Former Army Chief V K Singh was on Wednesday rapped by the Supreme Court for allegedly making contemptuous remarks on its order on his age row, saying one cannot be allowed to "scandalise" the court and attribute motive to its verdict.
At the outset of the hearing, the apex court pulled up the former general for not filing his response on the notice issued by it on a suo motu contempt proceeding against him and warned his lawyer "not to take the case lightly".
A bench of justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale said that it welcomes any criticism of its judgement but attributing motive to a judgement is not allowed and said that Singh's statement is "striking at the very root" of the judicial system.
"You cannot be allowed to scandalise the court like this. It is not permissible," thebench said and referred to the portion of the alleged contemptuous remarks published in a national daily.
"The judge has been pressurised. It can't be said like this," the bench observed and added that "It (Singh's statement) is striking at the root of the system."
"We welcome criticism of our judgement but we don't welcome motives attributed to the court judgement," the bench said.
The bench also took serious exception when Singh's counsel sought adjournment as arguing senior counsel Ram Jethmalani was unable to appear as he was held up in another case and even said that the former army chief can argue to defend himself.
"Contemnor will have to explain the position himself. Do not take it casually. You should have told earlier that you did not receive the paper book," the bench said when Singh's counsel submitted that entire paper book was not provided to him and sought more to file reply.
Singh, 63, who was present in the second row of the courtroom, remained silent during the 20-minute proceedings.
The bench finally agreed to adjourn the case for November 20 and directed the ex-general to file his response by November 15.
It also asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati to file the CD of recorded statement and its transcript within 10 days which would also be supplied to Singh.
The AG, who was asked to assist the court, said that the matter is very serious and urged the bench to look at draft charges framed by him against Singh.
He submitted that he went through the entire recorded statement of Singh which was supplied by ANI and placed before the bench the transcript prepared by his office.
The AG, who had defended the Centre on Singh's age row, referred to former General's remarks and said the "design is sinister" and against the rule of law and the issue is "extremely serious".
The bench, after going through the transcript, said that the report published by a newspaper is authentic and there is no distortion in the report.
"Newspaper has exactly reported. So there is no distortion but even publishing a statement like this is contempt," the bench said, adding that "if remarks are made against the highest court then we are heading for bad days".
Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for the newspaper, tendered unconditional apology for publishing the report but sought an opportunity to advance arguments on diverse issues relating to principles concerning freedom of Press and contempt.
He said "it has to be seen how to balance freedom of speech, contempt of court and criticism".
Taking note of his submission, the bench said, "though the newspaper has filed an unqualified apology, we would like to hear Nariman on various issues that may arise in this contempt issue."
During the hearing, the bench said instead of the court taking suo motu cognisance of the remarks, the contempt should have been proceeded with by the Attorney General.
"As a matter of fact, contempt should have been proceed by you (AG)," the bench told Vahanvati, who said he was "very upset" with the statements published in the daily.
The AG said it was not a stray statement and read out Singh's interview recorded both in English as well as in Hindi.
The apex court had on October 1 issued notice to Singh after taking suo motu cognisance of his remarks against its order on his age row published on September 22, saying it prima facie amounts to "scandalising" and undermining the authority of the court.
Referring to Singh's statement in the news report, the bench said, "The same amounts to scandalising the court and prima facie V K Singh's statement tends to scandalise the judiciary and also tends to lower the authority of the court."
Singh had on February 10 last year lost his legal battle on the age row in the apex court which said the government decision on his date of birth will apply for his service matters, forcing him to withdraw his petition.
The apex court had told Singh that he cannot resile on his commitment that he would abide by the government decision to treat his date of birth as May 10, 1950, and rejected the contention of "prejudice" and "perversity".
The apex court, however, had applauded his 38 years of service to the nation, saying that it was "proud" of having "meritorious" officer like Gen Singh.
The court had said that government decision on his age issue will continue to be there and refused to interfere with his service record which maintains his date of birth as May 10, 1950.