Over 130 former civil servants, academicians call for withdrawal of contempt case against Prashant Bhushan

Criminal contempt as an offence has been circumscribed and made redundant in most functioning democracies, such as the USA an the UK, says a statement issued by them

Advocate Prashant Bhushan
Advocate Prashant Bhushan

NH Web Desk

Over 130 former civil servants, academicians, activists and other noted personalities in various fields have issued a statement expressing solidarity with Supreme Court advocate and human rights activist Prashant Bhushan on the initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against him in respect of two of his tweets.

“Prashant Bhushan has been a relentless crusader for the rights of the weakest sections of our society and has spent his career in pro bono legal service to those who do not have ready access to justice. He has fought cases at the Apex Court on issues ranging fromenvironmental protection, human rights, civil liberties, corruption in high places and has been an outspoken champion for judicial accountability and reforms, especially in the higher judiciary,” the statement says.

“In the past few years, serious questions have been raised about the reluctance of the Supreme Court to play its constitutionally mandated role as a check on governmental excesses and violations of fundamental rights of people by the state. These questions have been raised by all sections of society -media, academics, civil society organisations, members of the legal fraternity and even by sitting andretired judges of the Supreme Court itself. Most recently, the Supreme Court’s reluctance to intervene in a timely manner to avert the migrant crisis during the lockdown came under intense public scrutiny,” it added.

“Concerns have also been raised regarding the decision of the court to not restart physical hearings, even in a limited manner, despite passage of five months since the onset of the COVID pandemic. We urge the Hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court to take note of these concerns and engage with the public in an open and transparent manner. The initiation of contempt proceedings against Mr. Bhushan who had articulated some of these concerns in his tweets, appears to be an attempt at stifling such criticism, not just by Prashant Bhushan but by all stakeholders in the Indian democratic and constitutional setup. We believe the institution must address these genuine concerns,” it says.

“An institution as important as the Supreme Court of a country must be open to public discussion without the fear of retribution or action of criminal contempt. Indeed, criminal contempt as an offence has been circumscribed and made redundant in most functioning democracies, such as the USA and the UK. In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court judgement in New York Times v. L.B. Sullivan 11 L’ed (2nd)686, with respect to contempt of court and the freedom of speech and expression it was held: “Injury to official reputation affords no more warrant for repressing speech that would otherwise be free than does factual error. Where judicial officers are involved, this court has held that concern for the dignity and reputation of the courts does not justify the punishment as criminal contempt of criticism of the judge or his decision. This is true even though the utterance contains ‘half-truth’ and ‘misinformation’,” it adds.

Even in India, the principle that criticism of the judiciary should not be stifled by the indiscriminate use of the power of contempt has been recognized by the Supreme Court as well as by academics and advocates of repute, such as the late Senior Advocate Shri Vinod A. Bobde who had stated [“Scandals and Scandalising”, (2003) 8 SCC Jour 32], “We cannot countenance a situation where citizens live in

fear of the Court’s arbitrary power to punish for contempt for words of criticism on the conduct ofjudges, in or out of court.”

Therefore in the interest of justice and fairness and to maintain the dignity of the Supreme Court of India, we urge the Court to reconsider its decision to initiate suo-moto contempt proceedings against Mr. Prashant Bhushan and to withdraw the same at the earliest.

Endorsed by:

1. Justice Madan B. Lokur, Former judge of the Supreme Court of India

2. Justice AP Shah, Former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court

3. A. Selvaraj, IRS (Retd.), Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI

4. Aakar Patel

5. Achin Vanaik, writer and social activist, former professor at the University of Delhi

6. Admiral Ramdas, Former Chief of Naval Staff

7. Ajit Ranade, economist

8. Alok Perti, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI

9. Aloke B. Lal, IPS (Retd.), Former Director General (Prosecution), Govt. of Uttarakhand

10. Amit Bhaduri, former Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University

11. Amit Singh Chadha, Senior advocate

12. Amitabha Pande, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI

13. Anand Grover, Senior advocate

14. Anjali Bhardwaj, Social activist

15. Annie Namala, Social activist

16. Annie Raja, NFIW

17. Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

18. Aruna Roy, Social activist

19. Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM

20. Arundhati Roy, Author

21. Ashok Khosla, environmentalist

22. Ashok Kumar Sharma, IFoS (Retd.), Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation,Govt. of Gujarat

23. Ashok Kumar Sharma, IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia

24. Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan

25. Bobby Ramakant, Socialist Party (India)

26. Brinda Karat, CPI(M)

27. C. U. Singh, senior advocate

28. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Coal, GoI

29. D. Raja, General Secretary CPI

30. Deb Mukharji, IFS (Retd.), Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and formerAmbassador to Nepal

31. Deepak Nayyar, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

32. Devika Singh, Social Activist

33. Dipa Sinha, Right to Food Campaign

34. Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, Punjab Manch and former Lok Sabha member from Patiala

