While displaying complete zero tolerance for the increasing tendency of sending obnoxious messages to not just an ordinary women but even to Judges, the Allahabad High Court in an extremely learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Isha Agrawal vs State of UP and Another in Criminal Misc. Bail Cancellation Application No. – 36 of 2023 and cited in 2023 LiveLaw (AB) 103 that was reserved on March 13 and then finally pronounced on March 20, 2023 cancelled the bail granted by a local court to a district court advocate who has been accused of sending obnoxious messages to a lady Judge thereby causing harassment and mental stress. The Court underscored that the policy of zero tolerance in such matters has become imperative. So it is the bounden duty of all the Courts to ensure that a zero tolerance policy is implemented uniformly in all such cases as a norm and not as an exception in some particular case only.
While dealing with the plea moved by the lady Judge herself seeking cancellation of his bail, the Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Mr Justice Siddharth observed that the Sessions Judge ought to have considered the fact that such conduct of the accused will have a deleterious effect on the functioning of the judicial system at the grass root of level. The Court also noted that it had come across another such case of another district and that this malice was spreading fast in the district courts which should be dealt with iron hands. No denying it!
At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Mr Justice Siddharth of Allahabad High Court sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in the introductory para that, “Heard Smt. Isha Agrawal, applicant in person; Sri Manu Sharma, learned counsel for opposite party no.2; learned AGA for the State and perused the material placed on record.”
While dwelling on the object behind filing the application, the Bench then spells out in the next para that, “This bail cancellation application has been filed by the applicant praying for cancellation of bail granted to the accused-opposite party no.2, Abhay Pratap, in Case Crime No. 577 of 2022, under Sections 186, 228, 352, 353, 354, 354-D, 506, 509 IPC and Section 67 I.T Act, Police Station Kotwali, District- Maharajganj by the court of Sessions Judge, Maharajganj, in Bail Application No.1927 of 2022, Abhay Pratap Vs. State of U.P. on 17.12.2022 wrongly relying upon the judgement of Apex Court in the case of Satendra Kumar Antil Vs. C.B.I. & Another, passed in S.L.P.(Crl.) No. 5191 of 2021, judgement dated 11.7.2022.”
To put things in perspective, we see that the Bench then while dwelling on the factual background envisages in the next para mentioning that, “The applicant is posted as Metropolitan Magistrate, Kanpur Nagar at present. At the time of the incident in question, she was posted as Civil Judge (Junior Division)/Judicial Magistrate in District Court Maharajganj. While she was performing her judicial duty, the opposite party no.2, Abhay Pratap, who is also a practicing Advocate in the same court, started sending obnoxious messages and casting certain remarks through messages on facebook account of the applicant. On noticing the messages of opposite party no.2, the applicant blocked the opposite party no.2 from sending messages. Thereafter opposite party no.2 got the official mobile number of the applicant and started sending messages on the same. He used to come to her court without any work and gazed her continuously. When the limit to tolerance was crossed by the opposite party no.2, applicant lodged the FIR against him at the police station Kotwali Maharajganj, on 11.11.2022 and also sent a representation to this Court through District Judge, Maharajganj, on 11.11.2022. Opposite party no.2 was never connected to the applicant on facebook or through any media platform nor his friend request was ever accepted by the applicant. Opposite party no.2 started sending messages to the applicant w.e.f. 29.9.2021 and thereafter he sent various messages to her, which were never replied by the applicant. On 17.7.2022 at about 1:58 a.m. he sent message, “I love you Isha”, then again he sent “Is janam me nahi to agle janam me tujhe pane ki koshish prayas karta rahunga aur ho sake to sato janam”. Being fed up with the conduct of the opposite party no.2, applicant blocked the opposite party no.2 on facebook account on 17.7.2022. On her CUG mobile number, he sent the message on 8.11.2022 at 4:31 a.m., “Good Morning” and then “I love you Baby”. The opposite party no.2 was arrested on 23.11.2022 and the learned Sessions Judge granted him bail on 17.12.2022 relying upon the case Satendra Kumar Antil (Supra).”
Contentions of the parties
As it turned out, the Bench points out in the next para that, “The applicant has appeared in person in Court and submitted that she is a Judicial Officer and was posted as Civil Judge (Junior Division), in District Court, Maharajganj, when the opposite party no.2 indulged in the undesirable and objectionable behaviour against her. She was not in a position to concentrate on her work and was apprehensive towards her security. She was distracted from discharge of her judicial duties freely and was in constant fear of maligning of her reputation by the opposite party no.2. Her marriage was settled and these messages could have destroyed her marital life in future and may have affected her prospective marital life. The opposite party no.2 is setting up dangerous trend and should be dealt with severely and bail granted to him should be cancelled. She has further submitted that the reliance of learned Sessions Judge on the judgment of Satendra Kumar Antil (supra) in the bail order is not correct since the charge-sheet was not filed against the opposite party no.2, when he was granted bail on 17.12.2022. Learned Sessions Judge has stated that charge-sheet against the opposite party no.2 is ready. It was not filed till then. All the offences against the opposite party no.2 are not bailable in nature. She has submitted that the findings of the learned Sessions Judge that the charge-sheet against the opposite party no.2 is ready is incorrect. By means of rejoinder affidavit dated 15.2.2023 applicant has brought on record the questionnaire issued by the court of Judicial Magistrate, Maharajganj, which shows that charge-sheet was not filed in the Case Crime No.577 of 2022 till 17.12.2022 nor cognizance was taken thereon till that date. She has submitted that the benefit of the judgment of Satendra Kumar Antil (supra) of the Apex Court has wrongly been extended to the applicant since he was arrested prior to the submission of the charge-sheet by the Investigating Officer.”
