Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is facing criminal contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court over two tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, regrets only a "part of" what he said in his affidavit to the court and says criticism of the top judge "does not scandalize" the court or lower its authority.
Prashant Bhushan also says to suggest that "the Chief Justice is the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court is the Chief Justice" is to undermine the institution of the Supreme Court of India.
The lawyer-activist is facing contempt for his comments on visuals of Chief Justice Bobde on a bike. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra issued a contempt notice suo motu following a petition.
Mr Bhushan said he regretted asking why Justice Bobde was not wearing a helmet, since the bike was on a stand.
"At the outset I admit that I did not notice that the bike was on a stand and therefore wearing a helmet was not required. I therefore regret that part of my tweet. However, I stand by the remaining part of what I have stated in my tweet. I tweeted the above because I was increasingly anguished by the lack of regular physical functioning of the court that was leading to the hearing of very few matters and that too by the unsatisfactory mode of video conferencing," he said in the affidavit submitted on Sunday.
"Due to the COVID pandemic, the subsequent lockdown and the humanitarian crisis it had created, with the Supreme Court not functioning regularly, access to justice was seriously imperiled," alleged Mr Bhushan.
The affidavit said the tweet about last four Chief Justices of India was his "bonafide impression" about them and it is his considered opinion that "Supreme Court allowed the destruction of democracy". Such expression of opinion, however "outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable", can't constitute contempt, he said.
"To bona fide critique the actions of a Chief Justice or a succession of Chief Justices cannot and does not scandalise the court, nor does it lower the authority of the court," the affidavit said.
"What I have tweeted is thus my bonafide impression about the manner and functioning of the Supreme court in the past years and especially about the role of the last four Chief Justices have played vis a vis their role in being a check and balance on the powers of the executive, their role in ensuring that the supreme court functions in a transparent and accountable manner and was constrained to say that they, contributed to undermining democracy," the affidavit said.
"Freedom of expression and the concomitant right to criticise includes a fair and robust criticism of the judiciary. This cannot amount to contempt of court or lowering the dignity of the court in any manner," it added.
(with inputs from ANI)