HC sets aside punishment to three officials in contempt case

Officials, however, directed to deposit in court the fine amounts and costs imposed on them by single judge order

Allowing the contempt appeal petitions filed by three officers, Telangana High Court on Thursday set aside the punishment awarded to them for disobeying a single judge order in a writ petition pertaining to acquisition of land for Mallannasagar reservoir of Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project.

The HC, however, directed the officials — Collectors of Siddipet and Rajanna Sircilla districts P. Venkatrami Reddy and D. Krishna Bhaskar, respectively and Siddipet Revenue Divisional Officer Jayachandra Reddy — to deposit in the court the fine amounts and costs imposed on them. The orders were passed by a bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy after hearing contentions of Advocate-General B.S. Prasad appearing for them.

In a judgement pronounced on this February 21 in ‘contempt of court’ petition, a single judge awarded simple imprisonment of three months and four months to Siddipet Collector and RDO respectively. The two officials were also imposed fine amounts of ₹ 2,000 each. The Collector and the RDO were also instructed to pay ₹ 25,000 and ₹ 50,000 towards costs to the petitioners. Rajanna Sircilla Collector was imposed a fine of ₹ 2,000.

Telugu DPRs

When the arguments began, CJ Hima Kohli asked the AG why the authorities had not given copies of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) in Telugu to villagers of Vemulaghat, whose lands were being acquired for Mallannasagar, as directed by the single judge. The AG, citing the affidavit filed by one of the villagers Tirupati, said Telugu DPR copies were supplied.

“Did you take a receipt from the villager?” the CJ asked. When the AG said no receipt was taken, the bench wondered how the authorities did not think of keeping a receipt for record sake since they were complying with the order of a HC judge. The CJ further wanted to know from the AG if the affidavit of Tirupati, who conceded that he was given a Telugu DPR, was taken to the notice of the single judge in the contempt of court plea. Mr. B.S. Prasad said it was not done since he did not appear before the single judge in the contempt of court matter. He said that another government counsel presented contentions before the single judge.

“You should have appeared before the single judge. There are lot of inconsistencies in presenting contentions. Are your lawyers not prepared well?” the CJ said. The bench felt that in the absence of proper assistance, it was natural for the single judge to hold the officials guilty.

But the CJ found fault with the government for not providing adequate time for the villagers of Vemulaghat to raise objections, having been provided with Telugu DPR. While only four DPR copies were supplied, there were several farmers. The authorities should have given sufficient time for large number of villagers to raise objections and provide for personal hearing, the bench said.

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