Circulating Malicious Material Against Judiciary at National-International Level Amounts To Inciting People Against Rule Of Law: P&H HC

punjab and haryana high court Law Insider

Sanjeev Sirohi

Published on: 28 February 2023 at 12:32 IST

While demonstrating complete zero tolerance for those who in any manner try to malign the impeccable image of the judiciary in any manner and attempts to also incite people against the rule of law, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a remarkable, robust, rational and recent judgment titled Court on its Own Motion vs Union of India and others in CROCP No. 2 of 2023 that was pronounced as recently as on February 24, 2023 sentenced the dismissed Punjab Police DSP Balwinder Singh Sekhon and his aide to 6 months imprisonment in a criminal contempt case. It was held by the Court that circulating malicious material against judiciary at national-international level amounts to inciting people against the ‘Rule of Law’.

It must be noted quite glaringly that while finding the videos featuring Balwinder and his aides and the content of the same as ‘derogatory’, ‘malicious’, libelous’ and ‘against the constitutional authorities and the judiciary’, the Punjab and Haryana High Court minced just no words to hold that, “….mud-slinging by way of open publication and representation of such malicious material being circulated not only at the national but international level, amounts to inciting people at large against the Rule of Law and against one of the basic wing of the democratic set up under the Constitution of India consisting of the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary.”

Notably, after Balwinder Singh Sekhon was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, he raised the contemptuous slogans “Judicial Gundagardi Murdabad” in the open court which the court pointed out further compounded the contempt.

At the very outset, this learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment authored by a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice GS Sandhawalia and Hon’ble Mr Justice Harpreet Kaur Jeewan sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “Mr. Satya Pal Jain, learned Senior counsel appearing on behalf of respondent no.1-Union of India, submits that needful has been done and a compliance report has been received from the said respondent. He further wishes to file a detailed affidavit and is allowed to do so.

Simply put, the Division Bench states in para 3 that, “Statements of respondents no.6 to 8, namely, Balwinder Singh Sekhon, Pardeep Sharma and Baljit Singh Marwaha have been recorded separately, in pursuance to the charge raised against them vide order dated 20.02.2023.”

 Quite glaringly, the Division Bench states in para 4 that, “Compliance report on behalf of respondent no.5, by way of affidavit of Mandeep Singh Sidhu, IPS, Commissioner of Police, Ludhiana, who is also present in the Court, has been filed which is taken on record. Perusal of the aforesaid compliance report shows that respondents no.6 and 7 were arrested in pursuance of the directions issued by this Court vide order dated 20.02.2023,”.

However, there is an admission in para no.19, that during policy custody, both the contemners had given media bytes to news channel and newspaper reporters in the Court premises at Ludhiana,”.

It is also an admission that there is apparent lapse on the part of the police officials/officers on duty and a departmental inquiry has been initiated against SHO Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana and explanation has been sought from the ACP Crime-1, Ludhiana and ACP West, Ludhiana regarding this aspect.

Quite forthrightly, the Division Bench then deems it apposite to direct commendably in para 5 stating that, “Accordingly, we direct the State of Punjab to file a status report, in the form of personal affidavit of the Director General of Police, Punjab, regarding the departmental proceedings which are being conducted against any such officials and that the same shall be finalized expeditiously,”.

The status report shall also give an explanation as to how such offending videos, which are constantly being posted on social media platforms since the last six months in which derogatory remarks against the constitutional institutions and against a Judge of the Supreme Court and the Judges of this Court are being made on a regular basis, amounts to an offence under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Information and Technology Act, 2000 and other Special Acts or not,”.

The affidavit will also give an explanation as to why any such proceedings were not initiated against the persons who were constantly uploading/posting such videos and why there is dereliction of duties on their behalf in this regard. State shall also give details whether under which other provisions, it has the authority to detain people who indulge in such activities. The needful be done within a period of four weeks from today.”

Do note, the Division Bench then mentions in para 6 that, “As per the report prepared by the Registrar (Computerization) of this Court, the offending material runs into 35 Gigabytes data and is having a play time of 10 to 12 hours.”

Adding more to it, the Division Bench notes in para 11 that, “All the three counsels on behalf of respondent nos.9 to 11 raised the same grievance regarding the reliance placed upon Swami Ramdev and another vs. Facebook, INC and others, 2019(263), Delhi Law Times 689, in the order dated 20.02.2023.”

As we see, the Division Bench then observes in para 12 that, “It is pointed out that the said matter is subject matter of appeal before the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court itself and the only interim relief granted which has been granted is that the contempt proceedings will not be pursued,”.

They accordingly submit that whatsoever compliance has been done, as per the interim relief, should not be treated as a precedent. They submit that they will file necessary affidavit highlighting whatsoever action has been taken, which is now being pointed out to this Court, before the next date of hearing.”

