In an extraordinary development, the Supreme Court on Friday issued contempt notice to the Secretary of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for sending a letter to Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, for allegedly intimidating him for approaching the court against the privilege notice issued by the Assembly.
The top court also ordered that Goswami should not be arrested in the pursuance of the privilege notice issued by the Assembly against him.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, told the bench that the letter of the Secretary questioned the TV anchor for producing the communications of the Speaker and the Privilege Committee before the Court as they are confidential in nature.
The Chief Justice of India, S A Bobde, expressed shock at the letter.
“How dare he say this, what is Article 32 for?” the CJI remarked.
“We have a serious question on the author of this letter and we find it extremely difficult to overlook this”, the CJI added.
The bench, also including Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, opined that such a letter amounted to “serious interference with the administration of justice” and that its intent was to “intimidate” a citizen for approaching the Supreme Court.
At the request of Senior Advocate Salve to take suo moto cognizance of the letter, the bench passed the following order :
“The 13th October letter by Secretary of Maharashtra Legislative to Goswami says that action of disclosing the communications from the Assembly to the court amounts to breach of confidentiality and amounts to contempt.
This amounts to direct interference in the administration of justice. The intention of the author of the letter seems to be to intimidate the petitioner (ArnabGoswami) because he approached this court and to threaten him with a penalty for doing so.
There is no doubt if a citizen is deterred from approaching this court in the exercise of his right under Article 32, it would amount to a serious interference in the administration in the country. We issue notice to the Respondent no. 2.
We find that though the respondents have been served in these proceedings which have been pending for some time, they have not entered appearance.
Though the Respondents have been served apparently on October 5, 2020 (affidavit of service October 13), they have issued a letter dated October 13 to ArnabGoswami. We therefore issue notice to the Secretary of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
We issue notice to the Secretary of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, to show cause as to why contempt should not be issued against him in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution of India, returnable in 2 weeks”.
The Court also appointed Senior Advocate Arvind Datar as an amicus curiae in the matter.
Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was appearing for the Maharashtra Government, told the bench that he would be “exceeding his brief” if he is to respond to the queries of the bench directed at the Assembly Speaker.
The Court passed the order while considering the writ petition filed by the Republic TV anchor challenging the privilege notices issued by the Assembly to Goswami alleging that he had passed derogatory remarks against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackarey.
Senior Advocate Salve told the Court that “cases after cases” were being filed against Goswami.
“Constitutional courts have to see the reality, not the smoke screen”, he submitted pressing for interim relief.
The privilege motion was moved against Goswami by Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik, accusing Goswami of using derogatory language against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar in relation to inaction by the State Government viz. the unfortunate death of Actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
Party legislator Manisha Kayande moved a similar motion in the legislative council.
Following this, a 60-page notice was sent to Arnab Goswami, stipulating that he has breached the privileges of the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra asking him to persoanlly appear before the house.
A similar motion has been moved against Actress Kangana Ranaut for her allegedly derogatory remarks against Maharashtra, comparing the State to POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir).