Attorney General K K Venugopal has declined consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against advocate Prashant Bhushan over his tweets critical of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde on the latter’s visit to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
Venugopal said that Bhushan had subsequently “expressed regret for the error made”.
In a letter to advocate Sunil Kumar Singh, who had sought his consent, the A-G said he was initially inclined to grant consent for contempt proceedings, as he was “of the opinion that imputations contained in the three tweets to the effect that the Chief Justice of India committed an act of impropriety in accepting facilities of the State of Madhya Pradesh during his visit to Kanha National Park, while a case pertaining to the disqualification of certain members of the Assembly of Madhya Pradesh was pending before him, were wholly unwarranted, improper, devoid of legal basis and prima facie contumacious…”.
However, he stated, “I do not think it would be in public interest to give consent for proceeding on the basis of the original tweet in view of the subsequent tweet expressing regret.”
Venugopal also explained in the letter why he was of the opinion that Bhushan’s tweets were prima facie contumacious.
He wrote: “Firstly, the Chief Justice of India is one of the highest constitutional functionaries in the country and is to receive protocol as befits the stature of his office. He is also entitled to ‘Z-plus’ security. Additionally, in terms of the Madhya Pradesh State Guest Rules, 2011, the Chief Justice is a ‘State Guest’ and is entitled therefore for to be extended facilities for the purpose of his reception, transport and boarding.”
Also, he stated, “one must keep in mind the fact that it has been reported widely in the press that Kanha National Park, since about 2016-2017, has been overrun by Maoists, and has seen the presence of nearly 200 armed cadre…. The Chief Justice, notwithstanding his Z-Plus Security, would therefore have been extremely vulnerable were he to have travelled by road in his convoy, with ambulance and other facilities through the Kanha National Park.
“It was therefore, the most prudent and appropriate measure for the State Government to have the Chief Justice of India transported via helicopter. The imputation of impropriety therefore was improper and without application of mind to these realities and is contumacious.”
Venugopal also pointed out that “the attempt to link the receipt of facilities, to which the CJI is in any event entitled, to pendency of a case of disqualification of members of the Assembly…was also improper…. the fate of the (MP) Government did not depend on the outcome of the said case, as the resignation of the said MLAs had already been accepted by the previous Speaker.
Venugopal said that on November 4, Bhushan, “knowing that a request had been made to me…for consent for prosecuting an application for contempt in the Supreme Court, and realising that he had made a mistake in connecting the facilities provided to the Chief Justice by Madhya Pradesh Government to the survival of the Government, had put another tweet in public domain”.
In this latest tweet, he “expressed regret for the error made in his earlier tweet on 21.10.2020. He has stated publicly that it was incorrect to state that the fate of the Government of Madhya Pradesh depended on the case pending” before the CJI.
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