New Delhi: Courts must exercise the power of contempt to punish offenders if there is a "calculated effort" to undermine the judiciary, the Supreme Court has ruled.
"Every citizen has a fundamental right to speech guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Contempt of Court is one of the restrictions on such right. We are conscious that the power under the Act has to be exercised sparingly and not in a routine manner.
"If there is a calculated effort to undermine the judiciary, the Courts will exercise their jurisdiction to punish the offender for committing contempt," a bench of Justices A R Dave and L Nageswara Rao said.
The observation came in a verdict in which the apex court upheld the Rajasthan High Court finding in a contempt case.
The High Court had awarded two months jail term to four activists of Marxist Communist Party for making "scandalous statements" against the judiciary after some accused in a 2001 case of murder of a trade union leader were granted anticipatory bail.
The apex court, while concurring with the findings of the High Court, modified the sentence taking note of the peculiar facts of the case, saying the contemnors would be liable to pay a fine of Rs 2,000 each only and not serve the jail term.
The case pertained to the murder of a trade union leader of Sri Ganganagar district in Rajasthan on December 18, 2000 and some accused being granted anticipatory bail by the High Court in February 2001.
The contemnors, while addressing a gathering of party workers in front of the Collectorate at Sri Ganganagar on February 23, 2001, had made "derogatory and scandalous statements" which were published in a vernacular newspaper.
"We approve the findings recorded by the High Court that the appellants have transgressed all decency by making serious allegations of corruption and bias against the High Court. The caustic comments made by the Appellants cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be termed as fair criticism," the apex court bench said.
It said the apology tendered by the contemnors and affidavit filed in the apex court does not inspire any confidence that the apology is made bona fide.