In a contempt petition filed by Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) against the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the apex court ordered that sheer pendency of stay application in a review petition is not a valid ground for contempt of court. It neither allows the respondent to grant a stay on their own nor denies RIL to furnish access to requisite documents (as directed by the SC). The Contempt of Courts Act, of 1971 deals with civil and criminal contempt cases in India.
The procedural history of this case is as follows - On 5th August 2022, the SC passed an order directing SEBI to furnish a copy of the documents based on which SEBI had filed a criminal complaint against RIL (according to para 59 in the Criminal Appeal No.1167/2002). Learned senior advocate, Shri Harish N. Salve argued for the petitioners in the present contempt petition before the division bench of SC comprising Justices MR Shah and MM Sundress. He informed the court that the same had not been furnished to date. Whereas, Senior Counsel Shri KK Venugopal contended that since the review plea was itself pending, the court could not pass any further orders on the same. He referred to the cases of Modern Food Industries Ltd vs Sachidanand Das and State of J&K vs Mohd Yaqoob Khan to strengthening his claim. In the latter case, contempt proceedings had begun against an ex-parte order which dealt with a pending writ petition. Here, the court had observed that contempt proceedings can’t be initiated when a stay application is yet to be heard, decided or disposed of. However, the bench observed that the pendency of a review petition couldn’t be equated with the pendency of an appeal/writ petition.
Hence, in the court’s opinion, merely the fact that the stay application was sub-judice cannot be a reason for not complying with the court’s orders in the first place. Given the above, the court issued a notice to SEBI/Respondent and made it returnable on 2nd December 2022. However, no physical presence of the alleged contemnor was directed for the time being.
(For more details, refer to the judgment-RELIANCE INDUSTRIES LIMITED versus VIJAYAN A (AUTHORISED REPRESENTATIVE OF SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE BOARD OF INDIA, 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 950).