IT WAS a total bedlam in the courtroom no. ‘1’ of Punjab and Haryana High Court Friday afternoon, as two designated senior advocates leveled personal allegations against each other in the middle of the hearing of public interest litigation (PIL) forcing Chief Justice Krishna Murari and Justice AB Chaudhari to storm out of the courtroom. The court was hearing the PIL in which it is monitoring investigation into the Bhola drugs racket case in Punjab and the steps being taken to tackle the drugs problem in the region.
“What we must say is the atmosphere is not congenial for the hearing. Too much personal allegations have been made. This is the position… you all are senior advocates. This is no way. What lessons are you giving to the youngsters who are sitting behind you,” the Chief Justice said as he left the courtroom along with Justice Chaudhari, leaving the hearing midway.
Senior Advocate Anupam Gupta, during the course of arguments, in a verbal attack against Assistant Solicitor General of India Chetan Mittal said that latter’s family was “facing investigation” by the Enforcement Directorate yet he was representing the same agency before the court. A furious Mittal shot back that he also knows regarding Gupta’ family and the alleged illegal allotments in the name of his family members. Mittal further asked Gupta not to cast aspersions and involve families. The verbal exchange erupted as soon as Mittal seemed to echo and agree to the question raised by Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda regarding “who represents whom” in the case and identification of issues pending in the litigation.
On Friday, the uproar began as soon as the arguments shifted towards the sealed cover report containing a Punjab government official panel’s take on the allegations against senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia in the Bhola drugs case. While Gupta informed the court that the report submitted has remained in court in a sealed cover for months and before that also there had been “inaction” in the matter because of the personalities involved.
The division bench asked Nanda regarding the State’s position and the steps taken while referring to Gupta’s submission. Nanda responded that the report has been submitted in a sealed cover and is with the court. In response to another query, Nanda also raised questions over the multiple issues in the PIL and the number of lawyers appearing before the court and sought its intervention in sorting out the same saying the issues need to be identified as do the lawyers who are appearing.
“Anybody is filing anything? Anybody is filing any application. This matter started with something else… On the basis of press reports, there are applications. Who is appearing for whom? Who is speaking for whom,” submitted Nanda. Interjecting Nanda, Gupta shouted back saying that it was an “wholesale” attack on members of the Bar in the case.
“This will not deter us. If he wants to question our motives, my lord may allow us… we will question the State’s motives and the Advocate General’s motives. What kind of argument is this? We are men of conviction. We are not mere pushovers,” said Gupta.
Nanda while replying that he was not attacking anyone, said, “Am I asking for too much?”
The verbal exchange suddenly then shifted to the war of words between Gupta and Mittal. As the senior lawyers continued the verbal exchange, the division bench rose and said the hearing cannot continue. Soon, the Chief Justice returned for his other cases. The PIL was later adjourned for next hearing to March 14.
Since the case is a PIL, many lawyers have appeared in it from time to time. According to the orders in the case, Gupta is seen as representing ED Deputy Director Niranjan Singh; Gupta since last year has also appeared on behalf of Punjab DGP-rank officer Siddharth Chattopadhyaya when he sought protection from alleged false implication in an investigation. Gupta has also majorly played the role of amicus curiae in the PIL.
After the elevation of Justice Surya Kant, who was hearing the case till May 2018, as the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court, the case came up for hearing before the present division bench. However, since a number of connected issues and investigations are pending for consideration and monitoring in the matter, the hearings since last year have only surrounded over the issues which need to be taken up in the PIL or have got adjourned unheard due to different reasons. There has not been any substantial adjudication in the case since then except in the bail applications.