Updated: September 28, 2015 6:01:07 am
Since January, at least 18 of the 52 Punjab and Haryana High Court judges, or more than one-third of the total strength, have recused from hearing high-profile cases — some have done so in more than one case.
Judges generally recuse from hearing any case when they feel that there is a conflict of interest involved, if the judge had earlier worked on the case as an advocate or if someone from the litigating parties approaches the judge.
After a judge’s recusal, the case is sent back to the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court for placing before another judge. The judges do not record any specific reason in the order as to why they were compelled to recuse from hearing the case, as it is not mandatory.
Consider the following instances of judges recusing in high-profile cases in the Punjab and Haryana High Court from January this year:
* Seven judges recused from hearing related cases in which the High Court later ordered the constitution of a special investigating team, including CBI officers, to probe seven FIRs registered in Mohali, Chandigarh, Ludhiana and New Delhi with regard to the property disputes of a private company. These are Justices Tejinder Singh Dhindsa, Ritu Bahri, Sabina, H S Sidhu, Paramjeet Singh, M S Sullar and Amol Rattan Singh.
* Five High Court judges have recused from hearing the case about the tussle between the Chandigarh Golf Club and the Chandigarh administration on the issue of the renewal of lease rent of nearly 132 acres of land under the club’s possession. These are Justices Amol Rattan Singh, Tejinder Singh Dhindsa, Hemant Gupta, A K Mittal and Surya Kant.
* Three judges recused from hearing a bunch of petitions seeking quashing of the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in an alleged multi-crore money-laundering case in Chandigarh under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. These are Justices S K Mittal, Hemant Gupta and Rajive Bhalla.
The Indian Express had reported on April 25 about a phone call received by the ED investigator in the money laundering case from Justice Hemant Gupta on March 16, asking about ongoing inquiries into a firm in which the judge’s wife, Alka Gupta, was a director until June 27, 2009.
* Two judges, namely Justices S K Mittal and Rekha Mittal, recused from hearing a public interest litigation seeking a time-bound probe by the ED in the alleged multi-crore money-laundering racket under the High Court’s supervision.
* Justices Hemant Gupta and Justice H S Sidhu recused from hearing a bunch of petitions seeking a CBI probe into an alleged multi-crore drug racket in Punjab and a stay on the transfer of Niranjan Singh, the ED assistant director probing the case.
* Justice T P S Mann had recused from hearing a petition filed by the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association challenging a Patiala trial court’s decision last November of acquitting sitting Congress MLA from Samrala Amrik Singh Dhillon, former chief parliamentary secretary Raj Khurana of BJP and 37 others in the fertiliser scam of 1995 wherein farm subsidies to the tune of Rs 49 lakh were allegedly embezzled through a Jalandhar-based firm.
* Justice Arun Palli referred to the other bench for hearing, a case filed by Punjab Police’s Gurmit Singh Pinky seeking his reinstatement in service as police inspector. Pinky was sentenced to a life-term for murdering a Ludhiana youth on January 7, 2001, following a minor altercation. He got premature release from jail in May last year. Pinky had reportedly helped police in fighting terrorism in Punjab, and had been appointed initially as a commando.
* Justice H S Sidhu, while in the division bench, recused from hearing a case filed by seven promotee-Punjab Police Service (PPS) officers challenging a single judge’s order of January 19 vacating a stay on the Union Public Service Commission’s decision of December 12, 2014, for promotion of five direct recruit PPS cadre officers to the IPS cadre.
* Justice Rameshwar Singh Malik had recused from hearing a petition filed by a Supreme Court advocate challenging the appointment of 93 law offices in the Haryana Advocate General’s office, allegedly in a non-transparent manner.
* Justice Daya Chaudhary recused from hearing a case filed by two Punjab residents challenging the judgment of a Bathinda trial court of August 2014. The court had accepted the police closure report in the case registered against Sirsa Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim for dressing up and depicting himself as Guru Gobind Singh.
* Justice Augustine George Masih had recused from hearing the case in which the High Court had on December 23 last year ordered a CBI probe against Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a case of alleged forced castration of his over-400 followers.
When contacted, Chandigarh-based Justice J C Verma, a retired judge of the Rajasthan High Court, said that he was of the view that judges should give reasons for their recusal in the order and “be above doubts”. “Otherwise if I have faith on me that I’ll do justice, then why should I recuse? I should decide the case on merits,” added Justice Verma.
Justice Verma said that since most of the judges are local, they are bound to face such problems. “In some cases they are approached, in some they have their personal interest and they may have good relations with some lawyers appearing in cases. I am from Chandigarh and was posted in Rajasthan High Court. There, nobody knew me and I had no reason to recuse,” he said.
Chandigarh-based barrister and senior advocate Roshan Lal Batta said that the recusal of so many judges could be because most of them are locals. “But if we get maximum judges from outside Punjab, they would face difficulty in reading Punjabi,” said Batta.
Regarding citing reasons for recusal in the order, Batta said that “judges can record reasons in the interest of justice”.
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