Out of jail since May, Sahara chief Subrata Roy’s fate hangs in balance once again. A two-session hearing on Friday saw one of his lawyers upsetting the Supreme Court, which initially directed that he should be sent back to jail immediately, but later suspended the order for a week when his other lawyer pressed for “mercy” and informed that the first lawyer had been removed.
While the court will take a final call on Roy’s parole next Wednesday, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who was removed from the case, issued a statement ruing that Chief Justice of India T S Thakur made “uncharitable statements” against him behind his back.
The drama unfolded at about 10:30 am, when a special bench headed by the CJI, also comprising Justices Anil R Dave and A K Sikri, was hearing a contempt petition against Roy and other directors of Sahara group for allegedly not refunding investors’ money.
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After spending over two years in jail, Roy was released on parole when his mother died in May this year. His parole, as well as that of directors Ashok Roy Choudhary and Ravi S Dubey, was subsequently extended on the condition that they should deposit money for refunding investors at regular intervals.
With senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, who has been leading the case since last year, unwell, Dhavan argued for Roy on Friday. The bench was inclined to adjourn the case to October 3 after extending the parole.
However, towards the end of the proceedings, counsel for Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) complained that the list of properties given by Sahara for auction included some properties that were already attached. The bench told SEBI to sell whatever it could and raise money for refunding investors. But Dhavan objected, saying it was “not fair” to ask SEBI to do so without hearing them and involving them in the process.
“If you want to be heard, you should go back to jail first,” said the CJI.
“How can my lords say this? We have already deposited Rs 352 crore as per the last direction, which is Rs 52 crore more. It is not a fair statement… in fact it is very unfair. The court should not do this,” replied Dhavan.
“Don’t tell us what to say or what to do? We know what is fair and what is not. You gave a list of properties which are already attached…you are not cooperating and you are telling us we are not fair? It’s better if you go to jail,” said the CJI.
Before the other counsel representing Roy could intervene, the bench passed a short order saying “the interim arrangement made by this court shall stand terminated” and “contemnors” shall be taken into custody immediately.
The counsel for Sahara then called Sibal, who rushed to court. Hours later, at about 1:20 pm, when the regular bench led by the CJI was about to rise, Sibal, who was waiting for the bench to finish other cases, walked to the front.
He began by saying he was sorry he could not make it to court in the morning because he was ill and the “gentleman” who appeared in the case as an ad hoc arrangement would not do so again.
“We are also sorry to have drawn you out of your sick bed… but we were simply adjourning the matter. All that we were saying was that the three items (properties) should be allowed to be sold. But it became too much for your lawyer,” said Justice Thakur.
Sibal said he was tendering an “unconditional apology” and a personal guarantee that it would never happen again. “Dignity of this court has to be maintained by everyone. We are all officers of this court. I have been informed by the counsel present in the morning… it was most unfortunate,” he said.
The CJI said judges also introspect after making unpleasant remarks against anybody, and they feel pained if some harsh statements are made during the course of the proceedings.
“We don’t ask for too much of respect from you people but this institution must be respected. One may be eloquent and scholarly but you cannot raise your voice, throw your weight around and try to browbeat the judges. That is not acceptable,” said Justice Thakur, adding that although their “threshold” is usually high, they can take exception when someone tends to throw his weight around.
“I can say that my lord’s threshold is exceptionally high. Let me again furnish my unconditional apology,” quipped Sibal.
The CJI laughed at Sibal’s remark, and agreed to speak to the other two judges to reconsider the order on cancellation of parole.
The special bench later issued another order giving Roy a week to surrender. But the bench will hear the plea for modification of the parole cancellation order on September 28, before expiry of the deadline to surrender.
Meanwhile, Dhavan, in a written statement, said: “It is most unfortunate that the CJI made uncharitable statements about me as a lawyer and my conduct in court behind my back… order passed in a temper, especially when all conditions are fulfilled, is both inappropriate and unbecoming… people in high places have enormous power and the duty to use it wisely…”