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Court punishes CBI personnel for flouting its order

Published : Feb 13, 2019 15:22 IST T+T-

Defiance of Supreme Court’s orders involves civil contempt, punishable by the Court’s contempt powers.  In the case of the former interim Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, M. Nageshwar Rao, the punishment was swift, his apology notwithstanding. 

Notice of contempt of court was issued on February 7 to Nageshwar Rao, now Additional Director, CBI, and Bhasuran S., Additional Legal Adviser and In-Charge Director of Prosecution, CBI. The charge against them was that notwithstanding the orders of the Supreme Court restraining any change in the team investigating the Muzaffarpur shelter home case and despite explicit directions of the court that A.K. Sharma, Joint Director, CBI, (in charge of investigation) would continue to remain the head of the investigating team, he was transferred out of the CBI and posted as the Additional Director General, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

While Nageshwar Rao and  Bhasuran S., in their respective affidavits, apologised and admitted to the commission of a mistake, in the same breath they denied wilful disobedience of the orders of the court.   Notwithstanding the apology tendered, the Supreme Court considered the merits of the defence put up, namely, that there was no wilful disobedience of the directions of the court.

The court noted that on January 18, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had conveyed that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had approved the curtailment of tenure of A.K. Sharma with immediate effect and that the Ministry of Home Affairs had conveyed its approval for his appointment to the post of Additional Director General, CRPF. Accordingly, a draft relieving order of A.K. Sharma, Joint Director, CBI, with effect from the afternoon of January 18 was submitted for approval of the Director, CBI.  Nageshwar Rao, the then in charge Director, CBI, considered the aforesaid note and observed as follows: “Please examine and opine, regarding transfer on promotion of Shri A.K. Sharma, JD, CBI, as ADG, CRPF, with reference to the order of Hon’ble S.C. in the cases where he was ordered to supervise/head the investigation.”

The aforesaid note signed by Nageshwar Rao, the court underlined, would fully show that he was aware of the orders of the Supreme Court with regard to the continuance of A.K. Sharma, as the head of the investigating team. On the basis of his note, Bhasuran S. gave his opinion in the file, which is as follows: “On a perusal of the order dated 17.1.2019 of MHA it is seen that Sh. Arun Kumar Sharma IPS has been appointed as ADGP in CRPF in the level 15 of the Pay Matrix which it appears that one level higher than the present post. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Shelter Home Case has ordered Sh. Arun Kumar Sharma IPS shall supervise the case. In view of the fact that the above order is a beneficial order to Sh. A.K. Sharma IPS, there may not be any legal impediment to relieve the officer. We may bring this fact to the notice of the Hon’ble Supreme Court by way of an affidavit in the concerned cases, the facts and circumstances under which the officer was relieved and get an approval from the Hon’ble Supreme Court ” (emphasis as supplied by the bench).

The bench disagreed that its direction not to transfer Sharma would not apply to his transfer under the guise of promotion. The bench expressed its dismay that Nageshwar Rao could approve of the draft order relieving Sharma from the CBI, and giving additional charge to G.K. Goswami, Joint Director, CBI, without satisfying himself that the court had been taken into confidence.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal called upon the court to administer justice by tempering the same with mercy.  He termed the legal advice of Bhasuran as an error of judgment. It was the A.G.’s contention that as Nageshwar Rao’s action was on the basis of a legal opinion, there was no “wilful” disobedience of the orders of the Supreme Court.   For disobedience of the court’s orders to be termed as contempt, it should be also shown as “wilful” by the alleged contemner in order to make it a punishable offence.

The bench disagreed with the A.G. that it was not “wilful” disobedience by Rao and Bhasuran as both were aware of the court’s order restraining them from transferring Sharma. “The apology tendered, though stated to be unconditional, is not so,” the bench held, in view of their contention that their disobedience was not wilful.

In exercise of power under Article 129 of the Constitution, for commission of contempt of court, the bench sentenced Nageshwar Rao and Bhasuran until the rising of the court and imposed a fine of Rs.1 lakh each on both, to be deposited within a week.

Although the bench was initially inclined to impose a more severe punishment of sentence of imprisonment on both, it relented following the persuasion of the A.G. The bench even wondered why the Centre was defending the contemners.

Nageshwar Rao has been punished at a time another bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha, is set to hear, on March 7, contempt petitions filed by the A.G. and the Centre against the Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan merely for tweeting that the Centre might have misled the court while hearing petitions challenging the appointment of Nageshwar Rao as interim Director, CBI, on the grounds that it did not have the approval of the High Powered Committee (HPC) comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition. Although the HPC had approved Nageshwar Rao’s appointment in terms of the minutes of its meeting, his competence to have held the post during the interregnum between the ousting of the previous Director, Alok Verma, and the appointment of the current Director, Rishi Kumar Shukla, is now open to question following his punishment for contempt of court.

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