top of page

Contempt action ought to proceed only in respect of established willful disobedience: SC


Abhishek Kumar Singh v. G. Pattanaik & Ors.

CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 11017­11018 OF 2018

Decided on June 03, 2021.

The two-judge bench comprising Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice B.R. Gavai decided the present case. The contempt petition filed by the petitioner was disposed of by the Supreme Court. The Court passed the order that show cause notices issued in the respective contempt petitions stand discharged, terminating the services of the petitioner.

The respondent nullified the process by which the petitioner was recruited, thus terminating the services of the petitioner. It was challenged before the High Court, where it was declared that the petitioners be permitted to work and be paid regular monthly salary but the respondent failed to comply with the order, which led to the petitioner filing a contempt petition before the High Court and the respondent filing a special leave petition. The latter was disposed of by the High Court and the respondent signed an undertaking to the High Court in contempt petition that the judgment will be complied.

However, the respondent filed a review petition which was also disposed of by the High Court. The respondent did not comply with the undertaking, the High Court directed that upon failure to file compliance affidavit before next date of hearing, the presence of the respondents would be required for framing of charges of contempt. The respondent finally hired the petitioner back but without any continuity of service and arrears, which led to the petitioner filing another contempt petition, where the court found the respondent prima facie guilty. The respondent filed a special leave petition, where it was said that the contempt petition can not be continued before this Court. Aggrieved by the decision, the petitioner filed the appeal before the Supreme Court.

Before the Supreme Court, the petitioners argued that the order of the High Court was crucial to establishing a formal reinstatement order, plus continuity in service and pay arrears for the relevant period and it was not to be interpreted anyother way

On the other hand, the respondent asserted that arrears could not be claimed as a matter of right upon reinstatement unless expressly approved by the Court. Furthermore, the petitioners can no longer claim arrears because it would be one of claiming a fresh relief and would be beyond the scope of contempt proceedings, even when relying on the Director of Education, Uttaranchal & Ors decision. v. Ved Prakash Joshi & Ors. The petitioners, it is argued, accepted the terms of re-engagement without any hesitation and therefore could not claim back wages.

The Supreme Court stated that, “After cogitating over the orders passed by the High Court and this Court referred to above, it becomes amply clear that the High Court had quashed and set aside the first termination order dated 11.8.2017 solely on the ground that it was passed in violation of principles of natural justice and further observed that the selection as a whole was not liable to be cancelled without undertaking an exercise to separate the tainted candidates from the untainted. While so observing, it was made clear that the respondents were free to pass a fresh, reasoned order in accordance with law.” (Para 59)

The Court further observed that, “In light of the aforesaid discussion, we have no hesitation in accepting the explanation offered by the respondents that going by the text of the orders passed by the High Court and this Court, it was open to the respondents to issue order (dated 4.12.2018) to re engage the petitioners on the same posts from the date of order and to pay them regular salary month by month thereafter or as and when it would accrue to them. The orders passed by the High Court and this Court, as aforementioned, do not contain explicit direction to reinstate the petitioners with continuity of service and back wages as such. Instead, the expression used is only “to permit the petitioners to work on the posts'' which were held by them at the time of their termination and “to pay them regular salary month by month” and “as and when the same accrues to them”. Thus understood, it is not a case of wilful disobedience of the orders of the Court.” (Para 60).

The Court further said that, “Reliance placed on Deepali Gundu Surwase by the petitioners is inappropriate. It was a case of wrongful termination and entitled the petitioner therein relief of back wages. The respondents have instead relied upon the exposition in P. Karupaiah (Dead) through Legal Representatives v. General Manager, Thruuvalluvar Transport Corporation Limited and J.K. Synthetics Ltd. which has restated the legal position regarding back wages. It has been held that it is not an automatic or natural consequence of reinstatement. Suffice it to mention that for reasons already recorded hitherto including that the limited direction given by the High Court and not disturbed by this Court was to permit the petitioners to work on the concerned posts and to pay them regular salary as and when the same accrues to them, the plea under consideration needs to be recorded only to be rejected.” (Para 63).

- Utkarsh Kumar Jayaswal



bottom of page