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SC Adjourns Suo Moto COVID-19 Matter, Harish Salve Recuses Himself as Amicus

The bench also said it had not transferred any cases out of the high courts.

New Delhi: A day after the Supreme Court took suo moto cognisance of the COVID-19 crisis across the country and said it may transfer cases being heard by various high courts to itself, the bench said others were unfairly “imputing motives” to the judges.

Several high courts in the country, particularly the Delhi and Bombay high courts, have been coming down heavily on the Centre for the lack of adequate oxygen supply.

A bench of Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde (who is retiring today) and Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat expressed displeasure that senior advocates were saying the Supreme Court wanted the high courts to stop hearing such cases.

The bench told president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Vikas Singh, according to Bar and Bench, “You have read the order. Is there any intention to transfer the case? Mr Singh listen to us. Even before reading the order, there was criticism about something which was not there in order. This is how the institution is being destroyed.”

Gujarat High Court Advocates Association’s counsel Dushyant Dave was also told, “You have imputed motives to us without reading the order.” Dave responded that the entire country thought cases from the high courts will be transferred out to the Supreme Court. “We never said a word and did not stop the high courts. We asked the Centre to go to High Courts and report to them. What kind of perception are you talking about?” Justice Bhat replied, according to Bar and Bench.

The bench said today that they had not transferred cases out of the high court. However, on Thursday, the Supreme Court had said that since numerous high court were hearing related pleas, it could “cause confusion”.

Also read: A Part-Time Central Government Can’t Handle a Crisis Like COVID-19

The court has adjourned the matter till Tuesday, April 27, even though the matters it said it would be handling – including the supply of oxygen and essential medicines – are urgent.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court had made senior advocate Harish Salve the amicus curiae in the case. On Friday, however, Salve said he wants to recuse himself. “I don’t want the case to be heard under a shadow that I was appointed because of my school friendship with the CJI. I did not know our bar was divided between advocates who appear for industries and against it. I don’t want aspersions to be cast,” Salve said, according to LiveLaw.

Several senior advocates had criticised Salve’s appointment. Dave, for instance, had pointed out that Salve’s closeness to the current regime was well known and his impartiality could be questioned.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged Salve not to step down.

“We will honour your sentiments and you must have been pained. We will allow your request. I also saw what a senior lawyer said but everyone has an opinion,” CJI Bobde responded to Salve.