Govt. recants bias charge against Justice Oka

The State government on Monday unconditionally withdrew its contention that Justice Abhay Oka was ‘harbouring a serious bias’ while hearing cases pertaining to noise pollution. Expressing regret, the government tendered an unqualified apology, while expressing faith and confidence in Justice Oka.

On August 24, the State government had filed an application before Chief Justice Manjula Chellur, seeking transfer of all petitions pertaining to implementation of the Noise Pollution Rules to a Bench of which Justice Oka was not a member. Chief Justice Chellur passed an administrative order the same day allowing the plea and placed the matters before another Bench.

The government’s application drew strong criticism from lawyers and former Advocate Generals. Following this, Chief Justice Chellur transferred the case back to the Bench comprising Justices Oka and Riyaz Chagla, and added another judge to it. The full Bench comprising Justices Oka, Chagla and Anoop Mohta said on Monday that it would hear two petitions challenging the August 2017 amendment to the Noise Pollution Rules on Tuesday.

Reacting to the State government’s withdrawal of its bias allegation, Justice Oka said, “The Maharashtra government has taken the 155-year-old Bombay High Court for a ride by accusing bias. What was the reason for the sudden change of heart? Was it wisdom from God? The Maharashtra government doesn’t want the Bombay High Court to exist, retain its dignity.”

In an application tendered on behalf of Mr. Kumbhakoni, the government said, “The contention of bias by Justice Oka was not raised as an allegation against the Judge personally but was limited specifically and limited only as a ‘subject matter’ pertaining to noise pollution. However, unfortunately it appears that the said intention of the State government has been widely misunderstood and misinterpreted and has been projected as if the State government is against the judiciary in general and the Hon’ble Judge in particular, which the State government never intended nor intends.”

File affidavit: Bench

A Bench comprising Justices Oka and Chagla, however, said an apology must be tendered by way of an affidavit by the government. “A mere statement by the AG doesn’t translate into the State’s apology,” the Bench said.

The judges said the government should show remorse for its act of filing the application before the Chief Justice seeking transfer of noise pollution-related cases to another Bench. “It must submit an affidavit explaining its application before the Chief Justice. The State should show remorse. Also, such an affidavit must be signed by a senior State official, and it must identify the person who gave the AG’s office the direction to seek the transfer,” the Bench said.

Mr. Kumbhakoni said the State government would file an affidavit to the effect on Tuesday.

Justice Oka said the State should tender an apology to the Chief Justice, who was misled by not being shown the Bench’s order. He said the AG had personally handed over the government’s letter to the court, a task normally performed by a clerk, and called it an ‘extraordinary procedure’. “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 consequence of the State’s action is now irreparable. It has damaged the judiciary reputation,” Justice Oka said. — With PTI inputs

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 2:21:17 AM |

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