Prashant Bhushan gets SC notice on contempt plea moved by AGhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/sc-issues-notice-to-advocate-prashant-bhushan-on-contempt-plea-5571606/

Prashant Bhushan gets SC notice on contempt plea moved by AG

Attorney General K K Venugopal had approached the apex court, seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan over his tweets in connection with the hearing on a petition challenging M Nageswhar Rao’s appointment as CBI interim director.

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Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan (File Photo)

The Supreme Court Wednesday issued a notice to advocate Prashant Bhushan on a contempt plea moved by Attorney General KK Venugopal for his tweets on the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director, saying the petition raises a “fundamental question — if freedom carries responsibility”. Bhushan has been given three weeks to reply.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha said it would deal with the larger question of whether it is open for lawyers or any other person to criticise the court in a sub judice matter which would lead to influencing public opinion. Criticising the court may also lead to interference in the course of justice, the bench added. “This issue required to be heard in length, notice issued,” it said, listing the matter for further hearing on March 7.

Attorney General K K Venugopal had approached the apex court, seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan over his tweets in connection with the hearing on a petition challenging M Nageswhar Rao’s appointment as CBI interim director. Bhushan, in his tweets, alleged that the Centre, represented by Venugopal, misled the apex court on the issue of Rao’s appointment.

Rao was appointed as CBI’s interim chief after former director Alok Verma was sent on leave, following a standoff with his then deputy Rakesh Asthana amid allegations of corruption. Bhushan had represented NGO Common Cause, which had opposed Rao’s re-appointment after a PM-led selection committee removed Verma, two days after he was reinstated by the Supreme Court.

On February 1, Bhushan, who was appearing for the petitioner organisation, tweeted that Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge had confirmed that no discussion had taken place in the Committee regarding Rao’s appointment, and “the govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes” of the meeting.

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Venugopal’s contempt plea against Bhushan said the NGO’s petition had contended that “the high-powered committee constituted in terms of Section 4A(1) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 had not authorised the appointment of the interim/acting director of the CBI”.

In his petition, the Attorney General included the minutes of the meeting, which were signed by Kharge. The relevant portion said, “The Central government may post a suitable officer to look after the duties of Director, CBI till the appointment of a new Director CBI.”

Therefore, the AG contended, “the statement/confirmation attributed to Shri Kharge could never have been made by him for the simple reason that he himself had signed the… minutes”.

Bhushan’s allegations, therefore, were “not only reckless but also shows malice and dishonesty”, the AG contended. “It is evident an attempt to generate publicity through the press and social media and interfere with the due process of this Hon’ble Court…”

Venugopal said Bhushan had tweeted that he had “confirmed” with Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge “that no discussion or decision in HPC meet was taken on re-appointment of Nageshwar Rao “as Interim Director of CBI” and that “the govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting”.