NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the essential purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to maintain the dignity of the institution of judicial forums.
"The raison d'etre (reason or justification for being or existence) of contempt jurisdiction is to maintain the dignity of the institution of judicial forums. It is not a vindictive exercise nor are inappropriate statements by themselves capable of lowering the dignity of a Judge."
"These are often ignored but where despite all latitude a perennial litigant seeks to justify his existence by throwing mud at all and sundry, the court has to step in," a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M M Sundresh said.
The observations came while hearing an application filed by the chairperson of NGO, Suraz India Trust, Rajiv Daiya seeking recall of the apex court's 2017 judgement by which it had imposed costs of Rs 25 lakh on it for filing 64 PILs over the years without any success and "repeatedly misusing" the jurisdiction of the top court.
The apex court said there is no absolute licence when appearing in person to indulge in making aspersions as a tendency to scandalise the the court in relation to judicial matters.
The top court said that in the current context if seen, the grievance arises on account of the inability of the contemnor to file public interest petitions on account of costs being imposed, which he claims to be unable to pay and the consequences thereof of not being able to prosecute his petitions, which are large in number.
"The contemnor has apparently made a profession of filing public interest petitions of subjects of which he may not know much and then seeking to scandalise the Court to grant him relief failing which he will continue to scandalise the court," the bench said.
The bench said that the easier path is to recuse or give up the matter instead of inviting so much trouble but "then that is not the course for which the Judges have taken the oath and sometimes the task is unenviable and difficult but it must be performed for the larger good of the institution."
"Such litigants cannot be permitted to have their way only because they can plead and write anything they feel like and keep on approbating by sometimes apologising and then again bringing forth those allegations. We have thus chosen the more difficult path," it said.
The top court also said that the power to punish for contempt is a constitutional power that cannot be abridged even by legislative enactment.
The apex court had on May 1, 2017, taken the punitive step and imposed a hefty cost of Rs 25 lakh on the NGO, saying waste of judicial time was a matter of serious concern.
The top court had also said such practices have to be dealt with sternly to prevent misuse of the courts by such individuals "who have nothing to do but only cast scandalous and imaginary aspersions".
On 64 occasions when the Suraz India Trust had approached the court, it did not get any success, the court had noted.
Referring to the details of the matters filed by the NGO and the various orders passed by the apex court, the bench headed by the then Chief Justice J S Khehar had said it "leaves no doubt that Suraz India Trust has repeatedly misused the jurisdiction of this court".