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Contempt of Court for Wilful Disobedience of its orders

Every Citizen of our country is bound by the orders of the Hon'ble Courts and no one, howsoever powerful, dare disobey the binding and final orders of the Court else he has to face the ire of the Court. No authority can afford to wilfully disobey the orders of the Court for the fear of being prosecuted under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

It is relevant to refer to a recent Judgment of Telangana High Court in Contempt Case No.298 of 2020. The brief facts of the case are a Contempt Case was filed by the petitioners to punish the respondents for wilful disobedience of the order dated 12.10.2018 in I.A.No.1 of 2018 in Writ Petition No.37623 of 2018 passed by the High Court under Sections 10 to 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

The Telangana High Court in the said case of Ummenthala Mutha Reddy And Others v. D. Krishna Bhaskar And Others held the District Collector & Joint Collector and Administrator, (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) and Land Acquisition Officer cum Revenue Divisional Officer of the Rajanna Sircilla District guilty of contempt of court for wilful disobedience of its order and sentenced them to undergo simple imprisonment for three months and to pay fine of Rs.2,000/- besides payment of costs of Rs.10,000/- to each of the petitioners. This landmark Judgment rules that every administrative officer, however big & powerful, is under bounden duty to follow the dictum of the Court unreservedly. Not following the binding order of the Court tantamount to Contempt of the Honorable Court and have to face the ire of the Court.

The Petitioners were small farmers of agricultural lands in Anantagiri village whose lands were acquired for construction of Anantagiri Reservoir under the Right to Fair Compensation, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The Petitioners filed a Writ Petition in October, 2018 contending inter-alia that the acquisition is bad in law for a number of reasons and assailed the acquisition on ground of insufficiency of Compensation and for lack of following the due procedure for acquisition & granting benefits as per the said Act.

It is relevant that vide order dated 12.10.2018 in I.A. No. 1 of 2018 the High Court had ordered that the petitioners shall not be dispossessed until relief and rehabilitation benefits have been paid to them under Section 31 & 38 of Act 30 of 2013. However, in blatant violation to the said restraint orders, the possession of the impugned lands were taken over & works carried out by the Respondent nos. 1 to 3 in-spite of the fact that the aforesaid interim order was communicated by petitioners to the 3 respondent and it was requested not to further damage crops and lands as per the binding orders of the High Court.

The Court was irked when the Petitioners informed the Court that on objections by the Petitioners' to such wilful disobedience of a judicial order, they were threatened by the police employed by the Respondents.

The Court after detailed examination of facts and the uncontroverted averments in the affidavits held all 3 Respondents guilty of wilful disobedience of the orders of the High Court and held thus:

49. In this view of the matter, the Contempt Case is allowed; the respondents 1 to 3 are sentenced to simple imprisonment for three (3) months and fine of Rs. 2,000/-. They shall also pay costs of Rs. 10,000/- to each of the petitioners within four (4) weeks.

50. The petitioners shall deposit subsistence allowance at Rs. 200/- per day for each of the respondents within six (6) weeks. The sentence of imprisonment imposed on the respondents is suspended for six (6) weeks.

51. An adverse entry shall be recorded in the service records of respondents as regards their willful disobedience of the orders dt.12.10.2018 passed by this Court in I.A. No. 1 of 2018 in W.P. No. 37623 of 2018.

It is relevant that Article 129 and 215 of the Indian Constitution provides that the Supreme Court of India and High Courts respectively shall be a Court of Record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, divides contempt into civil and criminal. In addition to these courts, certain administrative tribunals also have been given the power to punish for contempt, in their governing statutes.

Civil contempt, defined in Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, is wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court. Criminal contempt, defined in Section 2(c), is committed when anything is published, or done, which scandalises, or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding, or interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

The offence of criminal contempt has been held to cover false statements made to or about the judiciary, coercion and attempts to pervert judicial proceedings by attacking witnesses, parties, or judges, recording court proceedings without permission from the court, obstructing officers of the court from performing their functions, as well as verbal abuse and accusations of incompetence or bias against judges.


