Contempt case against comic artist: SC says criticism growing, everybody doing it

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New Delhi, Jan 29 (PTI) Criticism of courts is “growing and everybody is doing it”, the Supreme Court said on Friday while giving three weeks to comic artist Rachita Taneja to file her reply on a plea seeking contempt action for her allegedly objectionable tweets against the judiciary.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan was told by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Taneja, that criticism of court can never be contempt.

“The foundation of court is much stronger,” Rohatgi told the bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah.

“We agree with you. But it is growing and everybody is doing it,” the bench observed.

To this, Rohatgi said, “Criticism of court can never be contempt. She (Taneja) is a young girl of 25 years. There is a public perception why the case of a journalist was taken up for hearing during court’s vacation.” The bench asked Rohatgi that if he wanted to file a reply to the petition, he could do it otherwise the court will proceed in the matter.

“If you don’t want to file reply, we will proceed. It is better if you file a reply,” the bench said.

Rohatgi sought three weeks to file the reply.

“Mukul Rohatgi, senior counsel appearing for the respondent prays for and is allowed three weeks’ time to file affidavit. List the matter after three weeks,” the bench said in its order.

The apex court also heard separate pleas seeking contempt action against stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra for his alleged scandalous tweets against the top court.

The bench, which posted the pleas for hearing after two weeks, was informed by advocate Nishant R Kanteshwarkar, appearing for some petitioners, that Kamra has filed his reply and the matter be listed on non-miscellaneous day after two weeks.

On December 18 last year, the top court had issued show-cause notices to Kamra and Taneja on separate pleas for their alleged scandalous tweets against the apex court.

The top court had sought their responses in six weeks on the notices issued in two separate cases and had exempted them from personal appearances in these matters.

It had noted that Attorney General K K Venugopal has given his consent to initiate contempt proceedings against both of them in separate cases.

Venugopal had granted consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against Kamra, saying the comedian's tweets were in 'bad taste' and it was time that people understand that attacking the apex court brazenly would attract punishment.

The Attorney General had also given consent to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against Taneja, stating that the caricatures posted by her on social media were intended to denigrate the Supreme Court and lower its authority in the eyes of the public.

The consent of either the attorney general or the solicitor general is necessary under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act for initiating contempt proceedings against a person.

Criminal contempt of the Supreme Court is punishable with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.

The plea against Taneja has sought initiation of contempt proceedings for three posts with images which are allegedly outrageous, contemptuous, carry insinuations and deliberately attribute motives to judges of Supreme Court and their judgments.

One of the petitions seeking contempt action against Karma has alleged that he had started publishing tweets on November 11 last year, when the top court was hearing the appeal of journalist Arnab Goswami against the Bombay High Court's order rejecting his plea seeking interim bail in a 2018 abetment to suicide case.

The plea has alleged that after the top court had granted interim bail to Goswami on November 11 last year, Kamra “again published various tweets and thereby scandalized” the apex court and “further lowered” its authority. PTI ABA MNL SA