SC mulls issuing notice to Maha Speaker over Arnab letter (Lead)

Updated November 24, 2020

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New Delhi, Nov 24 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that it is contemplating issuing notice to Maharashtra Assembly Speaker while hearing a plea by Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami challenging the show-cause notice issued by the Assembly for initiation of breach of privilege motion against him.

The notice was issued for Goswami's reporting in connection with case of death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Goswami, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde that a notice should be issued to the Speaker in the matter.

On November 6, the top court had asked the Maharashtra Assembly's Assistant Secretary to show cause in two weeks why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for his October 13 letter to Goswami warning him for showing the Assembly notice issued to him in the apex court.

"As prayed for by Dushyant Dave, senior counsel appearing on behalf of Respondent No.2 (Assistant Secretary), the personal appearance of Vilas Athawale, Assistant Secretary, Maharashtra Vidhan Mandal Sachivalaya, before this Court is exempted until further orders. List the matter after two weeks," said the top court in its order.

Salve contended before the bench also comprising Justices A.S Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian that the response of the Assistant Secretary indicated that the contentious letter was issued on the direction of the Speaker. However, the bench noted it has not gone through the response of the Assembly, which was filed late on Monday night.

As Dave contended that he can prove that there was no contempt, the Chief Justice replied that Salve is saying is that the Speaker should be served a copy first, and the apprehension is that the Speaker should not say that proceedings went on without his knowledge.

When Dave responded that this was not needed, as they (the court) will drop the contempt proceedings on next hearing, the Chief Justice told Dave: "You do not have to tell us what to do."

The Chief Justice, citing Salve's response, noted that the Assistant Secretary made a statement that he sent the letter on direction of the Speaker.

"So, the Speaker needs to be served a notice?" he asked.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, who is amicus curiae in the matter, submitted this means the Assistant Secretary acted as an agent, thus, the Speaker needs to be served notice.

Earlier, the top court had granted protection from arrest to Goswami in a breach of privilege motion case. On the last hearing, the bench had pulled up the Assistant Secretary stating that every citizen has right under Article 32 of the Constitution to approach the Supreme Court directly and because Goswami came to Supreme Court, he cannot be threatened in this manner.

Asking "How dare he do this?", the Chief Justice termed the letter to Goswami as threatening and intimidating.

The Chief Justice said there is no doubt that if a citizen is deterred from approaching the Supreme Court in exercise of his right under Article 32, it would amount to a serious interference in administration of justice.

"No authority in the country can penalise someone for approaching this court. This is in teeth of Article 32. How dare this officer write something like this in his letter," he said, emphasising that this is a serious matter.

"The statements are unprecedented and have a tendency to bring the administration of justice into disrepute," he had observed.

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