The Supreme Court on Thursday closed the contempt case against a Chennai professor for threatening advocate Rajeev Dhavan for representing the Sunni Wakf Board in the Ayodhya land dispute case, PTI reported. The 88-year-old retired education officer N Shanmugam apologised for his actions.

The advocate represents lead petitioner M Siddiq and the All India Sunni Waqf Board in the ongoing Ayodhya hearings.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the man had expressed regret for using objectionable words in his communication to Dhavan. Apart from Gogoi, the bench also comprised SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer. They said he should not repeat such actions in future.

Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Dhavan, said they do want Shanmugam to be punished, but the court should send a strong message to all that counsels appearing for any party should not be intimidated.

On September 3, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to two people for allegedly threatening advocate Dhavan. He had also said a man called Sanjay Bajrangi had been threatening him. He attached screenshots of WhatsApp messages sent by Bajrangi in his petition.

“He is intimidating a senior advocate who is appearing for a party/parties before the apex court and discharging his duties as a senior advocate and he ought not to have sent such a letter,” Dhavan’s petition said, referring to Shanmugam.

Dhavan said in his petition that he had been accosted both at his home and in the court premises and had been intimidated by several people. “Exercise suo motu powers under Article 129 of the Constitution of India and Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act taking cognisance of the criminal contempt on the basis of the facts placed on record against the contemnor/opposite party for committing criminal contempt,” his plea added.

The Ayodhya dispute has been going on for several decades, with both Hindu and Muslim groups claiming their right to the land. The Babri Masjid stood there before it was demolished in 1992 by Hindutva activists. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court had ordered the land to be divided in three equal parts between the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Wakf Board and the representative for the deity Ram. A mediation effort by a court-appointed panel failed earlier this year, after which the Supreme Court began hearing the case on a daily basis. On Wednesday, the top court had gone through expected timelines submitted by all parties to the case, and said that the arguments were likely to conclude by October 18.

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