Bitta Vs. Union of India & Ors.
O R D E R
of India, on 28th March, 2001, issued a notification under the provisions of Section
41(6) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (for short, `the Act') read with Rule 50
of the Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 (for short, `the Rules') for implementation of
the provisions of the Act. This notification sought to introduce a new scheme regulating
issuance and fixation of High Security Number Plates. In terms of sub-section (3)
of Section 109 of the Act, the Central Government issued an order dated 22nd August,
2001 which dealt with various facets of manufacture, supply and fixation of new
High Security Registration Plates (HSRP). The Central Government also issued a
notification dated 16th October, 2001 for further implementation of the said order
and the HSRP Scheme. Various States had invited tenders in order to implement
writ petition being Writ Petition (C) No.41 of 2003 was filed in this Court challenging
the Central Government's power to issue such notification as well as the terms and
conditions of the tender process. In addition to the above writ petition before
this Court, various other writ petitions were filed in different High Courts raising
the same challenge. These writ petitions came to be transferred to this Court.
All the transferred
cases along with Writ Petition (C) No. 41 of 2003 were referred to a larger
Bench of three Judges of this Court by order of reference dated 26th May, 2005 in
the case of Association of Registration Plates v. Union of India [(2004) 5 SCC
364], as there was a difference of opinion between the learned Members of the Bench
dealing with the case.
The three Judge Bench
finally disposed of the writ petitions vide its order dated 30th November, 2004
reported in Association of Registration Plates v. Union of India Association of
Registration Plates v. Union of India [(2005) 1 SCC 679]. While dismissing the
writ petition and the connected matters, the Bench rejected the challenge made to
the provisions of the Rules, statutory order issued by the Central Government and
the tender conditions and also issued certain directions for appropriate implementation
of the Scheme.
matter did not rest there. Different States did not comply with the Rules, scheme
and/or statutory order which resulted in filing of the present writ petition, being
Writ Petition (C) No.510 of 2005. This writ petition also came to be disposed
of by a three Judge Bench of this Court vide its judgment titled as Maninderjit
Singh Bitta v. Union of India [(2008) 7 SCC 328]. It will be appropriate to refer
to the operative part of the said judgment: "5. Grievance of the petitioner
and the intervener i.e. All India Motor Vehicles Security Association is that subsequent
to the judgment the scheme of HSRP is yet not implemented in any State except the
State of Meghalaya and other States are still repeating the processing of the
The prayer therefore
is that the purpose of introducing the scheme should be fulfilled (sic- in) letter
and spirit. The objective being public safety and security there should not be any
lethargy. It is pointed out that most of the States floated the tenders and
thereafter without any reason the process has been slowed down... 3 XXX XXX XXX
9. Needless to say the scheme appears to have been introduced keeping in view the
public safety and security of the citizens. Let necessary decisions be taken, if
not already taken, within a period of six months from today. While taking the decision
the aspects highlighted by this Court in the earlier decision needless to say
shall be kept in view."
the above judgment of this Court, most of the States have failed to implement the
scheme and the directions contained in the judgments of this Court. The matter remained
pending before this Court for a considerable time and various orders passed by this
Court directing implementation of the scheme, were not complied with. On 7th April,
2011, by a detailed order, we had taken note of the intervening events and the fact
that a large number of States had not even implemented the scheme and the directions
contained in the judgments of this Court.
Before invoking the extraordinary
jurisdiction of this Court for initiation of contempt proceedings against the
concerned authorities of the respective defaulting States, this Court considered
it necessary to require only presence of officers in Court and provided them with
another opportunity to 4ensure compliance of the directions issued by this Court.
Despite assurance of an effective implementation of the Court's orders, nothing
substantial was done within the time of six weeks granted by this Court vide its
Order dated 7th April, 2011. Certain Interim Applications (I.A.s) were filed by
some of the States for extension of time and in view of the assurance given in
court, this Court had also dispensed with the personal appearance of the senior
officers of those State Governments.
