Oral remark by Supreme Court judge triggers online vitriol against him

Justice Amanullah has orally remarked “we will rip you apart” at the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority during Patanjali contempt case hearing

April 12, 2024 09:28 pm | Updated April 13, 2024 07:09 am IST - NEW DELHI

Supreme Court judge Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah. File

Supreme Court judge Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah’s oral remark “we will rip you apart” directed at the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority (Ayurveda and Unani Services) during the Patanjali contempt case hearing in the Supreme Court has triggered online vitriol against the judge.

On April 10, the Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Amanullah was addressing the ineptitude shown by the State licensing authority to investigate the advertisements of Ayurvedic medicines manufactured by Divya Pharmacy, a company founded by yoga guru Baba Ramdev and his close associate Acharya Balkrishna, both of whom are facing contempt proceedings.

The State authority had told the court that it was under a “bona fide impression” that its hands were tied against Divya Pharmacy owing to an interim order of the Bombay High Court in February 2019 staying the application of Rule 170 of Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 prohibiting advertisements of Ayurvedic drugs.

Also read: Supreme Court’s ban on Patanjali ads | Explained

The Bench had refused to accept the explanation, referring to letters from the Ministry of AYUSH, instructing the authority to probe the “misleading advertisements” and take action under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.

“We strongly object to the use of the word ‘bona fide’. Do not use the word. We are not going to take it lightly. Be very careful… ‘Bona fide’ you say... We will rip you apart on bona fide... rip you apart,” Justice Amanullah had addressed senior advocate Dhruv Mehta, appearing for the State authority.

Dictionary meaning

The dictionary meaning of the phrase ‘rip apart’ is ‘to completely destroy something by tearing it into pieces’. A physical act. It also means ‘to criticise in a very harsh or angry way’. Criticism from the Bench is a phenomenon which occurs often in the Supreme Court as part of its constitutional duty as the sentinel on the qui vive (watchful guardian of the fundamental rights of citizens).

The two judges had used several other epithets against the authority, including “twiddling your thumbs’‘, “deep slumber”, “pushing files”, “dereliction of duty” and finally with “do you want us to fall on your officers like a ton of bricks”. It is not known why only a selective part of Justice Amanullah’s oral observations became the focus of a vitriolic attack.

The judges had made it clear that the court’s majesty and sworn objective to do right by the citizens cannot be trifled with. The hearing had ended with the court showing great restraint towards the authority. It had refrained from issuing contempt notice against the State entity, giving it, in the spirit of natural justice, an opportunity to file a detailed affidavit to explain itself.

In 2019, Justice Arun Mishra (now retired) had said that maligning a judge was akin to maligning the Supreme Court itself.

Off-the-cuff remarks

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, in a 2021 judgment dealing with Madras High Court’s oral remarks that Election Commission officials should be charged with murder for allowing rallies during COVID-19, had cautioned judges against making off-the-cuff remarks, saying “language must comport with judicial propriety”.

However, the CJI had also said that these oral exchanges in courtrooms between judges and lawyers was part of freedom of speech. Judges do make observations or remarks with the intention to elicit responses to better understand the problem.

Former Chief Justice N.V. Ramana had also flagged the growing concern within the judiciary about social media attacks on individual judges. “These attacks appear to be sponsored and synchronised,” he had said at a media awards function in Mumbai in 2021.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta too had shared Justice Mishra’s concern. He had referred to an “emerging pattern whereby articles and social media posts appear a couple of days before an important hearing is due in the Supreme Court in a bid to influence opinion outside the court about the issue at stake”.

Former Minister of Law and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, too had highlighted the government’s concern about “social media campaigns” against judges.

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