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Court Cuts: When The Hindu (after the mother of tirades from the judges) persuaded them to change their mind (a second time)

The Hindu newspaper yesterday successfully persuaded the SC to change its mind for the second time in the same case.

The matter before the bench of justices JS Khehar and Arun Mishra was The Hindu’s challenge to the breach of privilege notice issued to its editor, Mukund Padmanabhan, by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

The bench, rather furiously, had almost made up its mind to dismiss The Hindu’s writ petition, which came up as item 51.

The reason for the bench’s anger was that The Hindu’s senior counsel, KV Viswanathan, could not satisfy the bench why he did not submit a copy of The Hindu’s response to the assembly’s notice to the SC registry, soon after it was sent to the assembly.

We had reported how The Hindu succeeded in persuading Justice Khehar to change his mind on 19 September, when the matter came up for hearing first.

Today, it was a repeat of the same story, except that the bench picked another lapse which could not have been anticipated by The Hindu’s lawyer.

It all began with Viswanathan pointing to the bench that the SC’s Office Report on the case wrongly stated that The Hindu did not respond to the assembly’s notice.

To this, Justice Khehar pointed out that it is because he did not inform the registry about the response, with a copy.

Viswanathan, who took this lightly, told the bench that the response was sent on 20 September itself, and had been acknowledged by the assembly.

Justice Khehar first let it go, even though his objection was not on whether the response was sent on 20 September itself to the assembly, but why its copy was not submitted to the SC registry in time.

Then came the turn of the counsel for the Maharashtra legislative assembly, Nishant Ramakantrao Katneshwarkar, who told the bench that the petition had wrongly named the chairman, Mahrashtra Legislature Secretariat, as the respondent. It should have been the Parliamentary Affairs Department, he pointed out.

Viswanathan immediately said he had no objection to the correction.

Then it occurred to Justice Khehar that it was not just this, which made the petition defective.

He told the counsel: “Your petition is totally defective. How could it be the Principal Secretary? How is he concerned? You have to bring in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, through its Secretary.”

When Viswanathan agreed to this correction too, the bench went hammer and tongs at his failure to submit a copy of the response to the assembly’s notice, even 13 days after the last hearing.

“Why didn’t you place it on record? You take everything casually. First, your coming here was improper. [that the high court should have been approached first]. Then, you were disrespectful to the legislature. [by not responding to its notice within the deadline]. Then, you started disrespecting us. [by not submitting a copy of your response to the assembly’s notice] You will get nothing from us. We will dismiss it. We can throw you out in quarter of a second. There was no semblance of respect to them. You have done the same to us. We can dismiss it; not that we shall.”

To this Justice Arun Mishra added: “Your petition is not maintainable.”

Justice Khehar supplemented: “Otherwise, you don’t learn.”

Rattled by this continuous tirade, Viswanathan submitted that he would place the affidavit on record by 4 pm. He explained to the bench that how he was almost on daily wages, and could not hold the required conference with his client, on this case.

Justice Khehar retorted: “You didn’t even have a conference yet. You must have told them, ‘Don’t worry.’ You have taken us for granted. It is painful. We will dismiss this. You make a fresh petition later”.

When Viswanathan said he was making a personal request not to dismiss it, the judges, after a brief discussion among themselves, relented and asked the counsel for the assembly to file its response within four weeks.

As Viswanathan was leaving, Justice Khehar told him with a big smile on his face: “Next time, you better stand on the left side. We will penalise you straight away if you stand on the other side.”

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