Four Dissenting Judges Win First Round as Arun Mishra Recuses From Loya Case

“Put up before the appropriate bench”, Justice Arun Mishra’s order said on Tuesday, implying he no longer intends to hear the sensitive matter.

Justice Arun Mishra, who appears to have recused himself from the Judge Loya case. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The four Supreme Court judges who held an unprecedented press conference on Friday to protest the listing of sensitive cases by successive Chief Justices before benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment. appear to have won the first round.

On Tuesday, Justices Arun Mishra and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, who heard two petitions seeking an independent probe into the mysterious death of special CBI Judge,B.H. Loya, added at the end 0f their order:

“Let the documents be placed on record within seven days and if it is considered appropriate copies be furnished to the petitioners. Put up before the appropriate bench”.

The two petitions were filed by Tehseen Poonawalla, a Congress party activist, and Bandhuraj Sambhaji Lone, a Mumbai-based journalist.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, representing the Maharashtra government, submitted a set of “confidential” and “sensitive” documents to the bench.   The bench expressed its view that the documents must be shared with the petitioners, and adjourned the case for a week.

As the bench did not express its reluctance to hear the case further during the hearing on Tuesday, the order saying that it should be placed before the “appropriate bench” has lent itself to the interpretation that it could be an after-thought by the bench. The phrase, generally used by a bench which wants to recuse, is an admission that it is not the appropriate bench which should hear the case, and that it should be placed before the CJI for his orders assigning it to another bench.

During the conventional meeting over the tea on Monday before the beginning of the proceedings at the Supreme Court, Justice Arun Mishra reportedly broke down before fellow judges, saying that he had been  unfairly targeted by the four senior judges – J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph – during their press conference on Friday. Justice Mishra reportedly claimed that he had been performing his duties sincerely, despite his failing health. Both Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Chelameswar reportedly consoled him, according to reporters, quoting confidential sources in the court. Observers, therefore, attribute Justice Mishra’s decision to recuse himself from further hearing the case to emotional distress, caused by the controversy. The assigning of the Judge Loya case to the Justice Mishra-led bench was the tipping point for the holding of the press conference on Friday, as admitted by Justice Gogoi.

According to reports, the chief justice met his four senior colleagues on Tuesday morning to try to sort out the differences among them. The brief meeting, however, was not considered sufficient to reach complete understanding on all the issues which have caused the rift between the CJI and the four puisne judges.

With the CJI deciding to stick to the composition of the five-judges constitution bench which begins hearing on Wednesday eight crucial cases, it remains to be seen whether he will take some extra steps to address the issues raised by the four – issues that they said “affect the survival of democracy in the country”.

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