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Friday, September 18, 2020

AG Venugopal speaks up for Prashant Bhushan, sought action over his tweets last year

Venugopal had told the Court that despite this, in his tweets subsequent to the hearing, Bhushan wrote, "The govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting."

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi | Updated: August 21, 2020 8:59:06 am
Prashant Bhushan case, contempt of court, Supreme Court on Prashant Bhushan case, Prashant Bhushan case SC, Prashant Bhushan, India news, Indian ExpressRequest not to punish Prashant Bhushan, said Venugopal. (File)

Attorney General K K Venugopal who on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to spare Prashant Bhushan from punishment for contempt over tweets against the judiciary had incidentally moved the court early last year to punish the advocate for posts allegedly “scandalising” the court and “denigrating” his office.

A month later, the AG had, however, told the Bench that Bhushan had communicated that it was a “genuine mistake” and he did not want to go ahead with the petition nor wanted any punishment for Bhushan.

This happened in February 2019 when the top court was seized of a petition challenging the appointment of IPS officer M Nageswara Rao as CBI interim director.

Then too, it were tweets by Bhushan that had sparked the row. In his petition to the Supreme Court, the AG had said that the lawyer’s two posts, on February 1, 2019, “scandalise or tend to scandalise, and lower or tend to lower the authority of this Hon’ble Court”. Venugopal had said the tweets could also “prejudice/interfere with” the case in the Court regarding Rao’s appointment, while “denigrating the Attorney General of India, an officer of the Court, and interfering with the discharge of his duties”.

Arun Shourie interview: ‘Judgments judges deliver, their conduct, determine public esteem, not a tweet’

The AG had said that Bhushan had tweeted that he had “confirmed” from Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge that a meeting of the high-powered committee (HPC) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not held any discussion or taken any decision on the appointment of an interim CBI chief.

At the time, the Court was hearing a plea filed by NGO Common Cause, represented by Bhushan, that the committee “had not authorised the appointment of the interim/acting director of the CBI”. The matter was heard by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha.

At the hearing, Venugopal had submitted minutes of the HPC meeting held on January 9 and 10, 2019, showing that it had taken a decision to permit the Central government to “post a suitable officer to look after the duties of the Director, CBI, till the appointment of a new Director”.

Venugopal had told the Court that despite this, in his tweets subsequent to the hearing, Bhushan wrote, “The govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting.”

The AG had said that Kharge, who was part of the committee as the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, could not have been unaware of this. “Clearly, the… confirmation attributed to Shri Kharge could never have been made by him for the simple reason that he himself had signed the… minutes which also contained the final decisions of the High Powered Committee.”

Read | Congress on Prashant Bhushan case: Law has to be applied in fair, balanced manner

Venugopal had said that if Kharge wanted the HPC to name an interim director, he could have said so at the committee. But “no such suggestion was made by Mr Kharge as nothing to this effect is recorded in the minutes “.

The AG had also referred to a letter of Kharge which Bhushan had tweeted and added that his allegation that the government may have submitted fabricated minutes “is a wholly false statement” and “an attempt to generate publicity through the press and social media…”.

The petition had also requested the Court to consider whether Bhushan “should be permitted to file or pursue such cases in the future” if found guilty.

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