Days after cases pertaining to noise pollution were transferred to another bench after the Maharashtra government alleged that a bench headed by Justice A S Oka of Bombay High Court harboured a “serious bias” against it, Chief Justice Manjula Chellur is learnt to have decided to constitute a larger bench headed by Justice Oka to hear the petitions Monday, the Advocates’ Association of Western India (AAWI) informed.
Senior members of bar and lawyers’ associations had condemned the government for seeking transfer of matters alleging bias by a judge and had alleged that such a move was to facilitate that no checks and balances were in place ahead of Ganpati Festival.
AAWI president Rajiv Chavan said he had spoken to the Chief Justice and expressed the opinion of members of the bar. “The Chief Justice has decided to constitute a larger bench headed by Justice A S Oka and comprising Justice Anoop V Mohta and Justice Riyaz Chagla to hear matters related to noise pollution. The matter is expected to be listed for hearing on Monday,” said Chavan.
The managing committee of AAWI held a meeting in this regard on Saturday. “In the instant case, the litigant being the state government should have shown restraint and should not have stooped to allege bias against a judge like Justice A S Oka who has been above board and has dedicated himself to the cause of justice for many years,” said AAWI secretary Viresh Purwant.
The government filed an application Thursday seeking transfer of all noise pollution matters before a bench headed by Justice A S Oka after he expressed “prima facie” opinion against the state’s view on silence zones.
The Union of India had on August 10 amended the Noise Pollution Rules 2000 under which the state was supposed to declare silence zones. Therefore, Advocate General A Kumbhakoni had informed the court, no silence zones existed in the state as of now and a fresh exercise would have to be undertaken to identify them.
The division bench of Justice Oka and Justice Riyaz Chagla, however, disagreed with the government’s stand, stating that the government would first have to seek modification of the court’s 2016 orders relating to declaring an area of not less than 100 m around hospitals, educational institutions and courts a silence zone. The matters were eventually transferred to a special bench of Justice Anoop V Mohta and Justice G S Kulkarni by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur.
The Chief Justice’s move to transfer the case to another bench was also criticised by lawyers. Senior counsel Mihir Desai said, “It is true that assignment and transfer of an individual case is an administrative exercise at the discretion of the Chief Justice but like all discretionary powers it has to be exercised reasonably and objectively. When a transfer is sought on grounds of bias against a brother judge, the minimum which is expected is to find out the version of the brother judge and also seek the response of the opposing party.”
The Bombay Bar Association too has called for a general meeting on Monday to discuss the matter and pass an appropriate resolution.