While taking a very strong exception to the government servants reprehensible habit of not complying time and again with judicial orders, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in a noteworthy judgment titled NMS Goud v. Punam Malakondaiah & Ors in Contempt Case No. 1248 of 2020 pronounced as recently as on May 6, 2022 has sentenced 3 IAS officers to one month jail for contempt of court while observing that it is incumbent on government servants to ensure that the orders of this Court are complied with promptitude. We have seen of late how even none other than the Apex Court itself voices its sheer anguish over repeated non-compliance with various judicial orders with impunity time and again. To check this open defiance of order of courts, we see that the Andhra Pradesh High Court has resorted to take this extreme step in this leading case. Of course, this is definitely a strong wake up call for all government servants to never take the orders of the court for granted because if they do so then it is none other than they themselves who will bear the maximum brunt in the longer run as we see in this notable case also!
To start with, this leading judgment which has attracted limelight all over and is authored by a single Judge Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court comprising of Justice Battu Devanand sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, "This Contempt Case has been filed seeking to punish the respondents for violation of the orders, dated 22.10.2019 passed in W.P.No.15797 of 2019."
To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, "The petitioner filed W.P.No.15797 of 2019 praying to declare the action of the respondent Nos.2 and 3 in not selecting the petitioner as Village Agriculture Assistant (Grade-II) in pursuance of Notification 1/2019 dated 26.07.2019 as illegal, arbitrary and violative of Articles 14, 16 and 21 of the Constitution of India and further to declare that the petitioner is entitled for selection and appointment and consequently direct the respondent Nos.2 and 4 to select and appoint the petitioner to the post of Village Agriculture Assistant (Grade-II) as per his merit."
In hindsight, the Bench then recalls in para 3 that, "This Court, by order, dated 22.10.2019, directed the respondents to consider the candidature of the petitioner to the post of Village Agriculture Assistant and pass appropriate orders, within a period of two (2) weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order."
Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 4 that, "Complaining the action of the respondents in not implementing the orders of this Court, the petitioner filed this Contempt Case."
As we see, the Bench then mentions in para 5 that, "The respondent Nos.1 to 3 filed their counter-affidavits."
To be sure, the Bench then notes in para 15 that, "Heard learned counsel for the petitioner and the learned counsel appearing for the Respondents."
Be it noted, the Bench then enunciates in para 16 that, "On careful perusal of the submissions made by the respective counsels and upon careful perusal of the material available on record, it is an admitted fact that this Court by order, dated 22.10.2019, directed the Respondents to consider the candidature of the petitioner to the post of Village Agricultural Assistant and pass appropriate orders within a period of two weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of the order. It appears the 1st Respondent vide Memo, dated 27.11.2019 instructed the 2nd Respondent to take immediate further necessary action. Thereafter, the 2nd Respondent did not take action as per the instructions of the 1st Respondent, dated 27.11.2019."
Truth be told, the Bench then remarks in para 17 that, "In the counter-affidavit, the 2nd Respondent is contending that he instructed the Joint Director of Agriculture, Kurnool through phone call to file counter-affidavit in contempt case to avoid legal complications. Though the 2nd Respondent contending that the 3rd Respondent is the competent authority to attend the grievance of the petitioner in pursuance of the orders of the Court, it is not stated anywhere in his counter that subsequent to receipt of the instructions from the 1st Respondent, dated 27.11.2019, he instructed the 3rd Respondent to pass orders in compliance of the order of this Court."
Notably, the Bench then discloses in para 18 that, "The order of this Court received by the 3rd Respondent on 30.11.2019. This contempt case has been filed complaining non-compliance of the order of the Court on 17.11.2020 and this Court ordered notice to the Respondents in contempt case on 20.11.2020. As per the 3rd Respondent, he has considered the case of the petitioner as directed by the Court and passed speaking order on 02.12.2020 rejecting the claim of the petitioner, since he fails to fulfill the qualifications prescribed for the post of Village Agricultural Assistant Grade-II. Therefore, it appears that only after filing of the contempt case on 17.11.2020, the 3rd Respondent issued speaking orders on 02.12.2020 to implement the order, dated 30.11.2019 of this Court."
