The Maharashtra government Monday apologised and withdrew the allegations it earlier made against Justice A S Oka of the Bombay High Court that the judge harbours a “serious bias” against the state machinery. The government had made the allegations in a bunch of petitions relating to noise pollution that were being heard by a division bench headed by Justice Oka.
The bench has now asked the state government to file an affidavit tendering an unconditional apology while expressing remorse for its conduct. “The damage is irreparable as far as the institution is concerned,” said Justice Oka, adding that the Advocate General should make the state government aware of the “consequences” of its action. Justice Oka further said the “state did not trust the High Court and that is the difficulty”.
“You have taken this 155-year-old institution for a ride. First, go and apologise to the Chief Justice whom you misled by not showing our order. Your apology is not bonafide,” said the court.
In a fresh communication by deputy secretary Vijay Patil submitted before the court on Monday, he pointed out that the contention of bias was “not raised as an allegation against the Honourable Judge personally but was limited specifically and limited only to the ‘subject matter’ involved in the group of matters”. It further stated that the state held the Judge individually with pride and in the highest esteem and has the highest regard and respect for him “which is demonstrated by the state in various matters” decided by him where it is a contesting party,” the communication stated. The request for transferring the cases to another bench has also been withdrawn.
The government had filed an application last Thursday, where it had sought transfer of all noise pollution matters being heard by a bench headed by Justice Oka after he had expressed “prima facie” opinion against the state’s view doing away with silence zones.
The Centre had amended the Noise Pollution Rules 2000 on August 10, under which the state was supposed to declare silence zones. Advocate General A 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, expressed their view and 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 a silence zone.
On Thursday, Chief Justice Manjula Chellur had transferred the matters to a special bench of Justice Anoop V Mohta and Justice G S Kulkarni. But apparently the state government did not inform the Chief Justice of an order passed by Justice Oka while hearing the matter earlier in the day leading her to pass such an order of transfer of cases. Later, the order of transfer of matters before a bench which did not include Justice Oka was withdrawn by the Chief Justice.
“The AG sought that this bench recuse itself from the hearing. However, when we passed an order refusing to do so, you failed to inform the Chief Justice of our order. As a result, the CJ was forced to pass the transfer order, and then later, she was compelled to withdraw it,” the bench said.
The court further questioned why the AG’s office made the application seeking a transfer of the petition calling it an “extraordinary move,” adding that this job was usually done by the clerk. “The state only requested the Chief Justice (of the Bombay HC) to consolidate all noise pollution matters, and to place them before a bench of which Justice Oka is not a member,” Kumbhakoni said. The court questioned if this was “child’s play” for the state.
Kumbhakoni said he took responsibility as ‘Captain of the ship’. “I committed a mistake. I assumed that the registrar judicial will go and show the order to the Chief Justice,” he said. “You have taken the responsibility. We uphold the dignity of the office of the AG. Let someone else also take responsibility for giving you instructions,” said the court, adding that the state cannot make such allegations against an “August institute and they must understand the consequences of such frivolous action”.
“A mere statement by the AG doesn’t translate into the state’s apology. It must submit an affidavit explaining its application before the Chief Justice. The state should show remorse,” the bench said.
Kumbhakoni said the state will file an affidavit to the effect on Tuesday. Justice Oka said the bench was not touchy about the allegations made against them but were concerned about the prestige of the court.
Justice Chagla further asked, “If you have named the Judge saying he harbours bias how can you say these are not personal allegations?” The court also questioned what had led to the change of heart by the state. “It can’t be something that happened due to passage of three days,” said Justice Oka.
Meanwhile, lawyer Birendra Saraf, appearing for Awaaz Foundation, said, “If today cognisance is taken of such allegations made by the state, private citizens will insist in future that any such baseless allegations made by them should receive similar treatment. Where does one draw the line.”
The court then asked Saraf two questions, “In your long experience what led to the change of mind by state? Was it the wisdom of God?” Saraf said that some questions were better left unanswered.