Both civil and criminal contempt share the same punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act 1971. The Act allows for a maximum term of imprisonment for six months, and this can be supplemented with a fine of up to Rs.2000. The Contempt of Courts Act 1971 also specifically allows courts to forgo the punishment if an apology is made to the court, and may use their discretion to determine whether the apology has been sufficient.

It is relevant that Only & Only Wilful & Deliberate Disobedience to Court's Order amounts to Contempt of the Court. The Supreme Court has recently in the case of Rama Narang vs Ramesh Narang & others 2021SCC OnLine SC 29, decided on 19-01-2021 has univocally held that before punishing a person for non-compliance of the decision of the Court, the Court must not only be satisfied about the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, writ or other process but should also be satisfied that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.

It would be trite to quote the relevant paragraphs of the said judgment of the Apex Court which reads as under:

73. Apart from that, for bringing an action for civil contempt, the petitioner has to satisfy the court that there has been a wilful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of the Court. It will be relevant to refer to paragraph (9) of the judgment of this Court in Niaz Mohammad and Others v. State of Haryana and Others (1994) 6 SCC 332

“9. Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) defines “civil contempt” to mean “wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court …”. Where the contempt consists in failure to comply with or carry out an order of a court made in favour of a party, it is a civil contempt.

The person or persons in whose favour such order or direction has been made can move the court for initiating proceeding for contempt against the alleged contemner, with a view to enforce the right flowing from the order or direction in question. But such a proceeding is not like an execution proceeding under Code of Civil Procedure. The party in whose favour an order has been passed, is entitled to the benefit of such order.

The court while considering the issue as to whether the alleged contemner should be punished for not having complied with and carried out the direction of the court, has to take into consideration all facts and circumstances of a particular case. That is why the framers of the Act while defining civil contempt, have said that it must be wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court. Before a contemner is punished for non-compliance of the direction of a court, the court must not only be satisfied about the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction or writ but should also be satisfied that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.

The civil court while executing a decree against the judgment-debtor is not concerned and bothered whether the disobedience to any judgment, or decree, was wilful. Once a decree has been passed it is the duty of the court to execute the decree whatever may be consequence thereof. But while examining the grievance of the person who has invoked the jurisdiction of the court to initiate the proceeding for contempt for disobedience of its order, before any such contemner is held guilty and punished, the court has to record a finding that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.

If from the circumstances of a particular case, brought to the notice of the court, the court is satisfied that although there has been a disobedience but such disobedience is the result of some compelling circumstances under which it was not possible for the contemner to comply with the order, the court may not punish the alleged contemner.”

It can thus be seen, that this Court has held, that the contempt proceeding is not like an execution proceeding under the Code of Civil Procedure. It has been held, that though the parties in whose favour, an order has been passed, is entitled to the benefits of such order, but the Court while considering the issue as to whether the alleged contemnor should be punished for not having complied with and carried out the directions of the Court, has to take into consideration all facts and circumstances of a particular case.

It has been held, that is why the framers of the Act while defining civil contempt, have said that it must be wilful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of the Court. It has been held, that before punishing the contemnor for non-compliance of the decision of the Court, the Court must not only be satisfied about the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, writ or other process but should also be satisfied that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.

Though, the civil court while executing a decree against the judgment-debtor is not concerned and bothered as to whether the disobedience to any judgment or decree was wilful and once the decree had been passed, it was the duty of the court to execute the decree, whatever may be the consequences thereof. In a contempt proceeding before a contemnor is held guilty and punished, the Court has to record a finding, that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.

It has been held, that if from the circumstances of a particular case, though the Court is satisfied that there has been a disobedience but such disobedience is the result of some compelling circumstances, under which it is not possible for the contemnor to comply with the same, the Court may not punish the alleged contemnor.

74. It will also be apposite to refer to the following observations of this Court in Kanwar Singh Saini v. High Court of Delhi (2012) 4 SCC 307 taking a similar view:-
“30. In an appropriate case where exceptional circumstances exist, the court may also resort to the provisions applicable in case of civil contempt, in case of violation/breach of undertaking/judgment/order or decree.

