New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday held Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) additional director M. Nageshwar Rao in contempt, and ‘sentenced’ him to sit in a corner of the courtroom till the end of the day.
Rao, who served as the interim head of the CBI while director Alok Verma and No.2 Rakesh Asthana were suspended, was held in contempt for transferring joint director A.K. Sharma, who was probing the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, against apex court’s orders. CBI’s director of prosecution S. Bhasuran was also held in contempt alongside him.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi called Rao out for his “brazen” and “blatant” disregard for the apex court’s “majesty” and “dignity”.
The bench, which also comprised Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna, also fined Rao and Bhasuran Rs 1 lakh each and directed them to “sit in a corner of the court until such time the bench rises for the day”. The two were flanked by an aide working in Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s office.
Rao and Bhasuran immediately parked themselves in the last row of the Visitors’ Gallery at the back of the courtroom to carry out their sentence. ThePrint observed the two contemnors through the day — starting from their ‘sentencing’ just before noon, till they were ‘released’ at 4:14 pm, 19 minutes after the court rose for the day. The two just stepped out of the courtroom for one five-minute ‘break’ each, when their lawyers called them out to speak to them.
What happened through the course of the day
It was certainly an unusual sentence awarded to two people convicted of contempt of court. The apex court staff noted as such when they came to check up on the ‘prisoners’ during the court’s lunch break.
At first, Rao shunned various CBI officers who came forward to ask if the duo needed anything. However, later, for most of his ‘sentence’, CBI lawyer K. Raghavacharyulu sat beside him. During lunchtime, Raghavacharyalu quickly arranged for biscuits, chocolates and some water. “We are celebrating a conviction,” Raghavacharyalu was heard joking as he distributed chocolates.
“Meet the convicts,” he told another lawyer who came to say hello. Rao simply said: “Life goes on.”
There is no precedent for such a scenario, court staff observed. They went on to explain that apart from water, no food items were allowed within the courtroom, but sandwiches could have been arranged for the two. Rao and Bhasuran, however, declined the offer for lunch. “We are in contempt,” Rao said.
At one point, after the biscuits and chocolates had been consumed, Rao thanked a lawyer who offered to arrange for tea or coffee, and made an excuse saying he was not “allowed”.
Rao spent his ‘sentence’ chit-chatting with various officials, including Anil Gulati, an official from the law ministry’s Central Agency Section, other lawyers, CBI officers and Raghavacharyalu. The chat ranged from experiences on the field to strategising about how to bring down the fine amount.
“The AG (Attorney General) is looking into this,” Gulati told the duo. He relayed the AG’s message that they would file a plea challenging the fine at the earliest. But by this time, Rao had already offered to pay the fine for Bhasuran. “The mistake was all mine, I will pay your fine,” he was heard telling Bhasuran.
Bhasuran sat quietly observing the court proceedings.
At around 3:40 pm — the court usually rises at 4 — AG K.K. Venugopal sought CJI Gogoi’s permission for an early release of the two prisoners. However, the court refused this plea, and threatened the duo with another day of penance.
“We will make your sentence till rising of court tomorrow,” CJI Gogoi said. “You are sentenced. Do you understand? Please sit where you are supposed to sit,” he said, speaking directly to Rao and Bhasuran.
“They will not learn if there is a change of heart,” he added.
Confusion at the end
The court finally rose at 3:55 pm. However, the confusion at the time was whether the duo could leave immediately, or some sort of “discharge” order was required from the court. The confusion ended after 20 minutes, when the court clarified the duo could leave.