However, with some regret,
we noticed that still a few states had not complied with the directions of this
Court and the casual attitude of the State Government of these States was
obvious from their very conduct, inside and outside the court. This attitude
compelled us to pass a very detailed Order on 30th August, 2011 classifying the
States into different categories. The first category of the states had taken steps
and even awarded the contract for supplying `High Security Registration Plates'
The second category
was of the States/U.T.s which had not followed the correct procedure for
selection and had approved all private vendors with `Type Approval Certificate'
(TAC) from the Central Government to affix the `HSRP' at their own premises or
at the Office of the RTO. The third category was 5of the defaulting States who
had filed affidavits, assuring the Court of taking steps and finalising the tender
allotment within the specified dates. On the basis of the affidavits filed by
them, they were granted further time and were required to file affidavits of
The last category was
of the States which had been persisting with the default and had not taken any
effective steps to comply with the directions of this Court. Thus, vide Order
dated 30th August 2011 we had passed the following directions in relation to
this category : "9. From the record before us, it is clear that there is apparent
and intentional default on the part of the concerned officers of these defaulting
States. Consequently, we issue notice to show cause why proceedings under the Contempt
of Courts Act, 1971 be not initiated, if found guilty, why they be not punished
in accordance with law and why exemplary costs, personally recoverable from the
erring officers/officials, be not imposed.
Notice shall be issued
to: a. Secretary (Transport) of the defaulting States. b. Commissioner, State Transport
Authority of the respective States."
State of Haryana is one such state which has hardly taken any step to implement
the scheme. For their intentional violation of the Court's Order, we were compelled
to issue notice as to why proceedings under the Contempt of Courts 6Act of 1971
(for short `the 1971 Act') as well as costs, exemplary or otherwise, be not
imposed upon the States or its officers, responsible for such inordinate delay in
complying with the orders of the Court.
the affidavits filed on behalf of the State of Haryana, it was stated that a
notice for inviting tender was published on 29th October 2002 which was
challenged before the court and finally, this Court vide its Order dated 13th November
2004, had dismissed the petition raising challenge to the tender process. Thereafter,
draft `Request for Proposals' was prepared only on 28th April, 2011 and the notice
inviting tender was published on 12th May, 2011.
Pre-bid meeting was held
and amendments to the terms of the tender were made on 30th June, 2011. The constituted
committee held a meeting thereafter and apprised the concerned of the
pre-qualification bids. On 30th August, 2011, the bids were received and evaluated.
The technical bids were opened on 5th September, 2011 and financial bids were to
be opened thereafter in the month of September 2011 itself which,
unfortunately, have not been opened till date and the tender has not been
awarded to any bidder.
us now examine the conduct of the State and its officers, responsible for not
carrying out the directions of this Court. It is undisputable from the record
produced before us that initially the steps were taken by the State of Haryana
in the year 2002 which could not be finalised because of court's intervention
and the said challenge was finally dismissed and all controversies came to an end
by the Order of this Court dated 30th November, 2004. Admittedly, from the year
2004 till 2011, for a long period of seven years, no steps were taken by the State
of Haryana in compliance with the directions of this Court and the statutory scheme
under the provisions of Rule 50 of the Rules. It was only with the
pronouncement of the Order dated 7th April, 2011 by this Court that the State
of Haryana appears to have woken up from slumber and made a feeble attempt, which
completely lacked both will and sincerity, to comply with the orders of this Court.
The authorities were expected to comply with the directions and implement the scheme
effectively and expeditiously.
Despite the lapse of
more than 5 months, tenders have still not been awarded to any party. It is evident
from the record that the matters of public safety and urgent nature were taken as
routine files of the Department. This conduct of the 8Department and its officers
demonstrates a complete callous attitude on their part, as they failed to take note
of the mandatory and self-contained directions of this Court in the Order dated
7th April, 2011. Besides noticing that such functioning of the departments was reprehensible,
this Court while recording a note of caution, required the authorities to comply
with such orders in future. Despite specific orders, it has taken months for
the State hierarchy to open the financial bids and award the contract.
In the Order dated
30th August, 2011, the State of Haryana was named amongst the states which had
taken no action or had merely initiated the process without any effective steps
and/or final results. They were issued notice because the conduct of these States
reflected callousness and lack of will to obey the orders of this Court. Their attitude
was found to be one of disobedience and the situation has hardly changed, not for
the better in any case.