As against what is stated above, the Bench then discloses in the next para that, “Learned counsel for opposite party no.2 has submitted that opposite party no.2 is seeking unconditional apology from the applicant since he has highest regard for the law of the land and every member of the judicial fraternity. He has stated that he may be pardoned for any act which has hurt the position, respect, feelings or emotions of the applicant. He has undertaken not to repeat the misdeeds committed by him earlier. He has further submitted that all the offences alleged are punishable upto seven years and he has not violated any condition of bail granted to him.”
Further, the Bench then reveals in the next para that, “Learned AGA has submitted that from the mobile phone of the opposite party no.2 recovered by the Investigating Officer, it was found that the aforesaid phone was used in the commission of the alleged crime against the applicant by the opposite party no.2.”
Zero Tolerance For Sexual Harassment
It would be germane to note that the Bench then observes in the next para that, “After hearing the rival contentions, this Court finds that the learned Sessions Judge has neither considered the correct, legal and factual position of the case while granting bail to the opposite party no.2 nor has applied mind to the future repercussions of granting bail to an accused involved in committing such offences against a female Presiding Officer of a Court of Law. of It is clear from the record that the charge-sheet was not submitted against the opposite party no.2, when he was granted bail by the learned Sessions Judge, Maharajganj, relying upon the judgment of Apex Court in the case of Satendra Kumar Antil (supra). The investigation was in progress when the opposite party no.2 was put behind bars on 23.11.2022 and sent to jail. It may be true that all the offence against opposite party no.2 are punishable with terms of imprisonment below 7 years, but all offences are not bailable. At least two of the alleged offences punishable under Sections 353 and 354 IPC are non-bailable. It is not a case where bail should have been granted on a matter of right. Normally lenient view in matters of bail pending trial are taken where offences are punishable with terms below 7 years. The facts of this case are different from ordinary course. There is a case where a Judicial Officer/ Presiding Officer of a court of law, has been harassed on the basis of gender. Onerous conduct on the part of opposite party no.2, who is no other than very responsible officer of the court, was expected. The impact of the conduct attributed to opposite party no.2 is such that it will have deleterious effect on the functioning of the judicial system at the grass root of level. It ought to have considered by the Sessions Judge in that context. This has not been done. This Court is of the view that given aforesaid circumstances and the fact that Investigation was under progress, grant of bail to opposite party no.2 cannot be countenanced. Hence bail granted by the court below to opposite party no.2 is hereby cancelled. The opposite party no.2 is directed to surrender forthwith before the court concerned.”
Be it noted, the Bench then directs in the next para that, “The trial court is directed to conclude the trial against opposite party no.2, within six months.”
Most damningly, the Bench then minced just no words in taking potshots and holding in next para that, “Before parting with this case, this Court finds that the conduct of the opposite party no.2, namely, Abhay Pratap, was not only criminal in nature and unbecoming of an Officer of the court, but he also committed criminal contempt of court since his act amounted to interference with course of justice and obstruction in the administration of justice.”
Relevant Provisions of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971
While elaborating on the most relevant provisions, the Bench then hastens to add in the next para stating that, ““Criminal contempt” means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which: 1. scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or 2. prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or 3. interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner. Section 2(c) of the Act emphasizes to the interference with the courts of justice or obstruction of the administration of justice or scandalizing or lowering the authority of the court. Section 10 deals with power of High Court to punish contempts of subordinate courts. Section 12 deals with the punishment for the contempt of court. Section 14(2) permits a person charged with the contempt to have charge against him tried by some Judge other than the judge or judges in whose presence or hearing the offence is alleged to have been committed and the court is of opinion that it is practicable to do so. Section 15 of the Act empowers the court to take suo moto action for cognizance of Criminal Contempt.”
Finally and far most significantly, the Bench then concludes by holding in the next para that, “Conduct of opposite party no.2 against the applicant amounted to creation of fear in the minds of the female Presiding Officers of District Court faced with the acts of sexual harassment. No Presiding Officer of a court can be expected to discharge her official duties of administration of justice freely and fairly with a balanced and composed state of mind, if such acts or the mere apprehension thereof are there. The apprehension of harassment through spoken words and written words and stalking in court will always loom large over her psyche. In a situation where Presiding Officer of the court is herself not secure, it cannot be expected that she would be able to protect the litigants, who appear before her for protection of their modesty from unwarranted incursions and outrage by accused, like opposite party no.2. This Court has come across another such case of another district, wherein a future date has been fixed and it appears that this malice is spreading fast in the district courts. The case which came before this Court earlier also involved a lawyer of District Court committing such offences against a female Presiding Officer. In such a situation, this Court is of the firm view that before this menace spreads further the accused, like the opposite party no.2, ought to be dealt with iron hands through initiation of proceedings for criminal contempt. Policy of Zero Tolerance in such matters has become imperative. Accordingly, the Registry of this Court is directed place this case before the appropriate Bench, within two weeks for taking suo moto cognizance of the criminal contempt committed by the opposite party no.2., Abhay Pratap.”To conclude, we thus see that the Allahabad High Court has taken a very serious note of the growing incidents of sexual harassment cases in the district courts. It has minced just no words to make it clear that all the Judges must take a zero tolerance approach towards such cases which are fast becoming a very serious menace not just in public places but also in court premises. We must also note that to nip such growing cases of sexual harassment in the bud, the Allahabad High Court has firmly, fully and finally espoused the courts taking a zero tolerance approach in such cases with no exception whatsoever! Very rightly so!