In a very significant judgment with far reaching consequences which no one can ever afford to just gloss over, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled P Satyanarayan Reddy vs M Saraswathi, Deputy Director, Tribal Welfare in Contempt Case No. 1032 of 2019 that was pronounced as recently as on November 7, 2023  minced just no words to say in no uncertain terms that “paper apology” cannot be accepted in contempt of court cases. The Court was most forthright in observing that, “Paper Apology” is an apology which is hollow; or with no remorse, regret or repentance, or if it is only a device to escape the rigour of the law. It must also be disclosed here that the Court observed so while holding clearly that Mrs M. Saraswathi, the Deputy Director of Tribal Welfare guilty of contempt of court under Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 (CC Act).

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, balanced and bold judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Sri Justice Ravi Nath Tilhari sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “This contempt case is filed against the respondent Smt. S. Saraswathi, Deputy Director, Tribal Welfare I.T.D.A., Rampachodavaram, East Godavari District, (Presently Director) with respect to the judgment and order dated 14.08.2019 passed by the writ Court in W.P.No.11279 of 2019.”

FACTS

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 3 that, “The petitioner was working as Secondary Grade Teacher, in Ashram Upper Primary School, Kansuluru Village, Chinturu Mandal, East Godavari District. He was not considered for promotion to the post of School Assistant (Maths). He had given representations to the 1st respondent, the last being dated 18.07.2019, but when there was no response and two of his juniors were already promoted he filed W.P.No.11270 of 2019 for the following relief:

“… to declare the Orders passed by the Respondents in not treating B Tech with Chemical Engineering with Maths as one of the subjects as required qualification as per G O Ms No 45 Social Welfare TW SER II/A1 Department dated 28 6 2011 for promotion to the post of School Assistant Maths as illegal arbitrary discriminatory and violates the Article 14 16 and 21 of Constitution of India and consequently direct the respondents to effect promotion of the petitioner with effect from 16 7 2019 with all consequential benefits and to pass…””

As we see, the Bench then states in para 4 that, “The Writ Court, disposed of the writ petition vide order dated 14.08.2019 directing the 1st respondent to consider the petitioner’s representation dated 18.07.2019 strictly in accordance with law, and bearing in mind all the relevant Rules as well as the G.Os., applicable to the case of the petitioner, within a period of four (4) weeks from the date of receipt of copy of the order.”

As it turned out, the Bench then specifies in para 6 that, “The petitioner served a copy of the order to the respondent on 07.09.2019. The time as granted, expired on 07.10.2019. The respondent did not comply and did not pass any order.”

Of course, the Bench then mentions in para 7 that, “The petitioner filed contempt petition.”

Paper Apology Cannot Be Accepted

Do note, the Bench notes in para 23 that, “The G.O.Ms.No.45 (Social Welfare (TW.SER.III/A1) Department) dated 28.06.2011 is very clear. The qualification possessed by the petitioner is also not in dispute. The petitioner had the Graduation Degree (B.Tech) with Maths as one of the subjects. B.Tech degree is also a Bachelor’s Degree. The contention raised by the respondent that the Bachelor Degree, is normally understood as B.Sc.,/B.Com.,/B.A.., with three years course and B.Tech., degree is four years study course, is nothing but after thought and an effort to justify the act of seeking clarification from the Director of Tribal Welfare which is unexpected of the respondent who held the post of Dy. Director at that point of time and as per her letters seeking clarification, possess the educational qualification of M.A., LL.B. Besides, in the order of the writ Court it was clearly observed that, “………finding prima facie the petitioner is meeting all the requirements of G.O.Ms.No.45, Social Welfare (TW.SER.III/A1) Dept., dated 28.06.2011…………..”. Nothing has been brought on record, contrary to such prima facie finding of the writ Court to justify seeking of clarification from the Director of Tribal Welfare as also for not considering the petitioner’s case in accordance with the order of the writ court. The rejection after 17 (seventeen) months, holding the petitioner not qualified as per G.O.Ms.No.45, is in clear defiance of the order of the writ court. The subsequent Memo dated 25.09.2022 of the Director, Tribal Welfare also clearly holds the petitioner fulfilling the qualification, but in spite thereof also, it was only after about 8 (eight) months that the petitioner was granted promotion.”

