February 24, 2015 4:11:51 am
In an unusual move, the Supreme Court on Monday fielded its Registrar to deny that Chief Justice of India H L Dattu had “on his own” shifted the bail plea of social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand to a new bench.
“It is completely incorrect that the Chief Justice shifted the matter on his own. If one of the judges on the bench recuse, what are the options before the CJI? In this case, a judge recused and hence the CJI sent the matter to a different bench,” said Registrar M K Hanjura in an official statement on behalf of the Supreme Court.
Hanjura, however, declined to disclose which of the two judges on the bench — Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and N V Ramana — had recused. He also did not comment on why the judge had not recused when the bail plea first came up before the bench.
But sources close to the judges said: “It is affirmative that one of the judges did not recuse nor did he have any idea that the matter was being shifted to another bench because his brother judge had recused. Usually, such things are always in the knowledge of both the judges on the bench. He has also not seen any letter of recusal.”
Ordinarily, judges recuse in open court proceedings, but in this case, the fact that the bail plea had been shifted to a new bench only came to light after the cause list was issued. Further, there was no official statement issued by the Supreme Court registry on why the case was being listed before a new bench.
The bail plea was shifted to a new bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Adarsh Kumar Goel on Thursday, less than a week after the bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and N V Ramana dubbed the allegations against Setalvad as “grave”. Setalvad has sought bail in connection with a case of alleged financial fraud. The new bench protected her from arrest, while expressing its inclination to grant bail on certain conditions.
This came close on the heels of advocate Prashant Bhushan stating that Justices Mukhopadhaya and Ramana should recuse from hearing the bail plea since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited to the weddings of their children. He drew attention to the long battle between Setalvad and the Gujarat government when Modi was its chief minister, and said an apprehension of bias could emerge if the matter was heard by these two judges.
But sources close to the judges told The Indian Express that there was nothing improper or exceptional in inviting political and executive functionaries, and many of the judges do it.
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