The Bombay High Court Tuesday accepted the unconditional apology tendered by the state government for making allegations against Justice A S Oka that he was biased against the state machinery. Advocate General A Kumbhakoni submitted an affidavit stating that it was “withdrawing the allegations made against Justice Oka,” and that it was “tendering an unconditional apology to the Chief Justice Manjula Chellur, Justice A S Oka and to the entire institution of the high court”.
He further informed Justice Oka that the state government has tendered an unconditional apology to the Chief Justice on behalf of the government. “The apology is not only from people involved in the decision making process but others as well,” said Kumbhakoni.
“The affidavit does not disclose who gave the instruction to seek a transfer, we accept the apology. In normal course, this court would be justified in initiating contempt action against the officers of the state for denting the dignity of the institution. However, the dignity of this court rests on surer standards,” Justice Oka said.
The state government had alleged bias last week when the Bench headed by Justice Oka was hearing a bunch of petitions related to noise pollution. The Centre had amended the Noise Pollution Rules 2000 on August 10, under which the state was supposed to declare silence zones. Kumbhakoni had informed the court that no silence zones existed in the state as of now and a fresh exercise would have to be undertaken by the state government to identify silence zones.
A division bench of Justice Oka and Justice Riyaz Chagla, however, disagreed with this stand of the government stating that the government would first have to seek modification of the court’s 2016 order declaring an area of not less than 100 metres around hospitals, educational institutions and courts constitutes as silence zone.
Last Thursday, the state had sought the transfer of all such matters from the Bench headed by Justice Oka after making allegations of bias. Chief Justice Manjula Chellur had transferred the matters to a special bench of Justice Anoop V Mohta and Justice G S Kulkarni but later withdrew the decision to transfer these matters to another Bench.
On Tuesday, defending the amendments to the Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules, the Union of India told the court that its “initial intention was not to wipe away the silent zones. It said that it had only intended to grant the state governments the exclusive power to impose such restrictions.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh denied the court’s charge that the amendment intended to dilute a previous Bombay High Court judgment that had held that noise pollution violated citizens’ Right to Life under Article 21 of the constitution. “The Union government does not oppose the Article 21 argument. It was not our initial intention to dilute the high court judgment but we might have ended up virtually doing so,” Singh said. “Since, each state has its own criteria on declaring silent zones, we gave the power to impose restrictions to the state themselves,” he said.
Singh’s arguments came while a full Bench of the High Court, comprising Justices Oka, Mohta, and Chagla were hearing two petitions challenging the amendment that was notified by the Union on August 10. The petitioners, meanwhile, argued that the state’s move was apparently to appease certain sections in light of the Ganpati and Dahi Handi celebrations.
The petitioners also said that as per law, while the centre did have the powers to amend the Noise Rules, the changes could be made only if they were in “public interest.” While Singh argued that the amendments were indeed in public interest, the full bench said that it was not satisfied with the centre’s submissions. “As per the amendment, no area unless specifically declared as a silent zone by the state government can be treated as a silent zone. So, as of today, areas within 100 meters of hospitals, schools, even this High Court are not silent zones. On what basis can you make the argument of public interest?” Justice Oka said.
The full Bench said that in the next hearing, the Union will need to satisfy the court on whether the amendments were made in public interest, and whether they do or do not infringe upon Article 21.