The Delhi High Court on Tuesday held JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Geeta Kumari, vice-president Simone Zoya Khan, general secretary Duggirala Srikrishna and joint secretary Shubhanshu Singh guilty of contempt for disobeying the court’s order to not hold any protest within 100 metres of the administrative block or obstruct the movement of JNU officials.
Justice V Kameswar Rao held the students’ union leaders guilty and imposed a fine of Rs. 2,000 on each of them while not imposing a punishment of imprisonment on them considering that they are all on the threshold of their careers.
“…taking into consideration that the respondents are students who are pursuing higher studies, and are on the threshold of their careers, the interest of justice would be served if a fine of ` 2,000/- is imposed on each of the respondents. It is ordered accordingly. The fine shall be deposited before the Registrar General of this Court within two weeks from today,” Justice Rao ordered.
The court’s order comes on a contempt petition moved by JNU against the named students for violating high court’s order of August 9, 2017, wherein the students were directed not to assemble, protest, dharna, march, blockade, use of public address system within 100 meters of the Administrative Block and not to stop ingress and egress of the officials to the Administrative Block.
The varsity informed the court about a series of protests starting January 4, 2018, by which the orders of the high court were defied as the students protested against the introduction of mandatory attendance system etc.
The respondents, in their joint affidavit, said the filing of the contempt petition is a gross abuse of process of law inasmuch as the same is a vindictive and vexatious petition.
It was averred that the respondents believe in Rule of Law which is a part of the basic structure of Constitution of India as well as in the right of peaceful protest as being a fundamental right, guaranteed to all citizens of the nation.
After hearing both sides, Justice Rao said, “The respondents/Union/students have a fundamental right of peaceful protest/congregation but with certain responsibilities towards fellow students/staff/visitors etc, so as to, not impinge upon their right of free access to the Administrative Block. The order dated August 09, 2017 does not take away the fundamental right of the students/respondents, to protest. The right is maintained beyond a distance of 100 meters that too at Sabarmati lawns only, in a peaceful manner.”
He said the order dated August 09, 2017, encompasses the following directions: (1) No protest shall be undertaken by the students within 100m radius of the Administrative Block; (2) The congregation shall be at Sabarmati Lawns and shall be peaceful. (3) In the eventuality, the aforesaid orders are not complied with, the petitioner would be at liberty to request the police for assistance to maintain law and order, who shall act only on evidence of obstruction to ingress/egress to the Administrative Building.
He, however, added, “The respondents have in fact, reargued the writ petition by contending that they have a right to protest that too at the administrative block, de hors the direction already given. In other words, the attempt has been to justify their conduct. During the arguments, the respondents have not expressed any regret/remorse for violating the orders. It is not a case of non-compliance of order by mistake, inadvertence or misunderstanding of meaning and purport of the order. This I say so, the respondents herein are pursuing post-graduate studies.
“They are educated persons, surely knowing the purport/intent of the order passed by this Court on August 09, 2017, which is clear and explicit. The interpretation sought to be given to the order by the learned counsel for the respondents is only an attempt to wriggle out of their contemptuous acts. So it must be held, on the basis of the photographs and the admissions made by the respondents, that they did congregate/held protests in the administrative block, which was in willful violation of the order dated August 09, 2017.”
On the plea of the respondents that penalties of Rs. 10,000 each were imposed on the four respondents and the same shall not entail action under the Contempt of Courts Act, Justice Rao said, “The imposition of penalty of `10,000/- on the students was for their conduct on January 04, 2018, which was violative of the Rules, which is surely an independent action not connected with an action against the respondents for violating the order of the Court. Further, the basis for initiating contempt petition is not with regard to the conduct of the respondents of January 04, 2018 only but also on other days. Even on that ground, the contempt petition by the University shall be maintainable.”