However, before passing any final order on such application, the court must satisfy itself that there is violation of such judgment, decree, direction or order and such disobedience is wilful and intentional. Though in a case of execution of a decree, the executing court may not be bothered whether the disobedience of the decree is wilful or not and the court is bound to execute a decree whatever may be the consequence thereof.

In a contempt proceeding, the alleged contemnor may satisfy the court that disobedience has been under some compelling circumstances, and in that situation, no punishment can be awarded to him. [See Niaz Mohammad v. State of Haryana [(1994) 6 SCC 332], Bank of Baroda v. Sadruddin Hasan Daya [(2004) 1 SCC 360: AIR 2004 SC 942] and Rama Narang v. Ramesh Narang [(2006) 11 SCC 114: AIR 2006 SC 1883].] Thus, for violation of a judgment or decree provisions of the criminal contempt are not attracted.”


75. It will also be appropriate to refer to the further observations made by this Court in para (38) of the said judgment:-

“38. The contempt proceedings being quasi-criminal in nature, the standard of proof required is in the same manner as in other criminal cases. The alleged contemnor is entitled to the protection of all safeguards/rights which are provided in the criminal jurisprudence, including the benefit of doubt. There must be a clear-cut case of obstruction of administration of justice by a party intentionally to bring the matter within the ambit of the said provision.

The case should not rest only on surmises and conjectures. In Debabrata Bandhopadhyaya v. State of W.B. [AIR 1969 SC 189 : 1969 Cri LJ 401] , this Court observed as under: (AIR p.193, para 9) “9. A question whether there is contempt of court or not is a serious one. The court is both the accuser as well as the judge of the accusation. It behoves the court to act with as great circumspection as possible making all allowances for errors of judgment and difficulties arising from inveterate practices in courts and tribunals.

It is only when a clear case of contumacious conduct not explainable otherwise, arises that the contemnor must be punished. … Punishment under the law of contempt is called for when the lapse is deliberate and in disregard of one's duty and in defiance of authority. To take action in an unclear case is to make the law of contempt do duty for other measures and is not to be encouraged.(emphasis added)

This Court has observed, that the contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and the standard of proof required is in the same manner as in the other criminal cases. The alleged contemnor is entitled to the protection of all safeguards/rights which are provided in the criminal jurisprudence, including the benefit of doubt.

There must be a clear-cut case of obstruction of administration of justice by a party intentionally, to bring the matter within the ambit of the said provision. The Court has also referred to the observations made by this Court in the case of Debabrata Bandopadbyay and Others v. State of West Bengal and Another AIR 1969 SC 189 wherein it was observed, that punishment under the law of contempt is called for when the lapse is deliberate and in disregard of one’s duty and in defiance of authority.

There is a common misconception in the Government functionaries that they can ignore the judgment as they do not find the same acceptable to them or that the judgment loses its binding nature once it has been appealed against and the matter is sub-judice and need not be followed. It would be trite to refer to the Apex Court Judgment in Union of India And Others vs Kamlakshi Finance Corporation AIR 1992 SC 711, which categorically dealt with such a situation & held as under:
The High Court has, in our view, rightly criticised this conduct of the Assistant Collectors and the harassment to the assessee caused by the failure of these officers to give effect to the orders of authorities higher to them in the appellate heirarchy.... The principles of judicial discipline require that the orders of the higher appellate authorities should be followed unreservedly by the subordinate authorities.

The mere fact that the order of the appellate authority is not acceptable to the department - in itself an objectionable phrase - and is the subject matter of an appeal can furnish no ground for not following it unless its operation has been suspended by a competent court. If this healthy rule is not followed, the result will only be undue harassment to assessees and chaos in administration of tax laws.

It is imperative for all subordinate courts or officials to abide by the orders of the higher courts else they may be prosecuted under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 to their detriment.

Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Ph no: 8279945021, Email: [email protected]

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