The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Contempt lands chief secy in jail

Patna, Dec. 15: The war of words between the Rabri Devi government and Patna High Court over “malgovernance in Bihar” escalated into open confrontation today when chief secretary K.A.H. Subramanian was arrested on the court’s order and kept in judicial custody for two hours.

The order, provoked by the government’s failure to abide by a 1999 directive regarding appointment of a full-fledged director in the state’s science and technology department, came after an angry exchange between Justice R.S. Garg and Subramanian.

The drama began a little after 2 pm when the bench asked Subramanian for an explanation.

“You are the government and please tell me now why the order of the court was not implemented,” Justice Garg said.

Subramanian said the government was in the process of doing so. Not satisfied, the judge asked Subramanian to read from a file relating to the appointment.

Subramanian pleaded that he had some problems with his eyes, but the judge said the bureaucrat was supposed to know the text.

“I cannot oblige the court by reading the full text of the proceedings on the issue,” an exasperated Subramanian replied.

“You don’t know what you are saying,” Justice Garg warned. “This defiance may land you in jail.”

“Well, if that is so, I am ready. Send me to jail,” Subramanian is reported to have said.

“Ok,” the judge said before passing the arrest order.

The order came on a contempt of court petition. Dr Ramkrit Singh had filed a contempt case after the government failed to honour the court’s order to appoint a director in the science and technology department. That was in 1999.

Singh had alleged that the government had appointed a temporary in-charge, which had affected the functioning of the department. The court had then ordered a committee to be set up for appointing a director.

A committee was formed, but files kept moving from science and technology minister Chandrika Rai to the chief minister’s office. The chief minister reportedly remained undecided.

When the case returned to the court again, fresh directives were issued. During the last hearing of the case on December 4 , the same bench had directed the chief secretary and secretary of the science and technology department to be present in the court today.

After the judge passed the arrest order at 3-15 pm, Subramanian had at first refused to apply for bail. But two advocates, who are office-bearers of the Bar Council of Bihar, Amodh Kant and Ashoke Kumar Singh, intervened and sought to appear on the chief secretary’s behalf. “He is not physically strong enough to be in jail,” they pleaded.

At 5-15, the court accepted a personal bond of Rs 10,000 from the chief secretary before releasing him. Subramanian came out of the court premises at 5-45 pm, three-and-a-half hours after one of the worst executive-judiciary showdowns in the court. The court has asked him to be present before it tomorrow.

“It is a shameful incident for the people of Bihar,” said BJP general secretary Sukhada Pandey.

The government and the judiciary have been clashing for quite some time and 3,500 contempt petitions are still pending against various government departments for non-implementation of court orders. In order after order, the chief justice of Patna High Court has passed strictures against the government.

Last month, the court issued summons to a minister, which prompted legislators to table a privilege motion against the judge. On another occasion, the high court had warned at least a dozen secretaries of the government that they would be sent to jail if they continued to flout court orders.

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