Jaipur— In a developing and contentious situation in Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's recent statement concerning corruption within the state's judiciary has sparked a vehement reaction from the legal fraternity and former Chief Justices. The controversy has led to protests by lawyers, the filing of a public interest litigation (PIL), and demands for immediate action and inquiries. Meanwhile, Member of the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly (MLA), Madan Dilawar, has served a contempt notice to Chief Minister Gehlot. The notice alleges that Gehlot's recent statements have severely maligned the dignity of the entire judicial system of Rajasthan. The notice invokes Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, and raises concerns over the Chief Minister's comments regarding alleged judicial corruption.
This evolving situation has created a rift between the state's executive and judiciary, with legal experts, former justices, and the legal community demanding clarity, action, and accountability in the face of these serious allegations.
CM's Controversial Statement
On Wednesday, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made a startling assertion that corruption was pervasive within the judicial system in Rajasthan. He went as far as suggesting that lawyers were involved in writing orders that were later passed off as judgments by judges, a statement that has sent shockwaves through the legal community. In response to Gehlot's remarks, a series of events have unfolded.
Meanwhile, on Thursday CM Gehlot backtracked his “corruption in judiciary” remark made a day ago, saying it was not his “personal opinion” and that he has always “respected and believed in judiciary”. In a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter) , Gehlot expressed his enduring respect and belief in the judiciary. He pointed out that over time, even retired Supreme Court judges and former Chief Justices have raised concerns about corruption within the judiciary, indicating that the issue is not new or unique to his perspective.
Lawyers in the cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur expressed their strong disapproval of Gehlot's statements by initiating a one-day work boycott on Friday. This suspension of legal activities encompassed all courts, including the High Court. Lawyers in the region have voiced their concerns about the potential damage to the judiciary's reputation.
Ravi Bhansali and Ranjit Joshi, representing the Rajasthan High Court Lawyers and Advocates Association in Jodhpur, criticized Gehlot's statement as irresponsible. They have sent a memorandum to the Chief Justice, urging cognizance of the Chief Minister's comments.
Public Interest Litigation (PIL): In another significant development, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed on Thursday in the Jaipur bench of the Rajasthan High Court, seeking contempt action against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. This PIL, filed on behalf of Advocate Shivcharan Gupta, argues that Gehlot deliberately tarnished the image of the state's judiciary by making allegations of corruption.
The PIL contends that the High Court should take suo moto cognizance for contempt action against Gehlot under Article 215 of the Constitution. The PIL is expected to be heard in the coming week.
Criminal Complaint in Bundi: Meanwhile, a lawyer in Bundi has taken the matter a step further by filing a criminal complaint with the Chief Judicial Magistrate. The complaint seeks the registration of a criminal case against Chief Minister Gehlot. The next hearing for this case is scheduled for September 5.
Former Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court, Sunil Ambwani, and former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Govind Mathur, have called for immediate action and inquiries into the allegations made by the Chief Minister. They emphasize the need to address these serious claims promptly.
Former Chief Justice Govind Mathur emphasized the significance of the judiciary in the constitution and stressed that no effort should be made to undermine its integrity. He questioned whether the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court was consulted before Gehlot's statement and suggested forming a committee of senior judges to investigate the allegations.
Former Chief Justice Sunil Ambwani called for immediate action in response to the CM's statement. He proposed convening a full bench meeting of the High Court to condemn the statement and devise a future strategy. He also suggested issuing a circular to all district judges to gather information about any such complaints related to judicial corruption.
Ramganj Mandi (Kota) MLA Madan Dilawar, has served a contempt notice to CM Gehlot. The notice alleges that Gehlot's recent statements have severely maligned the dignity of the entire judicial system of Rajasthan. The notice invokes Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, and raises concerns over the Chief Minister's comments regarding alleged judicial corruption.
