Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday (Feb 13) summarily dismissed two court officials for tampering with a judicial order to erroneously convey that industrialist Anil Ambani had been exempted from personal appearance in a contempt case.
According to the story first reported by The Telegraph, the two court officials, court masters Manav Sharma and Tapan Kumar Chakraborty who held the rank of assistant registrars, were responsible for taking down all orders dictated in the open court or in the judges’ chambers and getting them uploaded on the website.
The CJI, acting on a complaint by Justice Rohinton F Nariman, who has been hearing the contempt case, used his powers under Article 311 of the Constitution and Section 11(13) of the Supreme Court which empower the CJI to dismiss any employee under “extraordinary” circumstances without resorting to normal disciplinary proceedings.
In Justice Nariman’s order in January, a show-cause notice of contempt was issued to Anil Ambani over alleged failure to clear outstanding dues to Ericsson India despite categorical undertakings to the top court. The telecom firm has moved court for dues of Rs 550 crore from Ambani’s Reliance Communications (RCom).
The order that was uploaded on the Supreme Court website on January 7 said the “personal appearance of the alleged contemnor(s) is dispensed with”, meaning Ambani’s presence was not required.
However, a few hours earlier, a bench of Justices RF Nariman and Vineet Saran had directed the personal presence of Ambani in the contempt proceedings. Under the Contempt of Court Act, a person against whom proceedings have been initiated has to appear in person unless the court in its discretion chooses to dispense with the requirement.
The order changed to favour Ambani was uploaded on the website even though Justice Nariman had hours before made it clear that Ambani’s personal appearance was not dispensed with.
The discrepancy led senior advocate Dushyant Dave and other Ericsson representatives move Justice Nariman’s court again, pointing this out.
Justice Nariman, expressing shock, got the correct order uploaded on the website on January 10. “Personal appearance of the alleged contemnor(s) is not dispensed with,” the revised order said.
Justice Nariman also preferred an inquiry against the court officials, which suggested deliberate tampering after a scrutiny by the CJI.
Subsequently, court masters, Manav Sharma and Tapan Kumar Chakraborty, who held the rank of assistant registrars, were sacked on Wednesday evening.
Following the revised order, Ambani was present in the court on February 12 and on February 13 in connection with the contempt proceedings. He spent over two hours in the court on Tuesday and almost the whole day on Wednesday when the judgment was reserved by Justice Nariman’s bench.
Inquiry was being held “to get to the root of the entire issue” and identify all those responsible for the alleged tampering of the judicial order. Some lawyers are also under the scanner, said the report in The Telegraph, citing sources.
Media reports said towards the end of the proceeding, Justice Nariman told senior lawyers Mukul Rohatgi and Kapil Sibal, who appeared for Ambani and RCom: “Consequences will follow of what you have done.”
As for the contempt case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its judgement after the hearing on the case concluded.
During the hearing, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Ericsson India, argued that the court had ordered RCom to pay Rs 550 crore by Sept. 30 and their failure to pay despite the extensions constitutes contempt of the top court’s order.
Dave said they had accepted the offer made by RCom in good faith and had agreed for lifting the moratorium. “It’s so unfortunate that people who think they are extraordinary citizens of the country think they can take the court for a ride.”
Defending Anil Ambani, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi said the undertaking to pay dues was subject to the spectrum sale deal between RCom and elder brother Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio working out. Despite making all attempts, the deal could not go through due to a failure to secure a no-objection certificate from the Department of Telecommunications, said Rohatgi.
The court had on 23 October last year asked RCom to clear dues by 15 December 2018, saying delayed payment would attract an interest of 12% per annum.