Justice U U Lalit Thursday recused himself from the five-judge Constitution Bench set up to hear the Ayodhya title dispute appeals after Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan pointed out to the Bench that the judge had represented former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh as a lawyer in a contempt of court case related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Dhawan did not move a plea for Justice Lalit’s recusal, nor did he raise any objection to him hearing the case. However, the Bench, within minutes, informed the petitioners that Justice Lalit had recused himself, and the court would now hear the matter on January 29.
The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had, apart from Justice Lalit, Justice S A Bobde, Justice N V Ramana, and Justice D Y Chandrachud.
The contempt of court case relates to the order of the Supreme Court — which had ordered status quo on the land — and the UP government which, through then Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, had submitted an affidavit in July 1992 promising not to alter the status quo.
The Supreme Court, had, however, found permanent structures being erected at the disputed site in the name of pilgrimage facilities, and had proceeded against Singh for contempt of court. Justice Lalit, who was a top lawyer before his appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court in August 2014, had appeared for Singh in 1997.
A two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by former CJI M N Venkatachaliah had, in October 1994, “partly disposed of” the contempt proceedings. The court had sentenced Kalyan Singh to a “token imprisonment of one day”.
The court also said:
“We also sentence him to pay a fine of Rs 2,000. The fine shall be paid within a period of two months.” Kalyan Singh, 87, has been Governor of Rajasthan since 2014.
Judges usually recuse from hearing matters in which the petitioners have some connection with him or his relatives. In this case, the contempt petition against Kalyan Singh and the Ayodhya title dispute suit are based on different facts; however, Justice Lalit may have chosen to recuse because both matters are centred around the demolition of the mosque.