Outgoing Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Friday said that the Supreme Court was “not happy” to read what supposedly senior advocates of the top court said regarding its decision to take up Covid-19 related matters in a suo moto basis. “There was no intention to take over the cases from the High Courts and therefore the criticism was unfounded,” Bobde said on his last working day as the CJI.
“But everyone has their own opinion,” he said, pointing towards then statements made by lawyers in the Supreme Court Bar Association.
The comments of CJI Bobde came as senior advocate Harish Salve sought permission to recuse himself as an amicus curiae from the case. “I do not want the matter to be heard under a shadow that I was appointed on the basis of my school friendship with CJI,” Salve said.
Bobde responded saying, “We understand you are pained by those statements and we honour your sentiments.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta chimed in and said that the media and electronic media had taken up a “maligning competition, which was the last thing the country wanted during a time of disaster”. Mehta also urged Salve not to discharge himself from being an amicus curiae to the case.
“We are not in a position in the country to have a maligning competition in media and electronic media. Someday somebody from judiciary has to take cognizance of this trend of electronic media. I saw on digital media people literally abusing. This needs to be looked into”, the SG said.
At this point, Justice L Nageswara Rao asked senior advocate Dushyant Dave, “Even before the order was released, it was being criticized for something which was not there in the order. Is this the way Senior Advocates speak? Without seeing the order? Is this the way you respond? Imputing motives? Without reading the order?”
Dave said, “It was not imputing motives. We all thought your lordships was going to do it (transfer cases from HCs to SC). It was a genuine perception. Your lordships have done it before”.
Justice Ravindra Bhat said, “Mr.Dave, please. We did not say a word about the High Courts. We never stalled the High Courts from proceeding. We asked the Centre to approach High Courts.”
Justice Rao added, “Senior lawyers should protect the institution. We feel institutions will be strengthened by objective criticism.”
Solicitor General intervened and said “Chief Justice is retiring today. I genuinely feel he deserves a loving farewell. Senior Advocates must not give public statements on the basis of perceptions”.
To this Dave replied, “Mr. Mehta, you have been defending the government only on the basis of perceptions.”
Meanwhile, senior advocate and the present President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Vikas Singh said, “Solicitor General has said that no migrants were walking in the road and the Court has accepted”
“What is going on here”, the SG asked.
“Hospitals in Delhi are facing oxygen shortage, and court must look into inter-state issues,” Vikas Singh said.
“That is exactly what we are looking at,” CJI replied.
CJI then adjourned the matter until next Tuesday and allowed the request of Salve to be relieved from the case.