Mumbai: On August 4, Justice Rohit Deo, the second seniormost judge at the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court, came to court on his usual time. At 12 noon, even as his board of assignment had many pending cases to be adjudicated for the day, Justice Deo, announced his resignation.
“Those who are present in the court, I apologize to each one of you. I scolded you because I wanted you to improve. I don’t want to hurt anyone of you because you all are like a family to me and I am sorry to tell you that I have submitted my resignation. I can’t work against my self-respect. You people work hard,” Deo announced suddenly.
Deo, later, speaking to media, shared that he had already sent his resignation to the President of India and that he had resigned due to “personal reasons”.
This was an unprecedented move by a sitting high court judge, in the recent months, who has passed judgments that have put him under a spotlight.
He had set aside Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba’s life sentence pronounced in 2017 for his alleged Maoist links.
A division bench of Justices Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare had discharged five other persons: Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote, Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, Prashant Rahi, and Vijay Nan Tirki in the same case.
Justice Deo had noted that the sessions court’s trial proceedings were “null and void” as the prosecution had not obtained the valid sanction under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – a prerequisite under law.
The very next day after Justice Deo’s order, the state government had moved the Supreme Court, and subsequently, the order was stayed in the apex court. The Supreme Court had observed that the high court had not gone into the merit of the charges against Saibaba and others.
In April this year, the top court set aside the high court’s order and the matter was sent back to the high court. But it was decided to assign the case to a fresh bench.
Interestingly, only a week ago, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay high court began hearing an appeal on the matter.
Born on December 5, 1963, Deo had served as Advocate General of Maharashtra before he was elevated to the bench in June 2017. He was due to retire on December 4, 2025.
Just ten days ago, Justice Deo stayed a government resolution (GR) of no punitive action against the contractors of Samruddhi Expressway.
The contractors were accused of carrying out illegal excavation of minor minerals while executing their work on the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway. The punitive proceedings were initiated by the state revenue department but was stayed by the home department. Justice Deo, finding “formidable substance” in the allegations levelled against the contractors, had ordered a stay on the GR.
The Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway is considered to be state home minister Devendra Fadnavis’s dream project that he had conceived during his earlier tenure as the state chief minister.
Before Justice Deo, two other judges – Justice Pushpa V. Ganediwala and Justice Satyaranjan C. Dharmadhikari – had rendered their resignations in the past three years.
Ganediwala, an additional judge, resigned after she was denied the position of a permanent judge. The Supreme Court had denied her a permanent position after one of her judgments in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act case was widely criticised. Justice Dharmadhikari had cited personal and family reasons for quitting.