The Delhi High Court has dismissed three applications, including one moved by Hero Motocorp Limited (HML), accusing the proprietor of Delhi-based warehouse management firm of contempt of court for making “defamatory and scandalous” allegations against a judge of the high court and a senior advocate representing HML accusing the latter of claiming that he has all his high-profile cases involving rich and powerful people managed with the said judge.
The case revolved around a complaint made by Roop Drashan Pandey, director of warehouse management firm M/s Brain Logistics Private Limited (BLPL), on February 10, 2016, with the Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Justice, Government of India under the Centralized Public Grievance Redressal and Monitoring System.
Pandey had alleged that the senior advocate representing HML in a case emanating out of dispute over disbursement of salaries and one of the judges of this court “are known to each other” and that the senior advocate “openly claims that he has all his following high profile cases involving rich and powerful people managed” with the said judge and that “date after date are contained by the senior advocate to drag and frustrate the cases”. He requested that the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court “be informed for fair enquiry” about this conspiracy immediately to meet the ends of justice.
On this complaint, the Ministry of Law and Justice sent an Office Memorandum dated March 23, 2016, forwarding the complaint to the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court of India, who in turn forwarded it to the Secretary, Bar Council of India, on March 24, 2016. It was further forwarded by the Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court of India to the Bar Council of India which sought comments from the said senior counsel.
HML contended that the BCI’s communication was opened in the office of the senior counsel; it was read by his staff and junior colleagues and, therefore, he had to unnecessarily face embarrassment. It was also contended that since the matter had reached the BCI, the reputation of the senior counsel was extensively damaged since in particular, he had earlier been a member and Chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi.
It was also contended that Pandey’s conduct is per se “defamatory and scandalous” as allegations have also been made against a judge of this court who had no occasion to hear the petition on merits, except on one date, when it was adjourned on request.
Pandey, however, contended that his conduct did not amount to contempt of court as the complaint was made in good faith and that he had not published anything which could scandalize or lower the authority of the court or obstruct its proceedings.
While Pandey made the complaint on February 10, 2016, the instant applications were filed only on March 4, 2017.
The division bench noted that in the meanwhile, Pandey filed two affidavits—on August 16, 2017, and on September 12, 2017—of apology, unconditionally withdrawing all his allegations and undertaking not to repeat in future any act which would lower the dignity of the judiciary.
Pandey also contended that the instant applications were barred by limitation while the applicants contended that although the complaint was filed online on February 10, 2016, action was taken on the said complaint by the ministry only on March 23, 2016, and it was only then that the actual scandalizing of the judiciary took place.
The bench rejected this contention.
“The Court is unable to agree with the above submission. When the complaint was filed online on 10th February 2016, it was already available to be seen by anyone in the Ministry dealing with such complaints. If it is the contention of the Petitioner that this act itself constituted contempt, then clearly the date of the commission of the contempt was 10th February 2016 and not 23rd March 2016. In any event, as far as the Petitioners are concerned, Respondent No.2 committed contempt on 10th February 2016 when he filed the complaint containing the allegedly scandalous allegations online on the CPGRAM. That date cannot be postponed only because the Ministry took more than a month to actually send a further communication to the Secretary-General, Supreme Court of India,” the bench said.
The Court agreed with the contention of Pandey’s counsel that “the Petitioners ought to have first placed the papers before the Chief Justice of this Court on the administrative side and it was thereafter for the Chief Justice to decide whether suo motu contempt proceedings under Section 15 of the Act should be initiated against the contemnors”.
“The consequence of accepting the above submission would be for this Court to direct these petitions to be placed on the administrative side before the Chief Justice. However, in view of its decision that these applications are time-barred in terms of Section 20 of the Act, there is no point in adopting that course,” said the high court while dismissing the applications.
Genesis of the issue
The issue of contempt of court had its genesis in HML engaging BLPL for providing warehouse operation management and related services on October 12, 2001. BLPL was to provide warehouse management services within the premises of the factory of HML’s spare parts division in Gurgaon. From out of the agreed consideration paid by HML to BLPL, the latter was to pay the wages for the labour force provided by it and also provide payment of PF, gratuity and other entitlements.
According to HML, a regular PF account had been opened by BLPL with the PF authorities and each worker had been given a particular PF account through which the PF amounts would be deposited for the benefit of the workers. BLPL was also required to comply with the other beneficial provisions provided by statutory law, including the Factories Act, Payment of Minimum Wages Act and Bonus Act.
As per HML, it noticed sometime in 2005 that BLPL had been inflating the number of workers. To resolve this, HML entered into another contract with BLPL doing away with the system of 10 per cent service charge and adopting system of fixed monthly remuneration but the problem was not resolved.
It ended the contract with BLPL in 2010 and engaged Surya Enterprises. More than 500 workers, who had earlier worked for BLPL, had been rendered jobless as a result of the termination of the contract. These workers resigned from BLPL and joined M/s Surya Enterprises, with similar wages and benefits and working in the same premises of HML where they were previously working for BLPL.
The dispute concerning the payment of the PF dues gave rise to arbitration proceedings initiated by BLPL. A former judge of the Supreme Court was appointed as a sole arbitrator by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana by an order dated April 27, 2012. In the arbitration proceedings, BLPL was the claimant and HML and the other petitioners in these petitions were the respondents.
Two years thereafter, Pandey filed a complaint with police station Shakarpur on April 20, 2012 naming the proprietor of M/s Surya Enterprises as accused along with six officials of HML. The managing director of HML was also arraigned as an accused alleging improper mode of disbursement of salary to more than 500 workers for the month ending March 31, 2010.
The Magistrate summoned the accused on January 4, 2013, and also called for a status report.
Thereafter, HML filed a complaint against BLPL and Pandey for forging a document in the name of Surya Enterprises. A charge sheet was also filed against them for having committed forgery.
The parties moved high court challenging the order of the Magistrate summoning them as accused in the complaint case initiated by Pandey.
Pandey then made a complaint with the Law Ministry against which HML had sought initiation of criminal proceedings for contempt.