Not taking any steps,
whatsoever, to implement the Scheme and the orders of this Court for years together
and now inaction for months together in not opening the financial bids and
awarding the contract, is a glaring and flagrant violation of the orders of this
Court by the State and its responsible officers.
we would examine certain principles of law which would normally guide the
exercise of judicial discretion in the realm of contempt jurisdiction. `Contempt'
is an extraordinary jurisdiction of the Courts. Normally, the courts are
reluctant to initiate contempt proceedings under the provisions of the 1971 Act.
This jurisdiction, at least suo moto, is invoked by the courts sparingly and in
compelling circumstances, as it is one of the foremost duty of the courts to
ensure compliance of its orders. The law relating to contempt is primarily
dissected into two main heads of jurisdiction under the Indian Law: (a) Criminal
Contempt, and (b) Civil Contempt.
It is now well settled
and explained principle under the Indian contempt jurisdiction that features, ingredients,
procedure, attendant circumstances of the case and the quantum of punishment
are the relevant and deciphering factors. Section 12 of the 1971 Act deals with
the contempt of court and its punishment while Section 15 deals with cognizance
of criminal contempt. Civil contempt would be wilful breach of an undertaking given
to the court or willful disobedience of any judgment or order of the court,
while criminal contempt would deal with the cases where by words, spoken or written,
signs or any matter or doing of any act which scandalises, prejudices or interferes,
obstructs or even tends to obstruct the due course of any judicial proceedings,
any court and the administration of justice in any other manner. Under the English
Law, the distinction between criminal and civil contempt is stated to be very little
and that too of academic significance.
However, under both
the English and Indian Law these are proceedings sui generis. While referring to
Justice J.D. Kapoor's Law of Contempt of Court, Second Edition, 2010 which mentioned
the Phillimore Committee Report - Report of the Committee on Contempt of Court,
of which importantly the following passage can be noticed: "4. In England and
Wales most forms of contempt have been regarded as of criminal character, and
as such, are called "criminal contempts".
In Scotland contempt
of court is not a crime nor is a distinction between "criminal" and
"civil" contempts recognised. Scots law regards contempt of court as
a chapter of a law sui generis. This difference of approach is of little more than
academic significance in modern practice, but the Scottish explain certain peculiar
elements in its operation and procedure. What is of particular importance is
that it is branch of the law in which breaches are investigated by a special
and summary procedure and where, once established, they may be severely
the Indian Law the conduct of the parties, the act of disobedience and the attendant
circumstances are 11relevant to consider whether a case would fall under civil contempt
or a criminal contempt. For example, disobedience of an order of a court
simplicitor would be civil contempt but when it is coupled with conduct of the
parties which is contemptuous, prejudicial and is in flagrant violation of the law
of the land, it may be treated as a criminal contempt. Even under the English
Law, the courts have the power to enforce its judgment and orders against the
exercise of its contempt jurisdiction, the courts are primarily concerned with enquiring
whether the contemnor is guilty of intentional and wilful violation of the orders
of the court, even to constitute a civil contempt. Every party to lis before the
court, and even otherwise, is expected to obey the orders of the court in its
true spirit and substance. Every person is required to respect and obey the orders
of the court with due dignity for the institution. The Government Departments are
no exception to it.
The departments or instrumentalities
of the State must act expeditiously as per orders of the court and if such orders
postulate any schedule, then it must be adhered to. 12Whenever there are obstructions
or difficulties in compliance with the orders of the court, least that is expected
of the Government Department or its functionaries is to approach the court for extension
of time or clarifications, if called for. But, where the party neither obeys the
orders of the court nor approaches the court making appropriate prayers for extension
of time or variation of order, the only possible inference in law is that such
party disobeys the orders of the court.