35. EAS Sarma, Former Secretary to GOI

36. Enakshi Ganguly, Co- Founder and Advisor, HAQ Centre for Child Rights

37. Fabian K.P

38. Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, human rights activist

39. G. Balachandhran, IAS (Retd.), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

40. G.G. Parikh, Freedom Fighter

41. Ganesh Devy, National President, Rashtra Seva Dal

42. Gopal Shankarnarayan, senior advocate

43. Gopalan Balagopal, IAS (Retd.), Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

44. Harsh Mander, social activst

45. Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People’s Watch and National Working Secretary, HumanRights Defenders’ Alert – India ( HRDA)

46. Hindal Tyabji, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir

47. Indira Jaising, senior advocate

48. Jagdeep Chhokar, former Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

49. Javed Anand, Journalist and civil rights activist

50. Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

51. Jean Dreze, Economist

52. Julio Ribeiro, IPS (Retd.), Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador toRomania

53. K. John Koshy, IAS (Retd.), Former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal

54. K. Saleem Ali, IPS (Retd.), Former Special Director, CBI, GoI

55. Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (Retd.), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

56. Kamal Jaswal, Former Secretary to Govt of India, Department of Information Technology

57. Kamayani Swami, NAPM, Bihar

58. Kamla Bhasin, Social Activist

59. Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA

60. Kavitha Kuruganti, social activist

61. Lalita Ramdas, Peace, Human Rights anti-nuclear Activist

62. Lubna Sarwath, Socialist Party (India)

63. M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana

64. M.Y. Rao, IAS (Retd.)

65. Madhu Bhaduri, IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Portugal

66. Mahadev Vidrohi, President, Sarva Seva Sangh

67. Manoj Mitta, Author & Journalist

68. Martin Macwan, Dalit human rights activist

69. Medha Patkar, Social activist

70. Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI

71. Meera Sanghamitra, Member, National Convening Committee, NAPM

72. Mihir Desai, Senior advocate

73. Mrinal Pande, Journalist and author

74. N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu

75. N.C. Saxena, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI

76. Nagalsamy, IA&AS (Retd.), Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala

77. Najeeb Jung, IAS (Retd.), Former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi

78. Navrekha Sharma, IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Indonesia

79. Neeraj Jain, Lokayat, Associate Editor, Janata

80. Nikhil Dey, Social activist

81. Noor Mohammad, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority, GoI

82. P. Sainath, Journalist and author

83. P.K. Lahiri, IAS (Retd.), Former Executive Director, Asian Development Bank

84. P.R. Dasgupta, IAS (Retd.), Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI

85. Pamela Philipose, Journalist

86. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Author & journalist

87. Paul Divakar, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights

88. Prabhat Patnaik, Emeritus professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

89. Prabir Purkayastha

90. Pradeep K. Deb, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI

91. Pradeep Nandrajog, Senior advocate

92. Prakash Singh, former Police Chief, DG BSF,DGP UP & DGP Assam

93. Pranab S. Mukhopadhyay, IAS (Retd.), Former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI

94. Prof. Alok Rai, Allahabad

95. Prof. Manoj Kumar Jha, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

96. R. Poornalingam, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI

97. Rahul Khullar, IAS (Retd.), Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

98. Rajeev Bhargava, Professor, CSDS, Delhi

99. Rajmohan Gandhi, Historian and Professor

100. Rajni Bakshi, Journalist and author

101. Raju Sharma, IAS (Retd.), Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of UP

102. Ramachandra Guha, Historian and writer

103. Ravi Chopra, People's Science Institute

104. Ravi Vira Gupta, IAS (Retd.), Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India

105. Reetika Khera, economist

106. S.R. Hiremath, Founder President, Samaj Parivartana Samudaya (SPS), Dharwad

107. Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party (India)

108. Sanjay Bhasin

109. Sanjay Hegde, Senior advocate

110. Satish Deshpande, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University

111. Sevanti Ninan, Journalist and researcher

112. Shafi Alam, IPS (Retd.), Former Director General, NCRB, GoI

113. Shailesh Gandhi, Former Information Commissioner of CIC

114. Shantha Sinha, Former Chairperson NCPCR

115. Sharad Behar, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

116. Sonalini Mirchandani, IFS (Resigned), GoI

117. Subhasis Bandyopadhyay, IIEST, Shibpur

118. Subodh Lal, IPoS (Resigned), Former Deputy Director General, Ministry ofCommunications, GoI

119. Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

120. Surabhi Agarwal, Socialist Party (India)

121. Suresh K. Goel, IFS (Retd.), Former Director General, ICCR, GoI

122. Syeda Hameed, Former member, Planning Commission

123. Teesta Setalvad, Civil rights activist

124. V.P. Raja, IAS (Retd.), Former Chairman, MERC

125. Vandana Shiva, Scientist, RFSTE

126. Vijaya Latha Reddy, IFS (Retd.), Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI

127. Vipul Mudgal, Activist and media scholar

128. Vivek Mukherjee, Assistant Professor & Faculty Coordinator, NALSAR

129. Vrinda Grover, advocate

130. Wahajat Habibullar, former CIC

131 Yogendra Yadav, Swaraj India

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