The Punjab and Haryana High Court Thursday granted bail to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal and party leader and MLA Bikram Singh Majithia, both accused of defaming a retired judge, and insinuated that their remarks tantamount to “ridiculing” and “vandalisation” of the judiciary.
Badal and Majithia appeared before the single bench of Justice Amit Rawal for hearing in a criminal case filed against them by Justice (retired) Ranjit Singh, who headed a one-man commission to probe desecration of religious texts and related police firing incidents, including those that happened under SAB-BJP rule in 2015. The case has been filed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.
Granting bail to the duo on furnishing personal bonds of Rs 1 lakh each, the bench adjourned the hearing to August 21. Badal and Majithia have not been given any exemption from appearance for the next date of hearing.
Justice Singh in February this year had filed a criminal complaint against Badal and Majithia under the 1952 Act for allegedly making defamatory statements against him in connection with the report of the Commission set up by Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to investigate various incidents of sacrilege in Punjab. While Justice Singh was represented by Senior Advocate Amarjeet Singh Deol, Badal was represented by Senior Advocate Ashok Aggarwal and Majithia by Senior Advocate Rajinder Singh Cheema.
On August 23 last year, Badal held a press conference in Amritsar insinuating that Justice Singh had no legal qualification and alleged that he had fabricated the documents, including witness statements, in preparation of the report of the commission he headed. On August 27, the Shiromani Akali Dal leaders, including Majithia, mocked the report in a demonstration held outside the Punjab Assembly and staged the report’s mock sale while shouting it was available at Rs 5 in the market. The two incidents have been cited as evidence in the complaint. The commission’s report was tabled in Punjab Assembly last year.
In April this year, the high court issued notices to the SAD leaders directing them to appear before it in person.
Justice Rawal at the outset of hearing on Thursday asked Badal’s counsel whether he had gone through the contents of the audio recording which is part of the complaint, adding that he had issued notices on the complaint after only after going through it. “The judiciary should not be ridiculed like this,” observed the court, adding, that it was “vandalisation” of the judiciary, while referring to the contents of the CDs.
Justice Rawal further observed that the constitution gives freedom of speech and expression but it has to be circumscribed. “It is an unnecessarily invited litigation. Sometimes politicians get carried away instead of applying their minds,” Justice Rawal observed as Badal and Majithia remained seated in the courtroom.
Justice Singh’s counsel, during the hearing, submitted that the complainant would be filing a list of witnesses in terms of the provisions of Section 244 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, the counsel for Badal and Majithia argued that the question of maintainability of the complaint has been kept open as per the order passed in February and they would be making submissions pertaining to it only on the next date. The submission was rebutted by Justice Singh’s counsel.
The court agreed with the lawyers representing the SAD leaders and said that the question regarding maintainability of the complaint in terms of the Section 10(3)(A) of the Act was kept open while issuing notice to the respondents. “I deem it appropriate to adjourn the hearing and direct the counsel representing the parties to address the arguments in terms of order dated February 20,” reads the order passed by the court.
Section 10A of the Act provides that “if any person, by words either spoken or intended to be read, makes or publishes any statement or does any other act, which is calculated to bring the Commission or any member thereof into disrepute, he shall be punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both”.
Majithia while speaking to media outside the High Court said they have full faith in judiciary. “The bench has spoken about both maintainability and freedom of expression. I think the freedom of expression is a larger debate, which is going on in India and outside. The matter is sub-judice and we have full faith in the judicial system,” he said.
Badal also said they have full faith in the judicial system, adding the case at this stage is restricted to the question of maintainability.