CHENNAI: Madras High Court has warned three senior officers, including Tamil Nadu Forest Secretary, that they will face conviction and sentence for contempt if court directions on handing over a sandalwood consignment to a company are not complied with in two weeks.
Asking them to appear in person on August 4, the court said they "are clearly in breach and violation of the orders of the court" and it was granting them "a last opportunity, failing which it will pass a formal order of conviction and sentence".
The matter relates to a contempt petition filed by Gupta Enterprises of Eluru of Andhra Pradesh, a sandalwood products export company, alleging that the officers wilfully failed to obey three judicial orders including one by the Supreme Court to handover 35 tonnes of sandal wood to the firm for which it had bid for at an auction in 1999.
When the petition came up before the First Bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice T.S.Sivagnanam, it directed the three officers to appear again in person on the next hearing date of August 4, when the case will be taken up for further proceedings.
"As on date, there can be no doubt that the officers are clearly in breach and violation of the orders of the court, and the question really is of sentence," the judges said, making it clear that it would be subject to any order obtained by the officers in the Supreme Court before August 4.
The officers - Forest Secretary Hans Raj Verma, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Vinod Kumar and District Forest Officer (Tirupathur division) H Rajamohan - had appeared before the court on Tuesday.
The company participated in bidding for a 35-ton sandalwood heap at Tirupathur in Tamil Nadu's Vellore district, in October 1999 for Rs 1.09 crore. It had paid Rs 23 lakh on the date of auction itself.
When the company commenced lifting the material from the government godown, officials insisted on sales tax payment though the company showed government orders granting ST exemption for exportable commodity.
The company noted that it had an export order even at the time of participating in the bid and pointed out that a similar tender process won by it in Sathyamangalam was excluded from the payment of sales tax.
Because of the controversy, the government forfeited the deposit of Rs 22 lakh in April 2000 paid by the company, prompting it to move the High Court. It won the case before a single judge, division bench, and then in the Supreme Court in November 2014.
Despite the final orders, government did not hand over the consignment to the firm, which then initiated the contempt proceedings against the officers in charge of the issue.
Directing them to appear on August 4, the First Bench in its order said, "We grant two weeks' time to comply with the order as a last opportunity, failing which there will be no option but to pass the formal order of conviction and sentence."
After the contempt petition was filed in the High Court, the authorities filed a 'review' petition in the Supreme Court, which had dismissed the earlier special leave petition at the admission stage itself.
Irked at the move, the judges said it was filed after the contempt petition was moved 'apparently as a counter-blast' to it.