The Allahabad High Court in a very detailed judgement in ‘Pradeep Kumar Srivastava And 2 Others vs. Vishal Singh And, Chief Executive Officer And 2 Others’ decided on 19 June, 2020 held that Suppression of facts is not advocacy. An exemplary cost was imposed on each of the three plantiff for suppressing material facts, misleading the Court, wasting the important time of the Court & abuse of the process of Law. The High Court also explained in details the concept of ‘ Civil Contempt’.

The brief facts are that a Contempt Application u/s 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971  had been filed by the applicants alleging that the opposite parties had wilfully disobeyed the interim order dated 27.07.2012 passed by the Division Bench in PIL No.31229 of 2005.

On behalf of the Respondents, it was argued that the contempt application has been filed grossly concealing/ suppressing material facts, and making false and misleading averments. It was also alleged that the supplementary affidavit was  grossly misleading and amounts to fraud played upon the court in as much as the aforesaid alleged supplementary affidavit dated 10.06.2020 does not bear the signature of any of the applicants or the alleged deponent nor does it bear of identification by any advocate and verification of Oath Commissioner. It is also not accompanied by any application signed by the counsel of the applicants. Thus, the aforesaid alleged supplementary affidavit is nothing but a waste piece of paper and therefore, it deserves to be rejected and prayed that the  contempt application has no merit and deserves to be dismissed with exemplary cost.

The Court referred to the binding precedent of the Apex Court in Kapil Deo Prasad Sah vs. State of Bihar (1999) 7 SCC 569, wherein it was held thus:

” No person can defy the Court’s order. Wilful would exclude casual, accidental, bona fide or unintentional acts or genuine inability to comply with the terms of the order. A petitioner who complains breach of Court’s order must allege deliberate or contumacious disobedience of the Court’s order.”

The Court explained the principles of Contempt as declared by the Apex Court and in the process wrote a ‘Treatise’ on Contempt of Court.

The High Court finally dismissed the Contempt Petition and held thus:

“All the facts discussed above leave no manner of doubt that the applicants have filed this contempt application concealing material facts and have tried to mislead this court and have also wilfully disobeyed the order dated 03.06.2020. They failed to discharge burden of proof even in prima facie manner. No case for contempt has been made out by the applicants. The contempt application has been filed by the applicants with oblique motive, so as to impede development work being carried by the Board under the Act 2018 in larger public interest, for pious cause and for protection of environment and cleanliness of river Ganga. Under the circumstances, this contempt application deserves to be dismissed with exemplary costs.”

The High Court relied on the Supreme Court dictum in Dnyandeo Sabaji Naik Vs. Pradnya Prakash Khadekar, (2017) 5 SCC 496 for  frivolous and groundless filing, wherein the Apex Court had observed as under:

“This tendency can be curbed only if courts across the system adopt an institutional approach which penalizes such behavior. Liberal access to justice does not mean access to chaos and indiscipline. A strong message must be conveyed that courts of justice will not be allowed to be disrupted by litigative strategies designed to profit from the delays of the law. Unless remedial action is taken by all courts here and now our society will breed a legal culture based on evasion instead of abidance. It is the duty of every court to firmly deal with such situations. The imposition of exemplary costs is a necessary instrument which has to be deployed to weed out, as well as to prevent the filing of frivolous cases. It is only then that the courts can set apart time to resolve genuine causes and answer the concerns of those who are in need of justice. Imposition of real time costs is also necessary to ensure that access to courts is available to citizens with genuine grievances. Otherwise, the doors would be shut to legitimate causes simply by the weight of undeserving cases which flood the system. Such a situation cannot be allowed to come to pass. Hence it is not merely a matter of discretion but a duty and obligation cast upon all courts to ensure that the legal system is not exploited by those who use the forms of the law to defeat or delay justice. We commend all courts to deal with frivolous filings in the same manner.”

The High Court finally concluded thus:

” In matters of contempt, the person who asserts deliberate disobedience of the order of the court, must prove it to constitute an act of contempt. The jurisdiction of the court under the Act, 1971 is quasi criminal, and as such the standard of proof required is that of a criminal proceedings and the breach shall have to be established beyond all reasonable doubt…..

A person who approaches the court must come with clean hands and put forward all the material facts otherwise he shall be guilty of misleading the court and his application or petition may be dismissed at the threshold. If an applicant makes false statement and suppresses material facts or attempts to mislead the court, the court may dismiss action on that ground alone. The applicant cannot be allowed to play ‘hide and seek’ or to ‘pick and choose’ the facts he likes to disclose. Suppression of material facts is not an advocacy. It is a jugglery, manipulation, maneuvering or misrepresentation. This rule has been evolved in the larger public interest to deter unscrupulous litigant from abusing the process of court by deceiving it……

Courts across the legal system are choked with litigation. More than nine lakh fifty thousand cases are pending in our High Court. In such situation, frivolous and groundless filings constitute a serious menace to the administration of justice. They consume time and clog the infrastructure. Thus, resources which should be deployed in handling of genuine cases are dissipated in attending frivolous and groundless cases like the present one, which has been filed to obstruct public interest. The applicants have abused the process of court.”

Dismissing the contempt application, the Court imposed  costs on each of the applicants. However, the costs cannot recoup the important time of the Court that was wasted in such frivolous litigations. The Court should take stern measures against such unscrupulous petitioners who purposely supress & withhold the correct information to mislead the Courts and thereby abuse the process of law.

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April 2021