The Delhi High Court has held three city government officials guilty of contempt of court on the ground that the disobedience of an order passed by the Court on their part was wilful in nature.

A Single Bench of Justice Rekha Palli observed, “The insistence of the respondents in applying the incremental increase of cluster 6 to all other clusters despite being well aware that the factual matrix of each cluster is different and in fact, even the initial service hour rate of each cluster was always different, leaves no manner of doubt that the disobedience on the part of the respondents is willful. … I am of the opinion that in the present case, all the four pre-conditions for holding the respondents guilty of contempt are made out.”

The Bench said that the moonshine defence taken by the respondents that there was no requirement to work out the incremental increase separately for each cluster is wholly misconceived and needs to be rejected.

Senior Advocate Sushil Dutt Salwan appeared for the petitioner while Advocates Avishkar Singhvi, Naved Ahmed, and Vivek Kumar appeared for the respondents.

Brief Facts -

A batch of pleas under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, sought initiation of contempt proceedings against the respondents for wilful disobedience of the directions issued by the Division Bench of the High Court. The petitioners were providing private stage carriage services to the Govt. of NCT of Delhi under a cluster scheme.

Under the aforesaid scheme, all the clusters were part of a network for providing stage carriage services for Delhi so as to ensure safe and comfortable travel for the commuters. The division bench had in December 2017 directed the authorities to separately redetermine the amount payable to the concessionaires providing private stage carriage services in view of an upward revision in the minimum wages.

The High Court in the above context noted, “… whether the stand of the respondents can be said to be fair and bonafide or whether their defense that the directions issued by the Division Bench did not clearly state that the incremental increase in service rate per hour had to be taken separately for each cluster is a mere attempt to overreach the orders passed by this Court. … I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the Division Bench had, in no uncertain terms, directed the respondents to amend the formula for calculating the amount payable to the concessionaires by taking into account the incremental increase of each cluster separately.”

The Court further noted that the directions to the respondents were to calculate the amount payable to the concessionaires of the different clusters by considering the factual matrix of each cluster separately and that it is only for this purpose that the Division Bench had directed the petitioners to furnish their calculations to them.

“The directions to say the least were crystal clear, and the respondents were therefore expected to effectuate necessary amendments to the formula by working out the amount payable to each cluster individually. Infact, even during arguments, it has not been denied by the respondents that the claim of the petitioners before the Division Bench was for directions to the respondents to make additional payments to them to the extent of increase in the minimum wages thereby making good the increase in the costs of providing stage carriage services on account of the enhancement in minimum wages”, said the Court.

The Court also asserted that while exercising contempt jurisdiction, it has to keep in mind that the very purpose of the law of contempt is meant to serve the public interest and build confidence in the judicial process.

“… the respondents, despite having repeatedly failed in their challenge to the order passed by the Division Bench are deliberately attempting to circumvent and undermine the unambiguous directions issued by the Division Bench. It is therefore necessary to deal with the respondents with a heavy hand. … the contemnors, i.e., Special Commissioner Transport, the Chief Secretary and the Secretary Labour of the Govt. of NCT of Delhi will remain present in Court”, held the Court.

Accordingly, the Court listed the case for arguments on July 14, 2023, and found the respondents guilty of contempt of court.

Cause Title- Antony Road Transport Solution Pvt. Ltd. v. Varsha Joshi & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2023:DHC:2702)

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