17 September 1996
Supreme Court


Case number: Contempt Petition (Civil) 206 of 1996






DATE OF JUDGMENT:       17/09/1996




JUDGMENT:                       J U D G M E N T Faizan Uddin, J.      When this  Court was  seized of, Writ Petition filed by the "Common  Cause, A Registered Society" with regard to the alleged misuse and arbitrary exercise of discretionary power by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry in relation to the allotment of  retail  outlets  for  Petroleum  products  and L.P.G. Dealership,  from discretionary quota, a news item in box with  a caption  "Pumps for  all" was  published in  the daily newspaper  "The Sunday  Tribune" dated  March 10, 1996 which is reproduced hereunder :-      Pumps for all !      Believe  it   or   not,   Petroleum      Minister Satish  Sharma has made 17      allotments of  petrol pumps and gas      agencies  to   relatives  of  Prime      Minister Narashimha  Rao out of his      discretionary quota.  Allotments in      this category  can only  be made to      members of  the weaker  sections of      society and  war windows,  yet five      of     the     Prime     Minister’s      grandchildren have  been   favoured      as have  been five  of his  nephews      from the  family  of  V.  Rajeshwar      Rao. MP Besides, three wards of his      brother Manohar  Rao, two relatives      of   P. Venkata  Rao and the son of      AVR  Krishnamurthy   whose   family      lives with the  Prime Minister have      allocated petrol  pumps  and    gas      agencies.     Similarly,      Rao’s      daughter, Vani  Devi,  who  is  the      official hostess  has a petrol pump      allotted  in   the  name   of   her      daughter, Jyotiriyal.  she was also      favoured by  the Airport  Authority      of India  which  released  a  prime      piece of  land located  in Begumpet      area to  her for  just Rs.  3 lakh.



    The market  value is  stated to  be      over  Rs   1  crore.  It  has  been      registered in  the name of Shri Jai      Balaji Agency,  However, the  Prime      Minister’s kin  are  not  the  only      ones who have benefitted from these      allotments.  Two  children  of  Lok      Sabha Speaker  Shivraj  Patil  have      also been  favoured as have the two      sons of  a Senior  Judge  of    the      Supreme Court.  Interestingly,  the      Supreme Court  had  recently  asked      the  government to supply a list of      all discretionary  allotments  made      by  the   Ministry.  However,   the      minister  has  so  far  managed  to      withhold this crucial document. But      is has  hardly helped  as the  list      has been  leaked  by  Sharma’s  own      men."      A similar  news item  was also  published in  the Hindi Newspaper "Punjab  Kesari" dated  March 10, 1986 the English translation of which is as follows :-      17 Poor  Members of  the family  of      the Prime Minister      Out  of   the  short  out  ways  of      becoming rich, one way is to obtain      Petrol Pump  or Gas Agency. But the      power to  allot the  same lies with      the Petroleum  Minister. He has the      discretionary   powers   to   allot      petrol  pump  or  gas  agencies  in      charity. This  power of  doing such      charities  has  been  entrusted  in      some special  cases  which  include      the people  belonging to  the poor,      backward classes  and the  wives of      those who  were killed  in the war.      But all those persons to whom these      agencies have  been allotted by the      Petroleum  minister   Capt.  Satish      Sharma turned  out to  be a soam in      itself. The  matter was referred to      the  Supreme  Court  in  which  the      Government was directed to submit a      list.   The    Petroleum   Minister      suppressed the  list. The  list was      demanded in   the  Parliament.  But      the list  was not   presented.  Now      the list  has been  leaked out from      the Petroleum Ministry. Believe it,      there are 17 relatives of the Prime      Minister  Narsimaha   Rao  in  that      list.   Five    persons   are   his      grandsons and grand-daughters. Five      others  are   the  members  of  the      family of V. Rajeshwar Rao. He is a      Member  of   Parliament   and   the      relative  of  the  Prime  Minister,      Manohar  Rao   is  the  brother  of      Narsihmha Rao.  These agencies were      also   allotted    to   his   three      children.   There   is   one   more      relative  -   P.   Venkatrao.   Two      allottees have  been found  in  his