While citing the relevant case law, the Bench observes in para 27 that, “In Kapildeo Prasad Sah v. State of Bihar AIR 1999 SC 3215, the Hon’ble Apex Court held that even negligence and carelessness can amount to disobedience, particularly when attention of the person is drawn to the Court’s order and its implication.”

Resultantly, the Bench propounds in para 28 that, “From the aforesaid judgments, it is very much clear that even where the Court’s order is ignored a case of civil contempt is made out if the party fully knew of the order of the court and was conscious thereof. Even negligence and carelessness can amount to disobedience, particularly when attention of the person is drawn to the Court’s order. It is not necessary to prove that he appreciated that it did breach the order.”

As a consequence, the Bench expounds in para 29 that, “In view of the aforesaid consideration, I hold that the charge No.1 as framed against the respondent stands proved. The respondent rejected the case of the petitioner vide order dated 12.04.2021 after 17 months though the petitioner fulfilled the requisite qualifications under G.O.Ms.No.45 dated 28.06.2011. The respondent has deliberately and willfully disobeyed the order dated 14.08.2019 passed by the writ court in W.P.No.11279 of 2019.”

While citing a recent and relevant case law, the Bench hastens to add in para 31 stating that, “In Arun Kumar Yadav v. State of U.P. (2013) 14 SCC 127, the Hon’ble Apex Court held that no one has the authority to conduct in a manner which would demean and disgrace the majesty of justice which is dispensed by a Court of law. The administration of justice is the paramount role of the Court. It was held that the apology should be prompt and genuine. The concept of mercy and compassion is ordinarily attracted keeping in view the infirmities of the man’s nature and the fragile conduct, but in a Court of law a counsel cannot always take the shelter under the canopy of mercy for the law has to reign supreme.”

Further, the Bench observes in para 32 that, “In Arun Kumar Yadav (supra) the Hon’ble Apex Court referred to the judgment in L.D.Jaikwal v. State of U.P (1984) 3 SCC 405  in which it was observed that “We do not think that merely because the appellant has tendered his apology we should set aside the sentence and allow him to go unpunished, otherwise, all that a person wanting to intimidate a Judge by making the grossest imputations against him has to do, is to go ahead and scandalize him, and later on tender a formal empty apology which costs him practically nothing. If such an apology were to be accepted, as a rule, and not as an exception, we would in fact be virtually issuing a ‘licence’ to scandalize Courts and commit contempt of Court with impunity”.”

Furthermore, the Bench clarifies in para 33 that, “In All Bengal Excise Licensees’ Assn. v. Raghabendra Singh (2007) 11 SCC 374  the Hon’ble Apex Court held that it is settled law that a party to the litigation cannot be allowed to take an unfair advantage by committing breach of an interim order and escape the consequences thereof. It was observed that “under the constitutional scheme of this country orders of the High Court have to be obeyed implicitly and the orders of this Court – for that matter any Court should not be trifled with”. In that case it was found that the respondents therein acted deliberately to subvert the orders of the High Court. The Hon’ble Apex Court observed that “it is equally necessary to erase an impression which appears to be gaining ground that the mantra of unconditional apology is a complete answer to violations and infractions of the orders of the High Court or of this Court.””

In addition, the Bench, to put it shortly, states in para 34 that, “It is apt to refer Bal Kishan Giri v. State of U.P. (2014) 7 SCC 280 as well in which the Hon’ble Apex Court held, in paras-13 to 17, as under:

“13. In Asharam M. Jain v. A.T. Gupta [(1983) 4 SCC 125 : 1983 SCC (Cri) 771] , while dealing with the issue, this Court observed as under : (SCC p. 127, para 3)

“3. … The strains and mortification of litigation cannot be allowed to lead litigants to tarnish, terrorise and destroy the system of administration of justice by vilification of Judges. It is not that Judges need be protected; Judges may well take care of themselves. It is the right and interest of the public in the due administration of justice that has to be protected.”

