The Supreme Court on Friday set aside contempt of court proceedings initiated by the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2012 against Haryana IAS officer TC Gupta.
The high court in its order of July 2012 had held former director-general, town and country planning department, TC Gupta, guilty of commission of contempt in respect of a high court order passed in August 2011. The IAS officer had filed an appeal in the apex court against the HC order.
A petition was filed in Punjab and Haryana high court in 2011 regarding the publishing of final development plan 2025-AD for Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex. It was contended that sectors 63-A and 67-A have been carved out contrary to the zoning regulations.
Later a civil miscellaneous application was also filed for stay of the implementation of the final development plan in view of contemplated grant of licences to the colonisers/societies. The HC on August 18, 2011, while fixing a date for the notice ordered that there will be a status quo as to the allotment.
While the matter was so situated, TC Gupta, who was then serving as the director general, town and country planning granted a licence for setting up of a residential plotted colony on about 100 acre land in Sector 63-A, Gurgaon. This grant of licence led to the institution of contempt proceedings. The action was initiated on the basis that the grant of the licence was in violation with the HC orders.
Gupta in his response to the contempt proceedings said that no allotment was made by any authority so as to constitute violation of the HC order.
He said in every residential sector a maximum 20% of the net planned area was earmarked for group housing and 3.5% for commercial purposes, whereas for plotted residential colonies there was no restriction except the requirement of a minimum area of 100 acre.
It was also stated that though not specifically prohibited by HC order of August 18, 2011, no licence has been granted or contemplated for group housing colony/commercial colony.
Licences for plotted colonies stood on a different footing in as much as for grant of such licences no ceiling limit exists. After offering the explanation, he also tendered an unqualified and unconditional apology to the court.
What HC ruled
The HC in July 2012 said its orders of August 18, 2011, were to be understood to have imposed a comprehensive embargo on issuance of all kinds of licences and therefore the grant of December, 2011, licence for a plotted colony amounted to violation of its orders. Accordingly, the HC held DG, TCP guilty of commission of contempt and sought his personal appearance for hearing on the quantum of punishment.
Apex court sets aside HC order
Setting aside the HC order, a division bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and justice Ranjan Gogoi on October 25 said the apex court is unable to sustain the HC order of July, 2012.
The SC said: “The interim HC order directed status quo to be maintained in respect of allotments.
Admittedly, no allotments have been made. A contempt action being in the nature of quasi-criminal proceeding, the degree of satisfaction that must be reached by the court to hold a person guilty of commission of contempt would be akin to what is required to prove a criminal charge, namely, proof beyond reasonable doubt. The order of the court in respect of which violation is alleged must, therefore, be clear, unambiguous and unequivocal and defiance thereof must be apparent on the very face of the action with which a contemnor is charged.”
The apex court further said that an interpretation of the terms of court’s order in respect of which disobedience is alleged would not be appropriate while dealing with a charge of contempt. Such a charge cannot be brought home by unravelling the true meaning of the court’s order by a subsequent order when there is an apparent ambiguity, lack of clarity or dichotomy in the initial order.
“In a situation like the present, where the high court had directed maintenance of status quo as to allotment when the interim prayer was to stay the implementation of the final development plan in view of contemplated grant of licences to the colonisers/developers/societies it was not open for HC to hold the contemnor guilty of commission of contempt by understanding the order of August 18, 2011, to mean status quo or a restraint in respect of grant of licences.”