The notice contends that Gehlot's statements have not only caused irritation within the judicial system but have also disturbed the common masses who have faith in the justice system. It characterizes the Chief Minister's comments as a display of ignorance and an attempt to tarnish the esteemed reputation of the judiciary.
The notice emphasizes that Gehlot's comments violate constitutional provisions, specifically citing Article 211 of the Indian Constitution, which restricts discussions in the legislature regarding the conduct of judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts in the discharge of their duties.
"Article 211 in The Constitution of India - Restriction on discussion in the Legislature. No discussion shall take place in the Legislature of a State with respect to the conduct of any Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court in the discharge of his duties. When the sanctity of the Judicial functioning is protected by the Constitution itself, you the aforementioned addressee even surpassed the provisions Constitution and went on commenting on this pious Institution which is sheer disgrace. Moreover it is an undeniable fact that this is not the first time that such remarks have been issued in public domain which were baseless and unnecessary."
MLA Dilawar's notice asserts that the Chief Minister's remarks are not only baseless but also damaging. It calls for a public apology from Gehlot and suggests that, considering the severity of the comments, he should step down from his position as Chief Minister.
The notice also addresses the Chief Minister's allegations against advocates, highlighting that such claims are illogical and damaging to the reputation of lawyers who work tirelessly to ensure justice for the common people.
The notice references legal precedents, including a 2020 Supreme Court case involving Prashant Bhushan, to establish that any attempt to scandalize or lower the authority of the court falls under the definition of criminal contempt.
The Supreme Court in the case of Prashant Bhushan and another, in Reference Suo Motu Contempt Petition (Cri.) 1 of 2020 decided on 14th of August, 2020, reported in (2021) 1 SCC 745 has considered the definition of Section 2(c) of the Act of 1971 and has held as under: "It could thus be seen, that it has been held by this Court, that hostile criticism of judges as judges or judiciary would amount to scandalizing the Court. It has been held, that any personal attack upon a judge in connection with the office he holds is 8 dealt with under law of libel or slander. Yet defamatory publication concerning the judge as a judge brings the court or judges into contempt, a serious impediment to justice and an inroad on the majesty of justice. This Court further observed, that any caricature of a judge calculated to lower the dignity of the court would destroy, undermine or tend to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice or the majesty of justice. It has been held, that imputing partiality, corruption, blas, improper motives to a judge is scandalisation of the court and would be contempt of the court."
Furthermore, a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court in the case of Baradakanta Mishra vs. High Court of Orissa, reported in (1974) 1 SCC 374 has held as under: "49. Scandalisation of the Court is a species of contempt and may take several forms. A common form is the vilification of the Judge. When proceedings in contempt are taken for such vilification the question which the Court has to ask is whether the vilification is of the Judge as a judge. or it is the vilification of the Judge as an individual. If the latter the Judge is left to his private remedies and the Court has no power to commit for contempt. If the former, the Court will proceed to exercise the jurisdiction with scrupulous care and in cases which are clear and beyond reasonable doubt. Secondly, the Court will have also to consider the degree of harm caused as affecting administration of justice and, if it is slight and beneath notice, Courts will not punish for contempt. This salutary practice is adopted by Section 13 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The jurisdiction is not intended to uphold the personal dignity of the Judges. That must rest on surer foundations. Judges rely on their conduct itself to be its own vindication. 50. But if the attack on the Judge functioning as a judge substantially affects administration of justice it becomes a public mischief punishable for contempt, and it matters not whether such an attack is based on what a judge is alleged to have done in the exercise of his administrative responsibilities. A judge's functions may be divisible, but his integrity and authority are not divisible in the context of administration of justice. An unwarranted attack on him for corrupt administration is as potent in doing public harm as an attack on his adjudicatory function."
From the aforesaid judgments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court and the definition provided under Section 2(c) of the Act of 1971, it is apparently clear that even an attempt to scandalize or lower the authority of a Court falls under the definition of 'criminal contempt.