In other words, it is
intentionally not carrying out the orders of the court. Flagrant violation of the
court's orders would reflect the attitude of the concerned party to undermine
the authority of the courts, its dignity and the administration of justice. In
the case of Re: Vinay Chandra Mishra [(1995) 2 SCC 584], this Court held that `judiciary
has a special and additional duty to perform, viz., to oversee that all individuals
and institutions including the executive and the legislature act within the framework
of not only the law but also the fundamental law of the land. This duty is apart
from the function of adjudicating the disputes between the parties which is essential
to peaceful and orderly development of the society. Dignity and authority of
the Courts have to be 13respected and protected at all costs'.
very important aspect even of the Civil Contempt is, `what is the attribution of
the contemnor?' There may be cases of disobedience where the respondent commits
acts and deeds leading to actual disobedience of the orders of the court. Such contemnor
may flout the orders of the court openly, intentionally and with no respect for
the rule of law.
While in some other cases
of civil contempt, disobedience is the consequence or inference of a dormant or
passive behaviour on the part of the contemnor. Such would be the cases where
the contemnor does not take steps and just remains unmoved by the directions of
the court. As such, even in cases where no positive/active role is directly attributable
to a person, still, his passive and dormant attitude of inaction may result in violation
of the orders of the court and may render him liable for an action of contempt.
is not the offence of contempt which gets altered by a passive/negative or an active/positive
behaviour of a contemnor but at best, it can be a relevant consideration for imposition
of punishment, wherever the 14contemnor is found guilty of contempt of court. With
reference to Government officers, this Court in the case of E.T. Sunup v. Canss
Employees Assoc.. [(2004) 8 SCC 683] took the view that it has become a tendency
with the Government officers to somehow or the other circumvent the orders of
the Court by taking recourse to one justification or the other even if ex-facie
they are unsustainable.
The tendency of undermining
the court orders cannot be countenanced. Deprecating practice of undue delay in
compliance with the orders of the court, this Court again in the case of M.C.
Mehta v. Union of India and Ors. [(2001) 5 SCC 309] observed : ".....clear
lapse on the part of NCT and Municipal Corporation. Even if there was not deliberate
or wilful disregard for the court orders, there has clearly been a lackadaisical
attitude and approach towards them. Though no further action in this matter need
be taken for now, but such lethargic attitude if continues may soon become contumacious."
is also of some relevancy to note that disobedience of court orders by positive
or active contribution or non-obedience by a passive and dormant conduct leads
to the same result. Disobedience of orders of the court strikes at the very
root of rule of law on which the judicial system rests. The rule of law is the
foundation of a democratic society. Judiciary is the guardian of the rule of law.
If the Judiciary is to perform its duties and functions effectively and remain
true to the spirit with which they are sacredly entrusted, the dignity and authority
of the courts have to be respected and protected at all costs (refer T.N. Godavarman
Thirumulpad's case [(2006) 5 SCC 1].
before the highest court of the land in a public interest litigation, attain
even more significance. These are the cases which come up for hearing before
the court on a grievance raised by the public at large or public spirited persons.
The State itself places matters before the Court for determination which would fall,
statutorily or otherwise, in the domain of the executive authority. It is where
the State and its instrumentalities have failed to discharge its statutory functions
or have acted adversely to the larger public interest that the courts are
called upon to interfere in exercise of their extraordinary jurisdiction, to ensure
maintenance of the rule of law.
These are the cases
which have impact in rem or on larger section of the society and not in personam
simplicitor. Courts are called upon to exercise jurisdiction with twin objects in
mind. Firstly, to punish the persons who have disobeyed or not carried out orders
of the court i.e. for their past conduct. Secondly, to pass such orders, including
imprisonment and use the contempt jurisdiction as a tool for compliance of its
orders in future. This principle has been applied in the United States and
Australia as well.
For execution of the
orders of the court even committal for an indefinite term has been accepted under
Australian law [Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union v. Mudginberri
Station Pty. Ltd. (1986) 161 CLR 98 (Australian High Court)] and American law, though
this is no longer permissible under English Law. While referring to detention
of a person for a long period to ensure execution of the orders in Re Nevitt
[117 F. 448, 461 (1902)] Judge Sanborn observed that the person subjected to
such a term `carries the keys of his prison in his own pocket.' Lethargy, ignorance,
official delays and absence of motivation can hardly be offered as any defence
in an action for contempt.
