Contempt Action Can Be Taken Only In Respect Of Established Wilful Disobedience Of Court Order, Reiterates Supreme Court

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Case: Abhishek Kumar Singh vs. G. Pattanaik

Coram: Justices AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai

Case No: [Contempt Petition (Civil) 625­-626 OF 2019]

Court Observation: “In exercising contempt jurisdiction, the primary concern must be whether the acts of commission or omission can be said to be contumacious conduct of the party who is alleged to have committed default in complying with the directions given in the judgment and order of the Court”

“Arguendo, the interpretation as propagated by the petitioners of the stated orders dated 28.11.2017 passed by the High Court and 16.3.2018 of this Court, is a possible view. Being another possible view, the benefit must then be given to the respondents. For, it would certainly not be a case of wilful disobedience”

“It is well settled that contempt action ought to proceed only in respect of established willful disobedience of the order of the Court. This Court in paragraph 12 of the decision in Ram Kishanobserved thus: ­ “12. Thus, in order to punish a contemnor, it has to be established that disobedience of the order is “willful”. The word “wilful” introduces a mental element and hence, requires looking into the mind of a person/contemnor by gauging his actions, which is an indication of one’s state of mind. “Wilful” means knowingly intentional, conscious, calculated, and deliberate with full knowledge of consequences flowing therefrom. It excludes casual, accidental, bona fide, or unintentional acts or genuine inability. Wilful acts do not encompass involuntarily or perversely”.

The willful act is to be distinguished from an act done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly, or inadvertently. It does not include any act done negligently or involuntarily. The deliberate conduct of a person means that he knows what he is doing and intends to do the same. Therefore, there has to be a calculated action with an evil motive on his part. Even if there is disobedience of an order, but such disobedience is the result of some compelling circumstances under which it was not possible for the contemnor to comply with the order, the contemnor cannot be punished. “Committal or sequestration will not be ordered unless contempt involves a degree of default or misconduct.”


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