Sunday, 4 December 2016

Whether proceeding for contempt of court is maintainable if no time limit is fixed for compliance of order?

In our opinion, if no time limit is fixed for compliance of the order, action for contempt of court in such a case is not maintainable in law. In the present case, no time limit is fixed for compliance of the order, whose disobedience is complained of herein. Hence, the petition is not maintainable in law and is accordingly dismissed.
IN THE HIGH COURT OF KARNATAKA AT BENGALURU
CCC No. 925/2016 (Civil)
Decided On: 25.10.2016
 N. Rajanna
Vs.
Rajaneesh Goel and Ors.
Hon'ble Judges/Coram:H.G. Ramesh and K.N. Phaneendra, JJ.
Citation : 2016 SCC Online KAR 6469


1. If no time limit is fixed for compliance of the order, whether action for contempt of court is maintainable in law? This is the short question for consideration in this case. The question is answered in the negative.
2. The case of the complainant is that the order dated 11.01.2016 made in W.P. No. 22179/2014 is disobeyed. Hence, he has sought for initiating action against the accused for contempt of court. Operative portion of the order, whose disobedience is complained of herein, reads as follows:
"Accordingly, we pass the following order:
(i)....................................................................................................
(ii) Respondent No. 1 is directed to consider the request of the petitioner for regularization of his services against the sanctioned post.
If the post in which the petitioner is working as Assistant Master is already sanctioned, his services shall be regularized against the said post.
In case if the post in which the petitioner is working is not sanctioned as on this date, his request for regularization shall be considered against any of the sanctioned post relating to the Assistant Master in any of the Government Sports Schools, if such posts are available and if petitioner is otherwise qualified.
Writ Petition is allowed accordingly."
3. We have heard learned counsel for the complainant and perused the record. As could be seen from the order extracted above, no time is fixed for compliance of the order. A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Union of India v. M/s. Oswal Woollen Mills Ltd. [MANU/SC/0140/1984 : AIR 1984 SC 1264] has held that, if no time limit is fixed for compliance, action for contempt of court is not tenable. It is relevant to refer to the following observations made therein:
"7. In regard to the rule for contempt of court, we find it difficult to sustain the same. Though ordinarily we would have left the matter to be decided by the High Court, we think it unnecessary to do so in the present case having regard to the elaborate arguments addressed to us by both parties. The complaint of the writ petitioners in seeking the rule for contempt of Court was that the authorities had not dealt with their applications for licences, etc. despite the 'abeyance' order having been stayed. It is obvious that the stay of the operation of the 'abeyance' order merely meant that the writ petitioners were entitled to have their applications disposed of by the concerned authorities. The High Court not having set any limit of time for the disposal of the applications, it was not for the writ petitioners to impose a time limit and demand that their applications should be disposed of forthwith. If the writ petitioners were aggrieved by the failure of the authorities to dispose of their applications expeditiously, it was open to them to seek a further direction from the court fixing a limit of time within which the applications were to be disposed of. We fail to see how the Chief Controller of Imports & Exports or the Deputy Chief Controller of Imports & Exports could be said to have committed any contempt of Court, even prima facie, by their mere failure to take action in the matter of the disposal of the applications of the writ petitioners. In the circumstances, we perceive the application to commit the authorities for contempt of Court to be a device to exact licences from them."
(Underlining supplied)
A Division Bench of this Court in K.S. Narayan v. Air India Corporation [MANU/KA/0026/2002 : 2002(2) Kar. L.J. 167], by referring to the aforesaid decision of the Supreme Court, has observed as follows:
"11. As we have held that when there is no 'direction' or 'writ', the question of wilful disobedience does not arise. Even assuming that there is a direction to consider the applications to be filed by the complainants, failure to do so will not entitle the complainants to file a petition complaining contempt, as no time-limit is fixed for such consideration. In Union of India and Others v. M/s. Oswal Woollen Mills Limited and Others, the Supreme Court held that where no limit of time is fixed by the High Court for consideration and disposal of the applications and the authority does not consider the matter, the remedy is not under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 but to file an application for fixing a limit of time for disposal of the applications. The Supreme Court held that where time is not fixed for taking action, failure to take action in the matter is not contempt. In this case, learned Single Judge did not fix any limit of time. In fact, he could not do so as there was no application in regard to which he could fix such time. When no time is fixed, appropriate course is to give an application and if such application is not considered, file a fresh writ petition."
(Underlining supplied)
4. Learned counsel for the complainant submitted that provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 are not referred to in the aforesaid two decisions, and hence, no law is laid down in the said decisions. The submission, in our opinion, is without substance.
5. A Division Bench of this Court in New Hope Granites v. Lokanath [MANU/KA/0075/1994 : 1995(1) Kar. L.J. 56] has stated that, where no time limit is fixed for compliance, a period of one month would be the time for compliance. A Division Bench of the Orissa High Court in Sri Binayak Swain v. Bijaya Kumar Pattanik [MANU/OR/0041/2005 : 99(2005) CLT 587] has stated that, in the absence of any time limit, a period of ninety days would be the time for compliance. These two decisions referred to by the learned Counsel for the complainant were rendered without noticing the decision of the Supreme Court in Oswal Woollen Mills Ltd. [MANU/SC/0140/1984 : AIR 1984 SC 1264]. Hence, they are per incuriam to the extent they are contrary to the observations made by the Supreme Court in Oswal's case.
6. In our opinion, if no time limit is fixed for compliance of the order, action for contempt of court in such a case is not maintainable in law. In the present case, no time limit is fixed for compliance of the order, whose disobedience is complained of herein. Hence, the petition is not maintainable in law and is accordingly dismissed.
CCC dismissed.
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