30 May 2023 11:56 AM GMT
The Supreme Court has sentenced a non-resident Indian to six months imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 25 lakhs for contempt of court, for failing to bring back his minor son to India in terms of the orders passed by the top court from time to time and the undertaking given by him before the court to this effect.The bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S. Oka...
The Supreme Court has sentenced a non-resident Indian to six months imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 25 lakhs for contempt of court, for failing to bring back his minor son to India in terms of the orders passed by the top court from time to time and the undertaking given by him before the court to this effect.
The bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S. Oka said that the contemnor was under an obligation to bring back his minor son to India on 1st July 2022. However, the conduct of the contemnor showed that he never had any intention of bringing the child back to India. The bench found that the contemnor had not shown any signs of remorse and that he had scant respect for the orders of the court.
The bench further noted that the contemnor had denied the fact before the concerned Foreign Court, that he had voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. He had also opposed the request for mirroring the order of Supreme Court, which had resulted in denial of the said request by the said Foreign Court. The said conduct of the contemnor amounted to interference with the administration of justice and obstructing the administration of justice, the court ruled.
The court thus concluded that the contemnor was guilty of both civil and criminal contempt.
The contempt petition was moved by the wife, against her husband, in a custody battle arising from a matrimonial dispute between the parties.
By judgment and order dated 16th January 2023, the top court had held the respondent-contemnor guilty of contempt. The court had postponed the sentencing part only with the object of giving last opportunity to the contemnor to make amends.
The court, however, found that the contemnor had not shown any signs of remorse. “On the contrary, the submissions made on his behalf clearly show that the contemnor has scant respect for the Orders of this Court,” the court said.
“The contemnor never applied to this Court for a grant of extension of time to bring back the child. For the first time, by filing a counter affidavit to the contempt petition, he tried to seek an extension of time without giving any justification,” the court noted.
The court further took into account that the contemnor had not even applied for renewal of the US passport held by his minor child, which had expired long back.
Additionally, the court reckoned that the contemnor had claimed before the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, USA that he has not subjected himself to the jurisdiction of the top court in India. The court thus held that the contemnor had shown scant respect to the judicial proceedings pending in the Supreme Court.
“He has defied assurance given to this Court that he has submitted himself to the jurisdiction of this Court. As noted in paragraph 15 of the earlier order, the contemnor went to the extent of opposing the request for mirroring the order of this Court, which resulted in the denial of the said request by the concerned Foreign Court. In fact, due to the misrepresentation made by the contemnor, the Foreign Court has not honoured the principle of comity of Courts. The act of denying the fact that he voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of this Court and his conduct of opposing the request for the grant of mirroring order amounts to interference with the administration of justice and obstructing the administration of justice,” the bench said.
The court further found that the contemnor had attempted to suppress the proceedings pending before the US Court. “The contemnor knows that his conduct of defying the orders of this Court and showing disrespect to the orders of this Court can be established from the proceedings in the Circuit Court. His attempt before the Circuit Court was to ensure that his contumacious conduct, as reflected in the Circuit Court’s proceedings, should not be made available to this Court. In short, his attempt was to suppress the proceedings,” the court observed.
While considering the contemnor’s plea that he acted in the best interests of the minor child, the court referred to the proceedings before the US Circuit Court, where the later had attributed gross error on the part of the contemnor for talking to his minor child about pending litigations in India or Canada. The Circuit Judge had directed the contemnor that he was “truly and utterly” prohibited from discussing the litigations in India, USA and Canada with his minor son.
The Supreme Court also found the child talking about the sale of the property of his grandmother in one of the video conference hearings, where he had appeared with the contemnor.
While noting that the property of the contemnor’s mother was required to be sold due to the gross default committed by the contemnor, the court said, “However, apart from committing impropriety by informing the child about the details of the pending litigations, he tried to prejudice the minor’s mind by telling him that his ancestral property is being sold at the instance of the mother.”
The bench concluded that the acts and omissions of the contemnor, amounted to both civil and criminal contempt, calling for a strict action against him. It further noted that the power of the court to punish a person for contempt is unrestricted by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
“Considering his contumacious conduct, we propose to direct the contemnor to pay a fine of Rs. 25 lakhs and to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six months for committing civil and criminal contempt. In default of payment of the fine, he will have to undergo a further sentence of simple imprisonment for two months,” the court directed.
“We direct the Government of India as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation to take all possible and permissible steps to secure the presence of the contemnor in India with a view to ensure that he undergoes the sentence and pays the fine,” the court ruled.
Case Title: MEENAL BHARGAVA vs NAVEEN SHARMA & ORS.
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 475
Counsel for the Petitioner: Ms. Meenakshi Arora, Sr. Adv. Mr. Amit Pawan, AOR Mr. Anand Nandan, Adv. Mr. Hassan Zubair Waris, Adv. Mr. Aakarsh, Adv. Mr. Suchit Singh Rawat, Adv. Ms. Shivangi, Adv.
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr. Ranjan Mukherjee, AOR Mr. Saurabh Sharma, Adv. Mrs. Vanshja Shukla, Adv. Mr. Sharath Nambiar,Adv. Mr. Nakul Changappa K.K.,Adv. Mr. Vatsal Joshi,Adv. Ms. Indra Bhakar,Adv. Mr. Raj Bahadur Yadav, AOR Mr. Shlok Chandra, Adv. Mr. Vinayak Sharma, Adv. Mr. Anuj Srinivas Udupa,Adv. Mr. Chitransh Sharma,Adv. Mr. Pratyush Srivastav, Adv. Ms. Vanshaja Shukla, Adv. Ms. Swati Ghildiyal, Adv. Mr. Sharath Narayan Nambiar, Adv. Mr. Akshay Nain, Adv. Ms. Bani Dikshit, Adv. Mr. Arvind Kumar Sharma, AOR
The bench said that the acts and omissions of the contemnor, amounted to both civil and criminal contempt, calling for a strict action against him. It further noted that the power of the court to punish a person for contempt is unrestricted by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
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