Friday, February 28, 2014

Willful violation and Contempt proceedings

The Supreme Court has sent out a loud message that unconditional apology after willful violation of its orders will not entitle those facing contempt proceedings to any mercy. 

Making an example of a medical college in Madhya Pradesh run by Suresh Narayan Vijayvargiya for admitting 107 more students in MBBS course than what was permitted by the court, a bench of Justices B S Chauhan, K S Radhakrishnan and S A Bobde imposed a fine of Rs 50 lakh on the contemnors. 

Adding to the misery, the bench ordered that the excess seats filled by the medical college would be counted against its quota for the academic years 2014-15 and 2015-16, thus substantially reducing the intake of students for the next two years. 

The medical college and its management took various pleas but tendered unconditional apology when they walked into a dead end in the contempt proceedings initiated on a petition by the state government and the director of medical education department. 

The bench said the contemnors tendered unconditional and unqualified apology and volunteered to set right the illegality committed by them after achieving the purpose -filling up all the seats by themselves. 

Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Radhakrishnan said, "It is trite law that apology is neither a weapon of defence to purge the guilty of their offence; nor is it intended to operate as universal panacea, it is intended to be evidence of real contriteness. To maintain sanctity of the orders of this court and to give a message that the parties cannot get away by merely tendering an unconditional and unqualified apology after enjoying the fruits of their illegality, we are inclined to impose a fine, which we quantify at Rs 50 lakh." 

Deciding to deal sternly with those willfully violating court orders, the bench said, "Disobedience of an order of the court, which is willful, shakes the very foundation of the judicial system and can erode the faith and confidence reposed by the people in the judiciary and undermines rule of law. Once the court passes an order, the parties to the proceedings before the court cannot avoid implementation of that order by seeking refuse under any statutory rule and it is not open to the parties to go behind the order and truncate the effect of those orders." 

The medical college and its management had taken a stand that since they had become subject to Private Universities Act, the state government's Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee Act would not apply to restrict the admission of students. 

The bench rejected this argument. It said, "Once there is an order in force binding the parties, they cannot violate or ignore that order, taking shelter under a statutory provision and if any modification of the order is warranted, parties should have approached this court and sought clarification or modification of those orders. However, without doing so, in total defiance of the orders passed by this court, they filled up the entire seats, leaving the students who figured in the state list in the lurch."

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