Prashant Bhushan. . Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, March 7 : Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Thursday said his tweet that the government "fabricated" minutes of a high-level panel's meeting that named M. Nageswara Rao as acting CBI Director was a "genuine mistake" based on the letter of Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge.

Besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Justice A.K. Sikri, Kharge, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, attended the January 10 meeting that had recommended the removal of Alok Verma as Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief, and Nageswara Rao replacing him as a stop gap arrangement.

Sikri, who retired on Wednesday, attended the meeting on behalf of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

Reading out Bhushan's statement terming his tweet of February 1, 2019 a "genuine mistake", Attorney General K. Venugopal told the bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Navin Sinha, that he was not pressing for contempt proceedings against Bhushan.

Bhushan's tweet had said, "See the letter of LOP Kharge re the unilateral appointment of Nageswara Rao as interim Director CBI by govt, w/o going through HPC of PM, CJI & LOP. Yet govt produced minutes of meeting saying that HPC approved appt. Seems govt gave fabricated minutes to court! Contempt of Court!."
The Attorney General reiterated that even in the previous hearing, he had made it clear that he was not looking for any punishment to Bhushan and has conveyed to the Central government, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, that it should not press for this.

However, the Attorney General urged the court to decide the larger issue whether in a matter, which is sub-judice, is it open to litigants and lawyers to criticise the court proceedings to affect public opinion.

The other question involved is what are the rights of the litigants and what may amount to interference in the course of administration of justice.

The next hearing on Bhushan's application seeking the recusal of Justice Mishra and the larger issue involved in the contempt plea would take place on April 3.

These questions were framed by the court when it heard the matter on February 6 and sought response from Bhushan on the contempt plea by the Attorney General.

However, Bhushan refused to offer an "unconditional apology" to the court for filing an application seeking the recusal of Justice Mishra from hearing the contempt plea on the grounds of reasonable apprehension of bias.

Right from the outset of the hearing, Justice Mishra made it clear that he was not going to recuse himself and Justice Sinha too backed his stand as senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for Bhushan, pressed for it.

Both the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, appearing for the Centre which too moved the court seeking contempt proceedings against Bhushan, opposed the plea.

However, senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the interveners, questioned Mehta addressing the court on the issue, contending the Centre has not taken nod from the Attorney General to file contempt against Bhushan.

The court, however, refused Mehta's plea to pass an order that Bhushan may not file an application seeking recusal of a judge from hearing a matter.

"There can't be a restraint for all times to come. Sometime they may be justified, sometime they may not be justified," Justice Mishra said.

The court also asked senior counsel Anand Grover to see the rules of the Bar Council of India relating to a lawyer appearing for their spouse.

As Grover rose to address the court, Justice Mishra asked him who he was appearing for.

When Grover said "for a lawyer and writer Jaising", the judge asked "Not Indira Jaising". as he said yes, the Attorney General said he should say his wife but withdrew the remark as Jaising protested, saying "I am a person in my own right" and that both she and Grover retain their respective names.

Justice Mishra said that he had earlier advised Bhushan not to appear for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Common Cause as he was part of their executive committee.

Jaising said that she is aware of the rule that bars the director of a company from appearing in the matter relating to the commercial entity he is part of, but would look into the BCI Rules on tHis score.

She also apologised to the Attorney General for losing her cool and raising her voice to assert her independent identity.

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