Not every act contrary to court orders is a contempt, rules Bombay High Court

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court recently said that every act of a litigant or authority, which is contrary to a court’s order, would not amount to contempt of the court. The HC said there must be an intention for defying the court orders.

A bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrjog and Justice Nitin Jamdar made the observation while refusing to hold the Education Department of the Maharashtra government guilty of contempt of court. “Every act seemingly contrary to the orders passed by the court is not contempt. A mere breach of the court’s order cannot ipso facto constitute civil contempt. Such a breach must be wilful, deliberate and intentional,” CJ Nandrajog said in his orders.

“To exercise its powers to punish a contemnor, the court has to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the contemnor has deliberately and intentionally violated the court order. An action taken under contempt jurisdiction is primarily targeted at punishing the offender and not for granting substantive relief to the opponent,” CJ Nandrajog added.

The bench was seized with a bunch of petitions filed by numerous schools across the state seeking contempt proceedings against the government. The schools claimed that despite an order of the HC in 2014 to the education department to disburse grant-in-aid to them, the authorities have not implemented the said orders.

The schools claimed that the education authorities in the state have wilfully defied court orders by not implementing the same. On the other hand, the government cited ‘financial constraints’ in disbursing the amounts. The government further claimed that it could not grant the amounts to these schools owing to the backlog of reserved category schools, which are a priority. The government further claimed that it was only following the constitutional mandate.

Having considered the submissions, CJ Nandrajog said, “These schools have arrayed education officers and deputy directors of various districts as respondents for contempt. The main grievance is against the decision of the government for not following court orders.”

“Thus, these education officers and the deputy directors cannot be held to have individually flouted the orders of the court as they are merely adopting the stand taken by the government. We are of the opinion that these contempt proceedings which have lingered on for the last four years cannot result in punitive action,” CJ Nandrajog ruled.

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