The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought a response from activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan on contempt pleas by Attorney General KK Venugopal and the Centre for his tweets allegedly criticising the court on the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director. Bhushan was given three weeks to reply.
The Centre had on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan for his tweets alleging that they amounted to making a false statement in a pending case on the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director. The plea has been filed days after Attorney General KK Venugopal had filed a similar contempt petition against Bhushan for his alleged tweets. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra is scheduled to hear on Wednesday the plea filed by NGO Common Cause challenging the appointment of Rao as interim chief of the probe agency.
Bhushan, in his tweets, had reportedly alleged that the Centre, represented by Venugopal had misled the apex court on the issue of Rao's appointment. Venugopal, in his contempt plea, had referred to the extracts of the minutes of the meeting of the high-powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, Justice A K Sikri and leader of largest opposition party Mallikarjun Kharge. The Centre, in the fresh plea, has also referred to the contends of Venugopal's petition and submitted that they be also read as part fo its plea.
Venugopal on Monday filed the contempt petition against Bhushan for allegedly scandalising the court with his recent tweets on the appointment of former interim chief. The contempt petition referred to the February 1 tweets by Bhushan in which he had allegedly said that the government appeared to have misled the apex court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of meeting of the high-powered Selection Committee headed by the Prime Minister.
Venugopal had said in his plea that through his tweets, Bhushan appeared to have deliberately intended to cast aspersions on the "integrity and honesty" of the Attorney General who had placed the minutes of the meeting before the apex court during the February 1 hearing.
On February 1, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause challenging the Centre's decision to appoint Rao, an IPS officer, as the interim CBI director. Venugopal has said in his petition that Bhushan's tweets "scandalise or tend to scandalise and lower or tend to lower the authority of this court".
He said in his plea that during the hearing on February 1, he had handed over to the bench the minutes of meeting of the high-powered committee held on January 9 and January 10. "A mere reading of the said minutes would establish that the high-powered committee, at the said meeting, had taken a decision to permit the Central government to post a suitable officer to look after the duties of the Director CBI till the appointment of new Director.
The petition had said that signature of all the three members of the committee -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi, apex court judge Justice A K Sikri (as a nominee of CJI) and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge -- was affixed in the decision taken by the panel.
Venugopal had said Bhushan, in one of his tweets on February 1, had said, "I have just confirmed personally from the leader of opposition Kharge that no discussion or decision in HPC meet was taken re-appointment of Nageswara Rao as interim Director of CBI. The govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting."
The Attorney General had said that the statement/ confirmation attributed to Kharge could never have been made by him for the simple reason that he himself had signed the minutes of the meeting which also contained the final decisions of the high-powered committee.
"If the minutes of the meeting were to be fabricated, the members of the high-powered committee who constituted the majority would have to be parties to such fabrication as their signatures are contained on the very same page on which the decision is recorded in the minutes," the plea had said.
"It is prayed that this court may be pleased to issue notice of contempt to the respondent (Bhushan) herein, hear him on the allegations made in this petition and convict him of committing contempt of this court and award suitable punishment as deemed appropriate by this court in the facts of this case," the plea had said.
During the February 1 hearing, Venugopal had placed before the court in a sealed cover the minutes of the meeting of the high-powered selection committee which was held last month for appointing the new CBI chief.
Venugopal had informed the bench that the Centre had taken the permission of the committee to appoint Rao as an interim CBI Director. The selection committee comprises the Prime Minister, the leader of the largest opposition party and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee judge of the apex court.
(With PTI inputs)