New Delhi: Deputy Secretary of the Maharashtra Assembly, Vilas Athawale, told the Supreme Court Tuesday that he did not threaten Republic TV chief Arnab Goswami for approaching the top court against a breach of privilege notice.
Goswami is facing breach of privilege notice for his derogatory remarks against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. His petition, filed under Article 32, claims that the breach of privilege notice issued on 7 September is not maintainable and should be quashed.
Athawale said that he had, on the Speaker’s instructions, only asked Goswami to explain why he placed the “confidential House proceedings” as evidence before the apex court.
The top court had on 6 November issued a contempt notice to the secretary of Maharashtra Assembly for threatening to penalise Goswami for approaching the top court against the breach of privilege notice.
In his affidavit, Athawale said Goswami could not have placed the proceedings before the court without the Speaker’s approval under Rule 315 of the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly Rules, 1960.
Rule 315, Athawale’s affidavit submitted, says a person who wishes to produce the minutes of the Assembly proceedings, has to first make an application for a certified copy before the Speaker. If permission is granted, only then can the minutes be produced in the top court as evidence.
SC may issue notice to Speaker
The Supreme Court’s 6 November order also said, “There is no doubt that if a citizen of India is deterred in any way from approaching this court, in the exercise of his right under Article 32, it would amount to a serious interference in the administration of justice in the country.”
The court had then appointed senior advocate Viraj Dattar as amicus curiae so that it can get an independent opinion in the case.
On Tuesday, Athawale’s advocate, senior counsel Dushyant Dave argued that no contempt was made out against the deputy secretary. The letter to Goswami, Dave clarified, was issued at the Speaker’s instance, and, therefore, Athawale should be discharged.
At this, appearing for Goswami, senior advocate Harish Salve asked for a court’s notice against the Speaker. When Dave objected, Chief Justice of India S.A. Bodbe said, “The Speaker should not argue tomorrow he wasn’t heard by this court.”
Dave also mentioned about the Enforcement Directorate’s raid at the office of the MLA, on whose complaint the privilege notice was issued. “Will that be contempt?” Dave said, in response to Salve’s suggestion to issue contempt notice to the Speaker as well.
The court, however, adjourned the matter for two weeks because the judges, said the CJI, had not read Athawale’s affidavit since it was filed last night.
‘Goswami offered no explanation’
In his affidavit, Athawale implored the top court to not take action against him, for he had discharged his official duties after seeking approval from the Speaker.
He also dismissed the charges that his letter intimated or threatened Goswami, saying similar worded letters have been issued in the past to other individuals as well.
Athawale further provided details of all letters, sent on various dates, asking Goswami to clarify his position on two issues — breach of privilege notice as well as his move to place minutes of the House proceedings before the Supreme Court.
When Goswami did not respond, the Speaker, Athawale said, referred the breach of privilege matter to the Committee of Privileges.
On Dave’s request, the bench exempted Athawale from personal appearance on the next date of hearing. Dave said it was difficult for the officer to travel on account of a new set of guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government that requires flyers from Delhi to produce a Covid-19 test.
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