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HC lets off Mamata with restraint advice

Calcutta, Dec. 18: Calcutta High Court today cited a cherished principle of jurisprudence to spare chief minister Mamata Banerjee from contempt proceedings but added that the decision should not be construed as approval of a statement by her that was “neither moderate nor couched in temperate language”.

A division bench of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi said Mamata’s statement on a section of the judiciary in the Assembly complex on August 14 had not “transcended the Lakshman rekha of scandalising the court or obstructing the administration of justice or interfering in the due course of judicial proceedings”.

Mamata had said on August 14: “Why will judgments be given only in favour of those who offer money? I’m sorry to say this…. I have seen it myself that a number of judgments are purchased.”

Although the court refrained from issuing suo motu contempt proceedings against Mamata, it said: “We make it clear that our reluctance to initiate such proceedings should not be taken as an approval of the statements made by the speaker.”

The bench added that given the fact that Mamata was the chief minister of Bengal, she should have used language that was “moderate” and “temperate”.

The court said: “One must not lose sight of the fact that the speaker was not an ordinary personality but the chief minister of the state. It is expected that when criticism is made from such a high constitutional functionary, the same should be laced with moderation and temperance.”

The bench added: “The imputations were neither moderate nor couched in temperate language.”

But the court concluded that what Mamata had said did not “constitute an act of criminal contempt”.

However, while giving its ruling, the bench said the “power” of the court to initiate contempt proceedings “ought to be sparingly exercised”. “Contempt proceedings should not be initiated at every irritant or pin prick,” the court said.

“Deference to the judiciary cannot be secured by the sceptre of contempt but is to be attained by the sublime quality of our judgment.”

Quoting from an observation by Lord Denning, the court read: “Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations…. It is the right of every man, in Parliament or out of it, in the press or in the broadcast to make fair comment, even outspoken comment, on matters of public interest.”

The court was referring to Alfred Thompson Denning, one of the most audacious British judges in the 20th century. Many of his judgments ran counter to the prevailing law but several were eventually confirmed by the parliament.

Today, the court said Mamata’s speech “essentially” dealt with the “impact of corruption”.

“It does not appear to be prompted by the desire to denigrate the institution in the eyes of society,” the bench said. “It is in the nature of an exasperated lament of the speaker to her perceived erosion of morals in every public institution before an august gathering.”

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, former mayor and one of the lawyers who had moved court, said: “Our purpose has been served. While rejecting our plea, the court criticised the chief minister for her language. She should take a lesson now.”