Inordinate delay in
complying with the orders of the courts has also received judicial criticism. It
is inappropriate for the parties concerned to keep the execution of the court's
orders in abeyance for an inordinate period. Inaction or even dormant behaviour
by the officers in highest echelons in the hierarchy of the Government in complying
with the directions/orders of this Court certainly amounts to disobedience. Inordinate
delay of years in complying with the orders of the court or in complying with the
directed stipulations within the prescribed time, has been viewed by this Court
seriously and held to be the contempt of court, as it undermines the dignity of
Reference in this
regard can be made to Maniyeri Madhavan v. Inspector of Police, Cannanore [AIR
1993 SC 356] and Anil Ratan Sarkar and Ors. v. Hirak Ghosh and Ors. [(2002) 4 SCC
21]. Even a lackadaisical attitude, which itself may not be deliberate or
wilful, have not been held to be a sufficient ground of defence in a contempt
proceeding. Obviously, the purpose is to ensure compliance of the orders of the
court at the earliest and within stipulated period.
back to the facts of the present case, it is undisputed that for years together
the State of Haryana has failed to comply with the directions of this Court and
implement the scheme. It has not only caused prejudice to the public at large
but has even undermined the dignity of 18this Court. The attitude of the State of
Haryana and the respective officers has been lackadaisical and of wilful disregard.
Despite repeated orders they have failed to take effective steps and whatever
steps were taken the same are not in conformity with law. The repeated Orders of
this Court have failed to bring any results from the recalcitrant State.
opportunities and extension of time did not help in expeditious progress in the
matter. On the contrary, there is apparent disobedience of the Orders of this
Court and no compliance with the Orders of this court, by their completely passive
and dormant behaviour. This behaviour, besides causing serious problems in the
effective implementation of statutory scheme, has even undermined the dignity
of this Court and impinged upon the basic rule of law.
At the cost of
repetition, we may notice that there is not even a word of explanation as to why
no steps were taken by the State of Haryana for a long period of seven years
and why tender has not been awarded till date. The vague averments made in the affidavit
are nothing but a lame excuse to somehow avoid the present proceedings. The State
of Haryana and the concerned officers, namely, the Secretary, Transport and the
Commissioner, State Transport Authority have violated the Orders of this Court and
are liable for the consequences of such disobedience.
was expected of the officers in-charge and particularly the Secretary, Transport
and Commissioner, State Transport Authority of the State of Haryana to at least
carefully read the orders of this Court and ensure their implementation in
their correct perspective. We would have expected such high officers of the State
to act fairly, expeditiously and in accordance with the orders of this Court. If
the concerned State would have taken timely and appropriate steps in accordance
with the law and the orders of this Court, it would have not only saved the time
of the Court, which it had spent on repeated hearings, but would have also
saved the public money that it had spent so far.
have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the Secretary, Transport and
the Commissioner, State Transport Authority of the State of Haryana is guilty of
wilful disobedience/non-compliance of the orders of this Court, particularly the
orders dated 30th November 2004, 7th April 2011 and 30th August 2011. Having
found them guilty under the provisions of the 1971 Act and under Article 129 of
the Constitution of India, we punish the Secretary, Transport and Commissioner,
State Road Transport Authority of the State of Haryana as under :i) They are
punished to pay a fine of Rs.2,000/- each and in default, they shall be liable to
undergo simple imprisonment for a period of fifteen days;ii)
We impose exemplary
cost of Rs.50,000/- on the State of Haryana, which amount, at the first
instance, shall be paid by the State but would be recovered from the salaries of
the erring officers/officials of the State in accordance with law and such
recovery proceedings be concluded within six months. The costs would be payable
to the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee. iii) In view of the principle that
the courts also invoke contempt jurisdiction as a tool for compliance of its orders
in future, we hereby direct the State Government and the respondent/contemner herein
now to positively comply with the orders and implement the scheme within eight
weeks from today. Copy of this order be circulated to the Chief Secretary/Competent
Authority of all the States/U.T.s. It is ordered accordingly.