The ongoing trial in the murder of a Mumbai developer generated ripples in the Supreme Court after a judge put on record the assertion that he was not a friend of the main accused in the case.
Justice A K Patnaik took the unusual step after a pen drive was sent to Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam, which contained a purported conversation between two men, one of whom is heard making the claim that Justice Patnaik was a friend of the accused and would, therefore, be favourably disposed towards him.
“To put the record straight, A K Patnaik J. is not a friend of Suresh Bijlani, nor does A K Patnaik J. know Suresh Bijlani (the petitioner),” stated an order passed by a bench of Justices Patnaik and F M Ibrahim Kalifulla recently.
Bijlani is accused in the February 16, 2013 murder of real estate developer Sunil Lahoria, 50, outside his office in Vashi in Navi Mumbai. The daylight killing by two motorcycle-borne assailants was captured on CCTV camera.
In December 2013, Bombay High Court rejected Bijlani’s plea for bail, noting that the son of the slain developer, Sandeep Lahoria, apprehended a threat to his life from his father’s killers.
Bijlani moved the Supreme Court, which last month rejected his plea for regular bail, but granted him a month’s temporary bail so that he could be with his octogenarian father who was in need of surgery.
When Sandeep Lahoria moved an application for cancelling Bijlani’s temporary bail, Justice Patnaik opted to tread a bold path. The court rejected Lahoria’s plea, and Justice Patnaik also explicitly recorded his rejection of the idea that he might be soft on Bijlani because of their alleged friendship.
Justice Patnaik acted after the Supreme Court Registry brought to the notice of the bench the pen drive that had been sent to CJI Sathasivam. The pen drive allegedly carried the recording of a purported conversation between Bijlani’s lawyer and Sandeep, in which the former is heard saying that Justice Patnaik was friends with Bijlani, and they, therefore, expected propitious orders from his bench.
The pen drive was sent to the CJI by Sandeep.
While dictating the order, Justice Patnaik, however, transferred the case to another bench.
“…As Sandeep appears to have an apprehension that justice may not be done in a bench in which one of us (Justice A K Patnaik) is a party, henceforth, this matter be placed before some other bench to be decided by Hon’ble the Chief Justice,” the court said.
The matter was subsequently mentioned before the CJI, and the case has now been transferred to a bench led by Justice C K Prasad.