Journalist Arnab Goswami urged the Supreme Court on Tuesday to issue notice to the Maharashtra assembly speaker to clarify his stand on the claim of a House official who said he sent a letter to the scribe in a matter of alleged breach of privilege motion at the Speaker's direction.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde initially observed that it might be “necessary in all probability to serve the speaker” to know his version, but later adjourned the hearing on Goswami's plea by two weeks saying that it has not gone through the reply of the assistant secretary of the assembly.
The top court had on November 6 issued a show cause notice to Vilas Athawale, Assistant Secretary of Maharashtra Vidhan Mandal Sachivalaya, asking him to explain as to why contempt proceedings be not initiated against him for his letter to the journalist seeming to "intimidate" him for approaching the apex court on the issue of alleged breach of privilege motion.
The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanain, was informed by senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, that the reply to the show cause notice for contempt by the assembly official has said that the letter was sent at the direction of the speaker.
“He (Athawale) is saying that he had acted on the direction of the speaker. Please issue notice to the assembly speaker,” Salve said.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Athawale, opposed Salve's submissions and said that no contempt was made out and just because the official has said that he acted on the direction of the speaker, it did not mean that the speaker be called at this stage.
Before issuing the notice to the speaker, the court has to first see whether any contempt is made out or not, Dave said.
“The apprehension is that the speaker may say later that he was not heard,” the bench observed and sought to know the views of senior advocate and amicus curiae Arvind Datar on the issue.
“If the officer (of assembly) is saying that he acted on the direction of the speaker, then the speaker should be heard,” Datar said.
“You (assembly official) have said all this but you have not withdrawn the letter (written to Goswami),” the bench said, adding that it will go through the reply of the official and then hear the case after two weeks.
Meanwhile, the bench termed as reasonable the submission of Dave that the assembly official be exempted from personal appearance before it due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter, a portion of which was quoted in the November 6 order, said: “You were informed that the proceedings of the House are confidential...despite this, it has been observed that you have presented the proceedings of the House before the Supreme Court on October 8, 2020.
"No prior permission was taken from the Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly before presenting such proceedings in court. You have knowingly breached the orders of the Speaker of Maharashtra Assembly and your actions amount to breach of confidentiality. This is definitely a serious matter and amounts to contempt...”
Earlier while issuing the show cause notice for contempt to assembly official for “intimidating” Goswami, the top court had also directed that the scribe shall not be arrested in pursuance of the proceedings pending in Maharashtra assembly for alleged breach of privilege motion.
The top court, which termed the statements of the official in an October 13 letter sent to Goswami as “unprecedented”, had said it was intended to interfere in the course of administration of justice and is definitely a "serious matter" and "amounts to contempt".
It said the letter seems to have been written to threaten Republic TV editor-in-chief with a penalty for seeking legal remedy which he exercised as a fundamental right under Article 32 of the Constitution.
It had allowed Goswami to implead the Centre as a party and issued notice to Attorney General K K Venugopal.
Salve had referred to the letter and had said Goswami was threatened for approaching the apex court in the matter.
The court was hearing Goswami's plea against show cause notice by Legislative Assembly for initiation of breach of privilege motion against him for reportage related to case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death.
He had made certain remarks against chief minister Uddhav Thackrey in his news debates on Rajput's case.