Objectively speaking, the Bench then after analyzing everything very rightly points out without mincing any words in para 19 that, "After considering the facts mentioned above, it appears that after issuing instructions on 27.09.2019 to the 2nd respondent, no further steps are taken by the 1st respondent to implement the order. The 2nd respondent also did not take any steps or issue any instructions to the 3rd respondent to take steps to implement the order of the Court. The 3rd respondent also issued speaking order only on 02.12.2020 after filing the contempt case (i.e.) beyond the time stipulated by the Court in its order, dated 22.10.2019. As such, in our considered opinion, the Respondents disobeyed the order passed by this Court on 22.10.2019 to implement in true spirit."
Quite conspicuously, the Bench then does not mince any words to also point out further in para 20 that, "The affidavits of the respondents is silent as to why they could not file a petition before this Court seeking extension of time to comply with the Order of this Court. Having chosen not to seek extension, the respondents cannot be heard to contend that despite a direction to comply with the Order within two weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of the order, they are justified in complying with the order at their convenience, without adhering to the time limit imposed by this Court. The Order of this Court has been violated to the extent this Court directed compliance of its order within two weeks."
Quite naturally, the Bench then reveals in para 21 that, "On being asked as to what was the appropriate punishment, the learned counsel for the respondents would submit that, since the delay was unintentional, this Court should refrain from imposing any punishment on a senior Officers of the Government."
Most significantly, the Bench then without mincing any words whatsoever says in simple, straightforward and suave language in para 22 that, "I must express my inability to agree. It is incumbent upon the respondents, more particularly, those who are holding senior position in Government, to ensure that the Orders of this Court are complied with promptitude, and within the time stipulated for its compliance. Any difficulty which they may have in complying with the order of this Court would require them to invoke this Court jurisdiction seeking extension of time to comply with the orders. Admittedly, in the present case, no such efforts were made by the respondents."
Most remarkably, the Bench then has no compunction to hold in para 23 that, "While holding the respondents are guilty of Contempt, and for having violated the orders of the Court to the extent they failed to comply with the order of this Court within the time specified, they are liable for punishment under the Contempt of Court Act."
As a corollary and as anticipated, the Bench then finds no difficulty in holding in para 24 that, "Accordingly, the contempt case is allowed and the contemnors are sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of one (1) month each and to pay fine of Rs.2,000/- (Rupees two thousand only) each in default of payment of fine, they shall undergo simple imprisonment for a period of one (1) week each."
Furthermore, the Bench then hastens to add in para 25 that, "The contemnor Nos.2 and 3, who are present before this Court, requested the Court to suspend the sentence. Considering their request, the sentence is suspended for a period of six (06) weeks."
What’s more, the Bench then clearly directs in para 26 that, "The 1st Contemnor is directed to surrender before the Registrar (Judicial) of this Court on or before 13.05.2022."
Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 27 that, "There shall be no order as to costs. As a sequel, miscellaneous petitions pending, if any, shall stand closed."
On the whole, it is a very brief judgment wherein the single Judge Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court comprising of Justice Battu Devanand has sent out a loud and unequivocal message to all the government servants that they dare not take the judicial orders for granted anymore. If they do as we see in this notable case then they will have to pay a very heavy price for it and spend a month in jail for committing contempt of the court. One fervently hopes that IAS officers as also other government servants will have a cursory look at this learned judgment and take the right lessons from it and always strictly ensure that they don’t end up being on the wrong side of the stick of law as we see most unfortunately in this leading case! It merits just no reiteration that this will in their own best long term interests also! After all, which government servant will ever like to land up in jail? The answer is no one!