    family. One is A.V.R. Krishna Murty      who resides in the residence of the      Prime Minister.  He has  also  been      allotted the  Agency at the Bolaram      Road at  Sikandrabad. But  the most      interested story  is  of  Jyotirmal      Narasimha Rao  is  his  real  grand      maternal father.      The authorized hostess of the Prime      Minister’s residence  is Vani  Devi      who is  the daughter  of the  Prime      Minister and  mother of  Jyotirmal.      Their   agency   is   situated   at      Begumpet under  the name style "Sri      Sai Balaji  Agency".  The  land  of      2000 sq.  m. of the Indian Aviation      Authority was  given  to  Shri  Sai      balaji  agency  merely  for  rupees      three lakhs. Presently, the cost of      this land  is more  than one crore.      The   Petroleum    Minister    also      allotted the  agencies to  the  two      children of  Shivraj Patil, Speaker      of the Lok Sabha. You should not be      astonished if you find the names of      two  sons   of  Mr.  Ahmadi,  Chief      Justice of India in the list of the      discretionary quota.  Otherwise the      names of  such  poor  and  backward      persons are  also available in this      list.      Since, the aforesaid news items contained an allegation that two sons of a senior judge of the Supreme Court and two sons of  the Chief  Justice of India were also favoured with the allotments  of petrol  outlets from the dictionary quota of Ministry  and, therefore,  by our  Order dated  March 13, 1996. We  issued a  notice to  the  Secretary,  Ministry  of Petroleum and  Natural Gas to file an affidavit offering his comments and  response to  the facts stated in the aforesaid two news  items. Pursuant  to the said notice, Shri Vijay L. Kelkar, Secretary  in  the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government  of India,  filed his  affidavit dated March 20,  1988   stating  that  since  the  allegation  regarding allotment under  the discretionary  quota in  favour of  two sons of a senior judge of the Supreme Court are vague and in the absence  of specific names, it is difficult to deal with the same.  Thereafter when  the matter  again came up before this Court  on March  21, 1988  Shri  Altab  Ahmad,  learned Additional Solicitor  General stated that he would look into the records  and file  further  affidavit  of  a  reasonable officer giving  response to  the other allegations regarding relationship of  VIPs. We  therefore, granted  time  for the purpose and  at the same time directed the relevant files to be produced  in Court.  It was  thereafter  that  Shri  Devi Dayal, Joint  Secretary in  the Ministry  of  Petroleum  and Natural Gas,  Government of  India filed his affidavit dated March 28,  1996. In  paragraph 5 of his affidavit, he made a categorical statement  that there  is no allotment in favour of son/sons  of any  Supreme Court judge. After verification of records  and affidavits  referred to above. We found that the  news  items  referred  to  above  patently  false  and, therefore, by  our Order  dated March 27, 1996, we initiated contempt proceedings  against the  Editors and Publishers of the daily  "The Sunday  Tribune", Chandigarh and "The Punjab Kesari" Jalandhar  and issued notices to them to  show cause



why they may not be punished for the contempt of this Court.      In  response     to  the  contempt  notice,  Shri  Hari Jaisingh, the  Editor of   ’The  Sunday  Tribune’  filed  an affidavit dated  June 24,  1996 admitting that the news item published in  "The Sunday Tribune" dated March 10, 1996 with regard to  the allotment  of petrol  outlets to  the sons of senior Judge  of the  Supreme Court  was  not  correct  and, therefore, tendered  unqualified apology  and has prayed for mercy and  pardon. He has stated that it was an  inadvertent publication  made  bonafide  on  the  faith  that  the  item supplied by an experienced journalist. Shri Dina Nath Misra, who is  generally reliable would not be factually incorrect. It has   been stated that Dina Nath Misra is a journalist of standing for over 30 years and there have been no complaints about the correctness of the material contributed by him and believing the  said item  of  news  to  be  correct  it  was published without  any further  scrutiny in a good faith. He has submitted  that he  has  the  highest  respect  for  the judiciary in  general and  to this  Court in  particular and tendered his  unqualified apology with a feeling of remorse. He has  submitted that  since it  was noticed  that the news item was  not correct.  An apology  was already published by him in  the Tribune  May 12, 1986 and necessary instructions to all  members of  the editorial  staff were  issued to  be careful and  assuring the  factual  accuracy  of  all  legal reports.      Lt. Col.  S.L. Dheer  (Retd.)  the  Publisher  of  "The Tribune", in response to the contempt notice  has also filed his affidavit  dated June  27, 1996 more or less in the same terms as  the one  filed  by  Shri  Hari  Jaisingh  and  has tendered his  apology and prayed for mercy and pardon due to the bonafide mistake.      In response   to  the contempt notice, Shri Vijay Kumar Chopra,  Editor  and  Publisher  of  daily  "Punjab  Kesari" Jalandhar has  also filed  his affidavit dated June 29, 1996 stating that  the   news item  in the  daily "Punjab Kesari" referred to  above was  published on  the basis  of the news report sent by a senior journalist which due to inadvertence escaped the  attention of  the Editor.  He has  stated  that immediately after  the incorrectness  of the  news  item was noticed  a   contradiction  and   apology  was  carried  out prominently in  the issue  of the Paper dated April 7, 1996. He has  stated that  the said  news item was not actuated by any malice  towards the  judiciary and  that the mistake was bonafide. He    has  also  tendered  his  unconditional  and unqualified apology.      On being apprised that the news items referred to above found to  be false  which were published on the basis of the information and material supplied by the journalist/reporter Dina Nath Misra to "The Sunday Tribune" and "Punjab Kesari", we issued  a similar  contempt notice  to Dina Nath Misra by our Order dated July 9, 1996. The journalist Dina Nath Misra in his  affidavit dated  August 1,  1996  admitted  to  have written a  capsule item  about the allotment of petrol pumps to the  sons   of a  senior judge of the Supreme Court which was not  factually correct and he has therefore tendered his unqualified apology  for the lapse that he had committed. He has stated he has been journalist for about 4 decades and is known  for   his  integrity   and  commitment   towards  the professionalism.  He   has  further  stated  that  a  highly reliable  source   who  had   earlier  given  many  reliable information to the deponent gave this information also which was   believed   by him  to be true, but it turned out to be incorrect. He  has stated  various other  facts to show that the mistake  was bonafide,  but we find the said excuses and



