New Delhi: Hours after the Supreme Court website showed that it had initiated a suo-motu criminal contempt case against senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, the top court registry Tuesday issued a clarification. The status shown on the website had been placed “inadvertently”, it said, adding that “appropriate action to rectify the same is under process”.
The website had shown that the court would take up a petition that sought action against Sardesai for tweets about the top court’s judgment last year in the Prashant Bhushan contempt case.
The petition was filed by a Noida-based law student named Aastha Khurana, who had moved the top court in September 2020. Khurana filed a petition directly before the top court after Attorney General K.K. Venugopal refused to grant his consent to initiate contempt proceedings against Sardesai.
She had submitted her representation to Venugopal, as required under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act and Rule 3 of Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of Supreme Court.
Khurana’s lawyer, Omprakash Parihar, told ThePrint that she took the step to approach the court directly under the rules of the apex court. After the court issued a denial, he said it was an “unexplainable mistake”. ”If it’s a mistake, then it’s an extremely unexplainable mistake by the SC registry,” he added.
The Supreme Court had held Bhushan guilty of contempt on 31 August 2020, in connection with tweets criticising a few judges, and imposed a Re 1 fine on him.
Khurana, who hails from Panipat in Haryana, cited some tweets by Sardesai in her petition, which has been accessed by ThePrint.
According to Khurana, the senior journalist made “disrespectful comments” and “questioned the fairness and credibility” of the “honourable court” in tweets following the judgment. In one of the tweets she quoted, Sardesai stated that the court was looking to wriggle out of an “embarrassment of its own making”.
In another tweet on the same day, she added, Sardesai “tried to spread feeling of no confidence” about the top court among the public — this was in reference to a tweet where Sardesai suggested the top court should apologise for its judgment against Bhushan.
In another of the tweets cited, Sardesai had compared the proceedings against Bhushan to the pending habeas corpus petitions related to detentions in Kashmir in the aftermath of the scrapping of Article 370.
In this tweet, she added, Sardesai “highlighted” how the top court fast-tracked Bhushan’s case while the habeas corpus petitions remained pending before it.
Khurana’s petition also took strong exception to a July 2020 tweet about former top court judge Justice Arun Mishra, who headed the bench that convicted Bhushan of contempt.
The journalist had tweeted that Justice Mishra is the same judge who described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “versatile genius”. This tweet, she said, was deleted later.
“The alleged contemnor has not only questioned the credibility of this honorable court judgment, but he has also passed various comments against ex-judges and ex-chief justice of India in past and also tried to teach the honourable judges their duties and responsibilities,” the petitioner said.
As Sardesai is a well-known news anchor whose statements are taken as the truth, Khurana said his tweets “repeatedly disregarding” the top court “cannot be protected for being free speech and expression”.
This report has been updated with a statement issued by the Supreme Court registry clarifying that contempt proceedings have not been launched against Rajdeep Sardesai.