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Contempt slap on tribunal judges

Cuttack, Dec. 22: Orissa High Court today convicted two judges of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) on charges of criminal and civil contempt.

A division bench, comprising Justice I.M. Quddusi and Justice N. Prusty, slapped fines on the two tribunal judges under the Contempt of Courts Act after finding them “guilty of lowering the authority of the high court” and “striking at the very root of the rule of law”.

The conviction order and sentence to pay a fine of Re 1 is the high court’s reaction to insistence of the two former tribunal judges in passing an order initiating proceedings in a case despite a stay order.

The case dates back to an order issued by CAT’s Cuttack bench on March 26, 2003. The erstwhile bench comprising vice-chairman B.N. Some and member (judicial) Manoranjan Mohanty had issued directions to East Coast Railway to pay death and retirement gratuity to Manikmala Maity, the widow of a railway employee.

Manikmala filed a contempt petition in the tribunal on non-payment of the gratuity.

East Coast Railway, on the other hand, moved high court challenging the CAT order. Acting on the petition, the court, on January 11, 2005, issued a stay until further orders.

But the CAT bench of Some and Mohanty initiated contempt proceedings on Manikmala’s petition on February 22, 2005, observing: “This stay order by the high court was nonest (having no legal force) in the eyes of the law and, therefore, the same was inoperative.” Subsequently, the high court initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against the two tribunal judges when their order was presented before it. Later, the two judges responded to a showcause notice expressing regret and appealed for dropping of the contempt proceedings against them.

But the high court convicted them under the Contempt of Courts Act observing, “The order passed by the tribunal undoubtedly lowered the authority of the high court and thus constitutes a criminal contempt.”

“Both of them have intentionally passed the order and therefore the explanations are not acceptable,” the high court said in its order. The bench also observed: “Disobedience of the court’s order strikes at the very root of rule of law on which the judicial system rests.”

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