The judicial system in our country is very time taking. It takes decades and sometimes 3 generations to obtain the final orders. The delay in getting justice has made litigation a device for abuse of the process of law. Since the Courts are lenient in their approach, the litigants, including the Government, willfully disobey and disregard the dictum of the Courts and knowingly commit Contempt of the Court. Perhaps the law on Contempt of Courts is too naive and forgiving and the sentences for Contempt are insignificant so as to be a deterrent to the people habitual of contempt of court.
Recently, in the case of Saraswati kumad Singh vs Abdul Rehman dead through LRs, the bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice Sanjay K. Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari & Rishikesh Roy in Contempt No. 550 of 2020 on 18 December 2020 expressed shock that the tenant did not hand over the possession of the rented accommodation inspite of 3 decades of legal battle in which eviction was ordered long back. The Court was irked by the dwindling compliance of the orders of Apex Court despite an undertaking before the Apex Court and sentenced two such men to 3 months imprisonment & pecuniary fine for contempt of the order of the Court.
The Apex Court held them guilty for contempt, the bench ordered the local police in Sultan Bazar, Hyderabad, to break open the lock and hand over possession of the premises to the landlord. The facts of the case are that in the year 1992 the landlord of the house in Hyderabad asked the tenant to vacate the property. The tenant did not comply with the request and on top of it stopped paying rent to the landlord. The rent controller passed a decree in favour of the landlord in April 1998 and directed eviction of the tenant. Instead of compyling with the eviction orders, the tenant filed an appeal against the said order before the rent tribunal which confirmed the eviction in 2003.
The tenant moved to the Andhra Pradesh High Court which on technical grounds annulled the eviction order passed earlier. The landlord filed a SLP against the order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The Apex Court in February 2020 allowed the appeal of the landlord and affirmed the eviction orders of the rent controller and the tribunal. The tenant gave an undertaking for handing over the possession of the impugned house peacefully to the landlord. The tenant pleaded some time to make alternative arrangements and the Court acceded to the request of the tenant and granted time till June 30, 2020 to vacate the said premises and for making payment of the rent due towards the tenant. Without paying heed to the order of the Apex Court and in defiance to their own undertaking, the tenants sublet the said house to the third party. The landlord felt devastated and approached the court and filed contempt proceedings against the tenant.
The stubborn & defiant conduct of the tenant enraged the Court which held thus:
“There is thus, undoubtedly a wilful and deliberate disobedience of the orders of the court and there is no doubt that the conduct of the respondents is contumacious.”
The Apex Court held the tenants guilty of contempt of court and gave them 24 hours to comply with the orders of moving out as well as making the payment. The silent compliance & obedience of the order and unconditional apology would have saved the tenant from the rigour of fine & sentence.
On December 18, when the matter was listed, the bench was utterly annoyed that the compliance of the order of the bench had not been made & the Court ordered thus:
“We thus consider it appropriate to sentence the two contemnors to three months’ simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs2,000 each, and on failing to pay the fine, a further sentence of 15 days.”
It is a matter of grave concern that the litigants dare to wilfully disobey the orders of the highest Court of the Country. Perhaps it is the leniency of the Courts or the meagre amount of fines and small duration of sentence. It is opportune time to revisit the quantam of fine and the duration of imprisonment to be enhanced so that there is a deterrence to committing wilful contempt of the courts. Looking to the high costs of litigation, it is high time that expemlary costs are saddled for frivolous litigation and abuse of the process of law. This will help in unclogging of the Courts and put an end to abuse of the process of law.
But most importantly, the Court is not strict at the Government officials who knowingly, willfully, defiantly & deliberately disobey the binding orders of the Court but are generally excused on impersonal grounds which results in autocratic administrative regime. To establish Real Rule of Law, there should not be differential treatment between private & government in matters of blatant contempt. It is obligatory that the Government officials should also indiscriminately be subjected to pecuniary fines, from their own pockets, and exemplary sentence similar to private litigants.