explanations to  be not  acceptable at all. He has, however, expressed  his  deep  repentance  and  tendered  unqualified apology  and   seeks  forgiveness   for  this   honest   and inadvertent blunder.  In yet  another  additional  affidavit dated August  29, 1996, he has reiterated the said facts and admitted that  he has  committed a grevious error in writing news items  which have  absolutely no  basis, and  has again offered unconditional  apology to  Hon’ble the Chief Justice as well as this Court.      It may  be relevant  here to recall that the freedom of Press has always been regarded as an essential pre-requisite of a  Democratic form of Government. It has been regarded as a necessity  for the mental health and the well being of the society. It  is  also  considered  necessary  for  the  full development of the personality of the individual. It is said that without  the freedom of press truth cannot be attained. The freedom  of press is a part of the freedom of the speech and expression  as envisaged  in  Article  19(1)(a)  of  the Constitution of  India. Thus,  the freedom  of the  press is included in the fundamental right of freedom expression. The freedom of  Press is  regarded as  "the mother  of all other liberties’ in  a democratic society. Further, the importance and the  necessity of  having a  free press in  a democratic Construction like  ours was  immensely stressed  in  several landmark judgments of this Court. The case of Indian Express Newspaper v.  Union of  India (1985(1)  SCR 641),  is one of such judgments  rendered by  Venkataramiah, J.  (as he  then was). Again  in another  case of Indian Express Newspaper v. Union of  India (AIR  1986 SC  872). A.P. Sen J. (as he then was) described the right to freedom of the press as a pillar of individual  liberty which has been unfailingly guarded by the Courts.      It is thus needless to emphasis that a free and healthy press is indispensable to the functioning of true democracy. In a  democratic set-up,   there  has to  be an  active  and intelligent participation  of the  people in all spheres and affairs of their community as well as the State. It is their right to  be kept  informed about current political, social, economic and cultural life as well as the burning topics and important issues  of the  day in  order to  enable  them  to consider and  form broad  opinion about the same and the way in which they are being managed, tackled and administered by the  Government  and  its  functionaries.  To  achieve  this objective the  people need  a clear  and truthful account of events, so  that they  may form  their own opinion and offer their own   comments  and view  points on  such matters  and issues and  select  their  further  course  of  action.  The primary function,  therefore, of  the press  is  to  provide comprehensive and  objective information  of all  aspects of the country’s political, social, economic and cultural life. It has an educative and mobilizing role to play. It plays an important role  in moulding  public opinion  and   can be an instrument of social change. It may be pointed out here that Mahatama Gandhi  in his autobiography has stated that one of the objectives  of the newspaper is to understand the proper feelings of  the people and give expression to  it;  another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments ; and the  third is to fearlessly express popular defects. It, therefore, turns out that the press should have the right to present anything which it thinks fit for publication.      But is  has to be remembered that this freedom of press is not  absolute, unlimited  and unfettered at all items and in all  circumstances as  giving an  unrestricted freedom of the speech  and expression  would amount to an  uncontrolled license.  If  is  were  wholly  free  even  from  reasonable



