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Court Cuts: When The Hindu persuaded Justice JS Khehar to change his mind

SC looks into privilege
SC looks into privilege

The Hindu newspaper yesterday successfully persuaded the Supreme Court bench comprising of justices JS Khehar and Arun Mishra to change its mind in an ongoing litigation over a breach of privilege notice issued to its editor, Mukund Padmanabhan, by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

The Hindu had carried a story written by its Mumbai correspondent, Sharad Vyas, last month that a road contractor had received seven times more work orders while it was in ‘partnership’ with the Maharashtra Women and Child Development Minister, Pankaja Munde, and Dr Palwe, her husband.

On 6 August, Munde moved a breach of privilege motion against The Hindu in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for its report on her “close partnership” with a road contracator. She criticized the 3 August report claiming it was part of a larger conspiracy to tarnish her image. Congress MLA, Vadvettiwar had named the Minister, based on The Hindu story. She, however, claimed innocence.

The breach of privilege notice was subsequently sent to The Hindu editor Mukund Padmanabhan. Yesterday, Padmanabhan’s writ petition seeking an ex-parte stay on the notice, was argued by senior advocate, KV Viswanathan before the bench, when Justice Khehar, from the beginning, appeared reluctant to entertain it.

“Why can’t you go to high court first? Why rush here?” Justice Khehar asked.

When Viswanathan said the petition was under Article 32 of the Constitution and that the Supreme Court in several such cases had entertained similar petitions, Justice Khehar quipped: “Don’t blame us for anything wrong , but credit us if it turned out to be right.”

Khehar then added: “We didn’t say it was not maintainable under Article 32; We only said you could have gone to the high court first.”

However, Justice Khehar changed his mind, and then said “issue notice”.

With the first hurdle crossed, Viswanathan, went for the next prayer, which appeared equally impossible for the bench to grant.

Viswanathan first began to say that the assembly has fixed a deadline for an explanation to be submitted for the notice sent to the newspaper. Justice Khehar said, “Tender an explanation. We will have the opportunity to read your answer, before hearing you.”

Then came the disclosure from Viswanathan: The assembly’s notice had set 16 September as the deadline for the editor’s reply, but the reply was not sent because of the pending writ petition to be heard yesterday.

Viswanathan, therefore, sought liberty to respond to the notice after the deadline.

This made Justice Khehar furious, chastising: “You should have replied. Writ is not an excuse. Are we a super body? You should have sent the reply without prejudice to the writ proceedings. You could have said the assembly has no jurisdiction or that you are innocent. Assembly is also a constitutional institution. You didn’t file a reply because you think you are too big. Not to reply to the notice within the time only shows your arrogance.”

Viswanathan then said, the reply would be sent Tuesday, 20 September. But he still urged the bench to add a line saying liberty granted to file a reply.

Justice Khehar continued​: “You put us in the corner. Why should you behave like this as if SC is the end of the world?”

Seeing Viswanathan still persisting, after all the haranguing , Justice Khehar then dictated the order, balancing his stern look with a broad smile at the counsel: “Liberty to the petitioner to file reply to the notice appended to the petition as Annexure P-8 dated 31st August 2016 by tomorrow, namely, 20th September, 2016.”

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