it,. It must be satisfactorily proved. To use the time- honoured
phrase, it must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. It is not proved by
showing that, when the man was asked about it, he told lies. There must be some
further evidence to incriminate him. Once some evidence is given, then his lies
can be thrown into the scale against him. But there must be some other
evidence. Where there are two equally consistent possibilities open to the Court,
it is not right to hold that the offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt.
this context, the observations of the Calcutta High Court in Archana Guha v. Ranjit
Guha Neogi (1989 (II) CHN 252) in which one of us was a party (Banerjee, J.)
seem to be rather apposite and we do lend credence to the same and thus record
our concurrence therewith.
Aligarh Municipal Board and Others v. Ekka Tonga Mazdoor Union and Others (1970
(III) SCC 98), this Court in no uncertain term stated that in order to bring
home a charge of contempt of court for disobeying orders of Courts, those who
assert that the alleged contemners had knowledge of the order must prove this
fact beyond reasonable doubt.
Court went on to observe that in case of doubt, the benefit ought to go to the
similar vein in V.G. Nigam and others v. Kedar Nath Gupta and another (1992 (4)
SCC 697), this Court stated that it would be rather hazardous to impose
sentence for contempt on the authorities in exercise of contempt jurisdiction
on mere probabilities.
discussed the law on the subject, let us thus at this juncture analyse as to
whether in fact, the contempt alleged to have been committed by the alleged cotemners,
can said to have been established firmly without there being any element of
doubt involved in the matter and that the Court would not be acting on mere
probabilities having however, due regard to the nature of jurisdiction being
quasi criminal conferred on to the law courts. Admittedly, this Court directed
maintenance of status quo with the following words the members of the
petitioner Sangha who were before the High Court in the writ petition out of
which the present proceedings arise. And it is on this score the applicant
contended categorically that the intent of the Court to include all the members
presenting the Petition before this Court whereas for the Respondent Mr. Ray
contended that the same is restricted to the members who filed the writ
petition before the High Court which culminated in the initiation of proceeding
before this Court. The Counter affidavit filed by the Respondents also record
the same. The issue thus arises as to whether the order stands categorical to
lend credence to the answers of the respondent or the same supports the contention
as raised by the applicants herein Incidentally, since the appeal is pending in
this Court for adjudication, and since the matter under consideration have no
bearing on such adjudication so far as the merits of the dispute are concerned,
we are not expressing any opinion in the matter neither we are required to
express opinion thereon, excepting however, recording that probabilities of the
situation may also warrant a finding, in favour of the interpretation of the
doubt persists and as such in any event the respondents being the alleged contemners
are entitled to have the benefit or advantage of such a doubt having regard to
the nature of the proceeding as noticed herein before more fully.