The Andhra Pradesh High Court recently sentenced 3 IAS officers to one month jail for contempt of court while observing that it is incumbent on Government servants to ensure that the orders of this Court are complied with promptitude.
The observation came from Justice Battu Devanand:
"The contempt case is allowed and the contemnors are sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of one (1) month each and to pay fine of Rs.2,000/- (Rupees two thousand only) each in default of payment of fine, they shall undergo simple imprisonment for a period of one (1) week each. The contemnor Nos. 2 and 3, who are present before this Court, requested the Court to suspend the sentence. Considering their request, the sentence is suspended for a period of six (06) weeks. The 1st Contemnor is directed to surrender before the Registrar (Judicial) of this Court on or before 13.05.2022."
The Respondents include Principal Secretary of Agriculture Department- Punam Malakondaiah, the then Commissioner of Agriculture- H Arun Kumar and IAS District Selection Committee (Kurnool) G Veerapandian.
The petitioner had filed the present petition praying to declare that the action of respondent Nos. 2 and 3 in not selecting the petitioner, as per his merit, as Village Agriculture Assistant (Grade-II) in pursuance of a Notification dated 26.07.2019 as illegal, arbitrary and violative of Articles 14, 16 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
By an order in 2019, the court had directed the respondents to consider the candidature of the petitioner to the said post and pass appropriate orders, within a period of 2 weeks.
When the respondent did not comply with the said order, the petitioner filed the present contempt.
Petitioner argued that after receipt of the orders of the Court, the petitioner made representation to the respondents in January, 2020 requesting to implement the same by passing appropriate orders. It was submitted that the respondents chose not to implement the orders of this Court and have deliberately violated the same and they are liable for punishment under the provisions of Contempt of Court Act, 1971.
Respondent no 1 submitted that based on the orders passed by this Court, the Special Commissioner of Agriculture has been requested to take immediate further necessary action in the matter. It was further submitted that upon verification of the certificates, the verification Board has rejected the candidature of the petitioner as "INELIGIBLE" on the ground of the candidate has obtained B.Sc (Ag.) from a University which is not accredited by "Indian Council of Agricultural Research" (ICAR), which is mandatory as per the Educational Qualifications prescribed in the Notification.
Finally it was submitted that as per corrigendum to the Notification, serving MPEOs with B.Sc (Ag.) Degree from Non-ICAR Recognized/ Accredited Universities is also eligible to apply as a one-time exemption for having worked as MPEO in the Department of Agriculture. But, there is no provision to serving Block Technology Managers. In the present case, the petitioner has been working as BTM, which is not mentioned in corrigendum issued.
Respondent 2 submitted that the 3rd respondent i.e., DSC Chairman is competent authority to attend the grievances of the petitioner and that it had no willful intention to violate the Court orders.
Respondent 3 submitted that the Court order was received however, due to lack of knowledge on the part of the Ministerial staff of the Office of Joint Director of Agriculture, no speaking orders were issued to the petitioner.
He further submitted that the Department of Agriculture had not dealt any direct recruitment like this through DSC, which is also one of the reasons for lack of knowledge and deficiency in discharging duties.
Court recorded that after perusal of the documents on record it can be seen that it was only after filing of the contempt case on 17.11.2020, the 3rd Respondent issued speaking orders on 02.12.2020 to implement the judicial order in question. The 3rd respondent also issued speaking order only on 02.12.2020 after filing the contempt case (i.e.) beyond the time stipulated by the Court in its order.
As such, it was of the considered opinion that the Respondents "disobeyed" the order passed by it.
Court also noted that the respondents are silent as to why they could not file a petition before the Court seeking extension of time to comply with the Order. Court observed that having chosen not to seek extension, the respondents cannot be heard to contend that despite a direction to comply with the Order within two weeks, they are justified in complying with the order at their convenience, without adhering to the time limit imposed by the Court.
On being asked about what is suitable punishment the counsel for respondents said that since the delay was unintentional, the Court should refrain from imposing any punishment on Senior Officers of the Government.
"I must express my inability to agree. It is incumbent upon the respondents, more particularly, those who are holding senior position in Government, to ensure that the Orders of this Court are complied with promptitude, and within the time stipulated for its compliance. Any difficulty which they may have in complying with the order of this Court would require them to invoke this Court jurisdiction seeking extension of time to comply with the orders. Admittedly, in the present case, no such efforts were made by the respondents," Court said
In view of the above, the court found all three officers guilty of contempt for having violated the orders of the Court to the extent they failed to comply with the order of this Court within the time specified.
Case Title: NMS Goud v. Punam Malakondaiah & Ors.
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (AP) 77