Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for two of his tweets, was on Monday let off with a token fine of Re 1 by the Supreme Court. The bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, directed the lawyer to deposit the amount by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years. “The freedom of speech cannot be curtailed but rights of others need to be respected,” the court observed. On August 14, the bench had held Bhushan guilty over the tweets made on June 27 and June 29. During the arguments, Bhushan told the court that the “two tweets represented” his “bonafide beliefs” and that he did not want to apologise for the same. He also answered in the negative when asked if he wished to reconsider his statement. The court, however, gave him time till August 24 “to submit unconditional apology if he so desires”. Attorney-General K K Venugopal urged the court not to punish Bhushan, saying he had done a lot of good work in the area of public interest litigations.
In the criticism against the Supreme Court’s ruling that held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court, his counsel has invoked the ‘Mulgaonkar principles’, urging the court to show restraint.
What are the Mulgaonkar principles? S Mulgaonkar v Unknown (1978) is a case that led to a landmark ruling on the subject of contempt. By a 2:1 majority, the court held Mulgaonkar, then editor of The Indian Express, not guilty of contempt although the same Bench had initiated the proceedings. Justices P Kailasam and Krishna Iyer formed the majority going against then Chief Justice of India M H Beg. Justice Iyer’s counsel of caution in exercising the contempt jurisdiction came to be called the Mulgaonkar principles. Although the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act recognises truth as a defence in cases, one of the questions that Bhushan has raised is whether the contemnor has to prove the allegation or remark on corruption.
Prashant Bhushan is a public interest lawyer in the country’s apex court. He was a member of the faction of India Against Corruption (IAC) movement known as Team Anna which supported Anna Hazare’s campaign for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill After a split in IAC, he helped Team Anna form the Amm Admi Party. In 2015, he made several allegations against the party's leadership, its functioning and its deviation from the core ideology, values and commitments. He is one of the founders of Swaraj Abhiyan and Sambhaavnaa, an Institute of Public Policy and Politics.
- Prabhakar Purandare