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Contempt under Indian Constitution

Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India is in the nature of empowering
courts for the contempt. While Article 129 empowers the Supreme Court, Article
215, on the other hand, empowers High Courts to punish people for their
respective contempt. High Courts have been given special powers to punish
contempt of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts
Act of 1971.

Article 129

Article 129, of the Constitution of India, states that The Supreme Court shall be
a court or record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the
power to punish for contempt of itself.

Art.215: High Courts to be courts of record.Every High Court shall be a court

of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to
punish for contempt of itself.


The jurisdiction regarding contempt is a special jurisdiction. It must be used to

uphold the dignity of the courts and the majesty of law and to keep the
administration of justice unpolluted.
Contempt jurisdiction must be exercised to uphold the dignity of the judicial
system which includes within itself the dignity of courts and tribunals as well,
which are entrusted with the noble task of ensuring delivery of justice.
The power of contempt is often invoked to ensure compliance with the orders
given by the courts and in their execution, and for punishing those who are
responsible for the lapses in the manner of compliance.
Another importance of this contempt power is to ensure the majesty of judicial
institutions so that it may not be lowered, and also to preserve the functional utility
of the constitutional edifice from being rendered ineffective.
Further, the availability of contempt jurisdiction provides efficacy to the functioning
of the judicial forum and enables the enforcement of the orders on account of its
deterrence effect on avoidance.[1]

Purpose of the Law of Contempt

Civil society is founded in the respect for the law. If everyone chooses to break
the law, no civil society can exist at all. It is this respect for the law and the
law-enforcing agencies that somewhat paradoxically ensures that freedoms
recognized in the constitution.[2]

Nature of the law of Contempt of court

Contempt proceedings are not like proceedings for the prosecution of criminals.
It is a matter between the court and the contemnor and is a quasi-judicial
proceeding.[3] The proceedings initiated therein are not tried as an adversarial
litigation. Any person or any subordinate court, for that matter, which brings
the matter of contempt into consideration, before the higher court, is only an
informant and is not given the status of a litigant.[4]

Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India, do not confer any new
jurisdiction or doesnt vest any new powers on the Supreme Court or the High
Courts. They merely recognize a pre-existing situation that the Supreme Court
and the High Courts are the courts of record by virtue of which they have
inherent jurisdiction to punish for their contempt. It is not governed by any
special or specific rules, and such is to be governed by the principle of natural
The jurisdiction which is vested by these the two articles (Article 129 and Article
215) is inalienable, and thus cannot be taken away from the courts. However,
this is not an absolute ban, and such powers can be taken away only by a
legislative enactment in Constitution.

The provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, are not in derogation but in
addition to these two articles, and thus the Provisions of the Act cannot be used
for limiting or regulating the exercise of jurisdiction contemplated under the
said two articles.[5]


Where the order of the High Court had become final after being upheld by the
Supreme Court, the Supreme Court, could not modify the said order in its
contempt jurisdiction in spite of there being certain difficulties in the
implementation of the said order.[6]
While dealing with an application for contempt, the court is really concerned
with the question that, whether the earlier decision which has received its
finality has been complied with or not. It would not be permissible for a court to
examine the correctness of the earlier decision while exercising contempt
jurisdiction. While dealing with the application of contempt, the court cannot
traverse beyond the order, non-compliance of which is alleged. It cannot test
correctness or otherwise of the order or give additional directions or modify or
remove any direction.[7]

Initiation of Contempt Proceedings

Action for contempt is divisible into two categories, namely, that initiated suo
motu by the court and that instituted otherwise than on the courts own motion.
The mode of initiation in each case would necessarily be different. While in the
case of former, it is the court itself which must initiate by issuing a notice and in
that of latter initiation can only be by a party filing an application. Proceedings
have been initiated suo motu in many cases.[8]

Procedure to be followed
The procedure provided by the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 has to be followed
in the exercise of the jurisdiction under article 129 and 215 of the Indian

Any individual can recourse to any of the following three options:

1. He may place the information in his possession before the court and request the
court to take action.
2. He may place the information before the Attorney General and request him to
take action.
3. He may place the information before the Attorney General and request him to
move the court.[10]

The direction to place the petition before the Chief Justice and not on the
judicial side is applicable only to contempt actions intended to be taken by the
court sou motu.[11]

The alleged contemnor is entitled to notice and opportunity of being heard

before holding him guilty of contempt and passing an order of the sentence.[12]

Maintainability of Contempt Proceedings

For a contempt petition to be maintainable, the only condition that needs to be

followed is that it must comply with the mandatory requirements of Section 15
of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.


Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 talks about the limitation
period within which the actions have to be taken. It enumerates that the
limitation period is a period of one year from the date on which the contempt is
alleged to have been committed.[13]
[1] T.Sudhakar Prasad v. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh (2001) 1 SCC Para 22.

[2] J.R.Parashar vPrashant Bhushan (2001) 6 SCC 735. Para 12.

[3] Commissioner, Agra v. Rohtas Singh (1998) 1 SCC 349 Para 6,7,8.

[4] Supreme Court Bar association v. Union of India (1998) 4 SCC 409 Para 41.

[5] T.Sudhakar Prasad v. Govt. Of Andhra Pradesh (2001) 1 SCC 516 Para 9.

[6] State of Rajasthan v. Mohan Singh (1995)

[7] Director of Education, Uttaranchal v. Ved Prakash Joshi, (2005) 6 SCC 98

Para 7.

[8] Arundhati Roy, In re (2002) 3SCC 343.

[9] Pallav Seth v. Custodian (2001)

[10] P.N.Dutta v. P.Shiv Shankar (1988)

[11] Bal Thackrey v. Harish Pimpalkhute (2005)

[12] Deepak Kumar Prahladka v. CJ Prabha Shankar Mishra (2004)

[13] See