The Rajasthan High Court, on Saturday, issued a notice in a Public Interest Litigation, filed under Article 215 of the Constitution of India, seeking to initiate Criminal Contempt of Court against the sitting Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, for his alleged statement regarding "widespread corruption within the Judiciary", as per a newspaper report published in Dainik Bhaskar.

The Division Bench of the Acting Chief Justice Manindra Mohan Shrivastava and Justice Ashutosh Kumar in its order noted "We have gone through the contents of the petition, statements made on affidavit as also the newspaper report. The report attributes the statement stated in the newspaper to respondent. The allegations are general in nature and against the judiciary as a whole. The contempt petition is filed attributing the aforesaid statements to respondent, which is based on a newspaper report. The contents of the statement, if made by the respondent, prima facie make out a case that it tends to scandalize the Courts because it does not refer to any particular case or category of cases, but general in nature against the judiciary as a whole."

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, while interacting with the media, had said, “Today, massive corruption is taking place in the Judiciary. I have heard that many lawyers give the judgment in writing and that is the judgement which is pronounced. What is this happening inside the Judiciary? Be it lower judiciary or upper. Things are serious. Countrymen should think.”

In the PIL filed by the Advocate Shiv Charan Gupta, it was submitted that Gehlot has laid scathing attack on the entire judicial system without reference to any particular case or class of cases. It was stated that the allegation contained in the report scandalizes and lowers the authority of the Court. Gupta referred to the provision contained in Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 and submitted that such a statement would amount to criminal contempt.

Gupta prayed before the High Court for taking suo motu cognizance. He submitted that there is no specific provision contained in the Rajasthan High Court Rules, 1952 providing for the manner or procedure through which suo motu cognizance could be taken, therefore, this petition has been filed bringing to the notice of this Court the information contained in the newspaper which attributes the statement to the respondent.

The High Court accordingly after considering the merits of the matter issued notice. "In view of above consideration, we are inclined to seek response of the respondent with regard to the statement which are attributed to him in this petition on the basis of the newspaper report. Issue notice to the respondents on payment of PF by ordinary as well as registered post within three days, returnable by three weeks. List on 03.10.2023", stated the order.

Recently, in response to the remark of the Chief Minister, the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association (RHCBA) voluntarily abstained from work. “In view of the irresponsible, malicious, derogatory, defamatory and sweeping statement made by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan on 30.08.2023 against the entire judiciary as well as legal fraternity, the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association highly condemns the same and declares that the lawyers of Rajasthan High Court Jaipur bench shall voluntarily abstain from work on 01.09.2023”, read the notice issued by Advocates Mahendra Shandilya, President and Balram Vashisth, General Secretary of RHCBA.

Similarly, the Rajasthan High Court Lawyers' Association through its President Ravi Bhansali and General Secretary Sunil Joshi wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court calling for suo moto initiation of contempt of court proceedings against the Chief Minister for his remarks. The Association also called for an apology from the Chief Minister for his remarks.

However, after the backlash against his remarks, Ashok Gehlot backtracked and put out a tweet stating, “What I said yesterday regarding corruption in the judiciary is not my personal opinion. I have always respected and trusted the judiciary. From time to time, many retired Supreme Court judges and even retired Chief Justices have commented on corruption in the Judiciary and expressed concern over it. I have so much faith in the judiciary that I have never made any adverse comment even on the names of the High Court Collegium that come to us for comments for the appointment of judges as Chief Minister. I clearly believe that every citizen should respect and trust the judiciary. This will strengthen democracy.”

Cause Title: Shiv Charan Gupta v. Ashok Gahlot [D.B. Civil Writ Petition No. 13788/2023]

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