17. In L.D. Jaikwal v. State of U.P. [(1984) 3 SCC 405 : 1984 SCC (Cri) 421] , this Court noted that it cannot subscribe to the “slap-say sorry-and forget” school of thought in administration of contempt jurisprudence. Saying “sorry” does not make the slapper poorer. [See also T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad (102) v. Ashok Khot [(2006) 5 SCC 1 : AIR 2006 SC 2007] .] So an apology should not be “paper apology” and expression of sorrow should come from the heart and not from the pen; for it is one thing to “say” sorry, it is another to “feel” sorry.””

What’s more, the Bench clearly states in para 35 that, “In Bal Kishan Giri (supra) the Hon’ble Apex Court held that a conduct which abuses and makes a mockery of the judicial process of the Court is to be dealt with iron hands and no person can tinker with it to prevent, prejudice, obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice. An apology tendered is not to be accepted as a matter of course by the Court.”

Without mincing any words, the Bench propounds in para 36 that, “The present is not a case of accidental or unintentional disobedience. The respondent acted deliberately to subvert the order of this Court. Her act is contumacious. The apology tendered by the respondent in the facts of the case is considered not bona fide. The apology tendered is rejected.”

CONCLUSIONS:

As things stand, the Bench states in para 40 that, “The charge No.1 against the respondent has been proved. Respondent is held guilty of committing civil contempt of the Court. The apology has been rejected. The act of the respondent substantially interferes with the due course of justice or due administration of justice. By the act of the respondent, the petitioner was prevented from justice by not complying with the order.”

Adding more, the Bench holds in para 41 that, “On charge No.2, I hold that the charge No.1 having been proved, the respondent deserves punishment under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.”

Quite significantly, the Bench notes in para 42 that, “In the facts and circumstances, mere imposition of fine will not meet the ends of justice. Sentence of imprisonment is necessary. However, the Court is taking a lenient view in imposition of sentence of imprisonment.”

Punishment:

More to the point, the Bench orders in para 43 holding that, “Consequently, this Court imposes the following punishment on the respondent under Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act 1971;

The respondent shall undergo sentence of simple imprisonment for 2 days and shall pay fine of Rs.2,000/- (Rupees two thousand only);”

Still more, the Bench adds in para 44 that, “The respondent shall be detained in a civil prison for the period of the sentence of simple imprisonment imposed.”

For clarity, the Bench clarifies in para 45 stating that, “The execution of the punishment, however, shall remain suspended for a period of 30 days from today.”

Further, the Bench states in para 46 that, “It is further directed that subject to the orders in appeal, if so filed, on expiry of the aforesaid period, the respondent shall surrender before the Judicial Magistrate of the First Class, Rampachodavaram to serve the sentence, and if she does not so surrender, the Judicial Magistrate of the First Class, Rampachodavaram shall secure her custody and send her to civil prison to serve out the sentence.”

While adding a caveat, the Bench holds in para 47 that, “If the fine is not deposited, the proceedings for recovery of fine shall be taken as per the provisions of Section 421 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.”

To be sure, the Bench directs in para 48 that, “The Registrar General of this Court shall ensure compliance and place on record the report of compliance.”

Not stopping here, the Bench further directs in para 49 that, “Let copy of this order be sent to the Judicial Magistrate of the First Class, Rampachodavaram along with the particulars of the respondent.”

Finally, the Bench concludes by holding in para 50 that, “Contempt Case stands allowed in the aforesaid terms. Pending miscellaneous petitions, if any, shall stand closed in consequence.”

On the whole, we thus see quite distinctly  that the Andhra Pradesh High Court has made it absolutely clear that paper apology cannot be accepted in contempt of court cases. We thus see in this leading case quite very clearly that the court rejected the apology tendered and has taken a zero tolerance approach to contempt of the court. Very rightly so!

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