January,22,2016: Assuring writer Arundhati Roy that “we are there with you”, the Supreme Court on Friday asked her to go ahead and appear before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, which issued notice to the Booker Prize winner on December 23 last year for an article expressing her anguish on the extended incarceration of Delhi University professor and paraplegic G.N. Saibaba for his alleged links with Maoists.
A Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan issued notice to Registrar, Bombay High Court, and Maharashtra government on the plea made by Ms. Roy to quash criminal contempt proceedings initiated against her for the article.
The court also issued notice to Maharashtra government on the separate bail application filed by Prof. Saibaba.
In both cases, the notice is returnable in two weeks.
Admitting both pleas, the Bench however did not agree with senior advocate C.U. Singh’s plea to exempt the writer from personal appearance in the court on Monday. Justice Khehar responded: “Why should she have any fear of going to court on Monday? We are there, we have appreciated the arguments made by you, we have thought about it carefully… Go appear in court.”
In criminal contempt proceedings, the person who has been issued notice to by a court of law has to make a personal appearance unless the person is expressly exempted by a judicial order.
Mr. Singh arguing for Ms. Roy said the Judge took upon himself the task of issuing contempt notice against her on the intervention of some intervenor lawyers in a PIL filed on the poor health status of Prof. Saibaba.
Mr. Singh argued that as per procedure any application for contempt of court should be referred to the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned to decide prima facie whether there is any cause of action. But this was not done in this case and the HC judge proceded on his own, at one point even making to exhort the government and police machinery to respond to the article.
Mr. Singh urged the court that passions have whipped up against the author and effigies have been burnt. He pressed the court to at least do away with her personal appearance on Monday considering the situation.
“She should not have any fear of going to court…. What is the big deal? Go,” Justice Khehar said.
Appearing for Prof Saibaba, senior advocate H.S Cheema said his client, lodged in the notorious Anda Cell in Nagpur Central Jail, was in a “precarious state of health and is now only able to crawl.” Mr. Cheema said the Single Judge was “so subjective that he ordered him to surrender in 48 hours flat.”
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