restraints it  would  lead  to  disorder  and  anarchy.  The freedom is not to be misunderstood as  to be a press free to disregard its   duty  to be responsible. Infact, the element of responsibility  must be  present in the conscience of the journalists. In  an organized  society, the  rights  of  the press  have   to  be   recognised  with   its   duties   and responsibilities towards the society. Public order, decency, morality and  such other  things must  be  safeguarded.  The protective cover  of press  freedom must not be  thrown open for wrong doings. If a newspaper publishes what is improper, mischievously false or illegal and abuse its liberty it must be punished by Court of Law. The  Editor of a Newspaper or a journal  has  a  greater  responsibility  to  guard  against untruthful news  and publications for the simple reason that his utterness have a far greater circulation and impact than the utterances  of an  individual and  by  reason  of  their appearing in  print, they  are likely  to be believed by the ignorant. That  being so, certain restrictions are essential even for preservation of the freedom of the press itself. To quote from  the report  of Mons  Lopez to  the Economic  and Social Council  of the  United Nations  "If it  is true that human progress  is impossible without freedom, then it is no less true that ordinary human progress is impossible without a measure  of  regulation and discipline". It is the duty of a true  and responsible  journalist to  strive to inform the people with  accurate and impartial presentation of news and their views  after dispassionate evaluation of the facts and information received  by them  and to  be published  as news item. The  presentation of  the  news  should  be  truthful, objective and  comprehensive without any false and distorted expression.      In the  present case, as we have noticed above, neither printer, publisher  not the  editor and  reporter  took  the necessary care in evaluating the correctness and credibility of the  information published  by them  as the news items in the newspapers referred to above in respect of an allegation of a  very serious  nature having great repercussion causing an embarrassment  to this  court. An  Editor is a person who controls  the  selection  of  the  matter  which  is  to  be published in a particular issue of the newspaper. The Editor and Publisher  are liable for illegal and false matter which is published  in  their  newspaper.  Such  an  irresponsible conduct and  attribute on  the part of the editor, publisher and the  reporter cannot  be said  to be done in good faith, but distinctly opposed to the high professional standards as even as  slightest enquiry  or a  simple verification of the alleged statement  about grant  of Petrol outlets to the two sons of  a  senior  Judge  of  the  Supreme  Court,  out  of discretionary quota,  which is  found to  be patently  false would have  revealed the truth. But it appears that even the ordinary care  was not  resorted to  by  the  condemners  in publishing such  a false news items. This cannot be regarded as a  public service,  but a  dis-service to  the public  by misguiding them with a false news. Obviously, this cannot be regarded as something done in good faith.      But it  may be  pointed out  that various judgments and pronouncements of  this Court,  bear testimony  to the  fact that this Court is not hypersensitive in matters relating to contempt of  Courts and  has  always  shown  magnanimity  in accepting the   apology  on being  satisfied that  the error made in  the publication  was without any malice or  without any intention  of dis-respect  towards the Courts or towards any member  of judiciary.  This Court has always entertained fair criticism  of the  judgments and  orders or  about  the person of  a Judge.  Fair criticism within the parameters of



law is  always welcome  in a democratic system. But the news items with  which we are concerned can neither be said to be fair or  made  in  good  faith  but  wholly  false  and  the explanation  given  is  far  from  satisfactory.  Shri  Hari Jaising,   Editor of  the Sunday  Tribune and  Lt. Col. H.L. Dheer, Publisher  as well  as Vijay Kumar Chopra, Editor and Publisher of  daily Punjab  Kesari have taken the stand that they had  taken the news items to be correct on the basis of the information supplied by a very senior journalist of long standing Dina  Nath Misra.  But this cannot be accepted as a valid excuse.  It may  be stated that at common law, absence of intention  or knowledge  about  the  correctness  of  the contents of  the matter  published (for  examples  in    the present case,  on the basis of information received from the journalist/reporter) will be of no avail for the editors and publishers for  contempt of  Court but  for determining  the quantum of punishment which may be awarded. Thus they cannot escape the  responsibility for  being careless in publishing it  without caring to verify the correctness. However, since they have  not only expressed repentance on the incident but have expressed  their sincere written unconditional apology, we accept the same with the warning that they should be very careful in  future. As  regards the case of Dina Nath Misra, we find  he  acted  in  gross  carelessness.  Being  a  very experienced journalist  of long  standing it  was  his  duty while publishing  the   news item relating to the members of the   apex Court   to  have taken  extra care  to verify the correctness and  if he  had done so, we are sure there would not have  been any  difficulty in  coming to  know that  the information supplied  to him had absolutely no legs to stand and was  patently false  and the publication would have been avoided which  not only  paused great  embarrassment to this Court but  conveyed a  wrong message  to the public at large jeopardizing the  faith of  the  illiterate  masses  in  our judiciary. Shri  Dina Nath  Misra has  no doubt  committed a serious  mistake   but  he  has  realised  his  mistake  and expressed sincere  repentance and has tendered unconditional apology for  the same.  He was  present  in  the  Court  and virtually looked  to be gloomy and felt repentant of what he had done.  We think  this sufferance  itself  is  sufficient punishment for him. He being a senior journalist and an aged person and,  therefore, taking a lenient view of the matter, we accept  his apology  also. We,  however, direct  that the condemners  will   publish  in   the  front  page  of  their respective  newspapers   within  a   box  their   respective apologies specifically  mentioning that  the said news items were absolutely incorrect and false. This may be done within two weeks.  The Contempt  Petition Nos.  206-207 of 1996 are disposed of accordingly.