Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Thursday recused himself from hearing a batch of pleas seeking contempt action against stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra for his alleged scandalous tweets against the judiciary.
‘Comments on order I have passed’: CJI
A bench headed by the CJI took up the petitions and said, “We will place this matter before a bench to which I (CJI) am not a part of because the comments (tweets) were made on the order, which I have passed.”
The bench also comprising Justice PS Narasimha then listed the matter after two weeks and the CJI, in his administrative capacity will now assign the case to another bench.
Kamra had started publishing the tweets on November 11, 2020, when the top court was hearing an appeal of Arnab Goswami against the Bombay High Court’s order rejecting the journalist’s plea for interim bail in a 2018 abetment-to-suicide case.
The order granting interim bail to Goswami was passed by a bench headed by Justice Chandrachud.
India would be reduced to “country of incarcerated artists”: Kamra in his affidavit
On January 29, 2021, Kamra in his affidavit had defended his tweets against judiciary, saying India would be reduced to a “country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs” if powerful people and institutions show inability to “tolerate rebuke or criticism”.
Kamra, facing contempt proceedings, also said there was a growing culture of intolerance where taking offence is seen as a fundamental right and has been elevated to the status of a “much loved national indoor sport”.
“We are witnessing an assault on the freedom of speech and expression, with comedians like Munawar Farooqi being jailed for jokes that they have not made, and school students being interrogated for sedition. At such a time, I hope that this court will demonstrate that the freedom of speech and expression is of cardinal constitutional value, and recognise that the possibility of being offended is a necessary incident to the exercise of this right,” Kamra said.
He had said “irreverence and hyperbole” are essential tools for the comedic enterprise and a comic raises questions on issues of public interest in his own unique way.
“We would be reduced to a country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs” if powerful people and institutions continue to show an inability to tolerate rebuke or criticism, he had said.
Show cause notice issued in 2020 after consent from Attorney General
On December 18, 2020, the top court issued show-cause notice to Kamra for his tweets against the apex court and exempted him from personal appearances.
Then Attorney General K K Venugopal had granted consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against Kamra, saying the comedian’s tweets were in “bad taste” and it was time that people understood that attacking the apex court brazenly would attract punishment.
The consent of either the attorney general or the solicitor general is necessary under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act for initiating contempt proceedings against a person.
Criminal contempt of the Supreme Court is punishable with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.
Four petitions seeking contempt action against Kamra were filed including one by law student Shrirang Katneshwarkar and others.