The Supreme Court on Friday observed that criticism of courts was “growing and everybody is doing it” now as it gave cartoonist Rachita Taneja three weeks time to file her reply on the plea seeking contempt action for her tweets about the judiciary, reported PTI.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Taneja, told a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, RS Reddy and MR Shah that criticism of court cannot be contempt, pointing out the cartoonist is just 25-year-old.
“A criticism of the court is not contempt,” Rohtagi said, according to LiveLaw. “I don’t know why the court has issued notice. The foundation of court is much stronger.”
Rohatgi added, “There is a public perception why the Supreme Court has taken up the case of a journalist on vacation”. The senior advocate was referring to the court hearing Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami’s plea during the Diwali vacations.
At this point, Justice Shah interrupted the senior advocate and told him to file a reply if he wants. Rohatgi submitted that he will file a reply and sought three weeks’ time, which the court granted. The matter will be heard after that.
Taneja, the founder of webcomic Sanitary Panels, had made cartoons about Goswami’s urgent hearing and criticised the court for granting interim relief to the television anchor.
During Friday’s hearing, Rohtagi also urged the court to hear Taneja’s matter separately from the case of Kunal Kamra, who is also accused of contempt of court. The Supreme Court has also adjourned the hearing in Kamra’s case for two weeks.
The court had issued notice to Taneja on December 18 on a plea seeking contempt proceedings against her. On December 1, Attorney General KK Venugopal had granted consent to a law student, Aditya Kashyap, to initiate contempt of court proceedings. Venugopal had said that Taneja’s tweets were not just an “audacious assault and insult to the institution”, but also made a “clear implication” that the Supreme Court is biased towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Contempt of court
In the past few months, there have been several instances when contempt of court proceedings have been initiated against eminent personalities, prompting debate about the perceived partiality of the Supreme Court.
On November 12, Venugopal had given his consent to begin contempt proceedings against Kamra. He had also spoken out against the Supreme Court granting bail to Goswami. Less than 10 days later, the attorney general gave approval for fresh proceedings against the comedian for a tweet directed at Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan was in August held guilty of criminal contempt and ordered to pay Re 1 as fine for his tweets criticising the judiciary. The advocate repeatedly said that his tweets were a constructive criticism of the judiciary and that retracting his statement or offering an insincere apology would amount to “contempt of my conscience”.
The advocate is also facing another contempt case related to an interview he gave to the Tehelka magazine in 2009. In the interview, he had made allegations of corruption in the Supreme Court and said that half of the previous 16 chief justices were corrupt.