It would be instructive to notice that the Division Bench observes in para 13 that, “It also came to our notice that respondent no.6 had apparently approximately 37000 subscribers on his private channel allegedly called as “Balwinder Sekhon Speaks” which was on Youtube,”.

Respondents no.9 to 11 will file specific affidavit(s) that on account of a large subscriber base of such users, whether any financial benefits accrue to such persons who creates such channel and upload videos and on account of advertisement being posted on such a channel, whether he started earning revenue,”.

Respondent nos.9, 10 and 11, in their affidavit, shall also specify that how much of revenue or earnings, if any, were given to respondent no.6-Balwinder Singh Sekhon by way of monetization and whether any revenue has been generated in the account of said person’s account,”.

The said respondents shall also file affidavit(s) as to whether they received any complaint regarding such uploading/postings by any set of persons including from any State authorities who were aggrieved on the ground that such material, which was being posted was per se offensive,”.

If any such representation was received, whether any action was taken on the same. The said respondents, in their affidavits, shall also give details of the redressal mechanism which has been put in place and how actively it has been responded by the said respondents on the complaints received from the citizens.”

Further, the Division Bench then directs in para 14 that, “While taking reference from Mr. Bali’s suggestions, mobile phones of respondent no.6 and 7, which were seized by the Punjab Police, will be scrutinized by the Punjab Police and identify all the offending material pertaining to Court proceedings.”

What’s more, the Division Bench discloses in para 15 that, “At this stage, Mr. Pardeep Sharma submits that whatever has happened, was an emotional outburst. He, however, was offered an opportunity but he declined to give any unconditional apology.”

Most forthrightly, the Division Bench points out in para 16 that, “The statements of all the three private respondent nos.6, 7 and 8 were recorded separately and apparently and unwittingly, they had indicted each other for which we feel that once we have invoked Article 215 of the Constitution of India read with the fact that the contempt was in the face of the Court under Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (for short “1971 Act”), there is enough judicial precedents that evidence will not have to be led for delaying the matter and for quick dispensation of justice in such like cases to ensure that the message goes home,”.

Reliance can be placed upon observation of a three Judges Bench of the Apex Court in the case of Leila David vs. State of Maharashtra, 2009(10) SCC 337, in which there was reference made on account of a divergent view taken earlier.

Most significantly, the Division Bench minces just no words to indubitably hold the dire need of urgency in para 21 stating that, “Thus mud-slinging by way of open publication and representation of such malicious material being circulated not only at the national but international level, amounts to inciting people at large against the Rule of Law and against one of the basic wing of the democratic set up under the Constitution of India consisting of the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. Thus, it gives us no reason to postpone the proceedings for requiring any trial.”

As a corollary, the Division Bench holds in para 22 that, “Thus, in view of the above, by invoking Article 215 of the Constitution of India, both the respondent nos.6 and 7, namely, Balwinder Singh Sekhon and Pardeep Sharma are held guilty of the charge issued against them vide order dated 20.02.2023 for “Criminal Contempt” as defined under Section 2(c)(i) to (iii) of the 1971 Act, which is in the face of this Court under Section 14 of the 1971 Act and punishable under Section 12 of the 1971 Act.”

Most remarkably, the Division Bench directs in para 23 that, “Keeping in view the fact that contempt was committed, for which respondent nos.6 and 7 have no remorse, both the contemners are convicted and sentenced for a period six months simple imprisonment alongwith fine of Rs.2,000/- each. They shall undergo the aforesaid sentence at Model Jail, Burail, UT, Chandigarh.”

While justifying the strictest punishment, the Division Bench then very rightly points out in para 25 that, “At the time, the sentence was announced, respondent no.6- Balwinder Singh Sekhon raised slogans “Judicial Gundagardi Murdabad” in the open Court and further compounded the contempt and for that, we are not in a position to give a lesser sentence than has been awarded.”

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 26 that, “Detailed order/judgment would follow which will be supplied to the contemners through the Superintendent, Model Jail, Burail, UT, Chandigarh for taking any redressal measures by them.”       

Furthermore, the Division Bench then directs in para 27 that, “Now to come up on 04.05.2023 for filing necessary affidavits, as noticed above, including that of respondent no.8.”

Finally, the Division Bench then concludes aptly by holding in para 28 that, “A copy of this order, duly attested by the Special Secretary attached with this Court, be supplied to both the convicted persons, Advocate General, Punjab and Senior Standing Counsel for UT Chandigarh for compliance.”

In summary, we thus see for ourselves that it is quite discernible that the Punjab and Haryana High Court has certainly taken most seriously the sinister, reprehensible and most calculated attempts to deliberately denigrate the impeccable credentials of the judiciary at national-international level and that too by men in uniform.

It is unquestionable that circulating the malicious material against the judiciary and then inciting people deliberately against the rule of law is definitely most condemnable and those who dare to indulge in it must be punished most strictly.

Of course, this is exactly what we see in this leading case also as discussed hereinabove which definitely deserves to be emulated in similar such cases! No denying it!  

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate

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