Controversy in SC over listing of Chhattisgarh NAN scam case before Justice Shah-led Bench

Sibal says convention required the case be listed before either of two associate judges on Bench led by Justice Lalit, since retired, who originally heard the case

Published - November 18, 2022 10:31 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on November 18, 2022 witnessed a high-octane verbal exchange between the Chhattisgarh government and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over the listing of the Nagrik Apurti Nigam (NAN) scam case before a Bench led by Justice M.R. Shah.

In an oral mentioning before Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for the State, said the case was originally heard by a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit, the current CJI’s immediate predecessor.

However, that Bench, which also comprised Justices Ajay Rastogi and S. Ravindra Bhat, had dropped the case from its roster on October 20 as Justice Lalit was retiring on November 8 and there was no time left for a detailed hearing. The Justice Lalit Bench had ordered the case to be listed before an “appropriate Bench” on November 14.

On November 14, the case came up before a new Bench of Justices Shah and Hima Kohli, which posted it for hearing next on November 21. Mr. Sibal had on that day raised an objection, saying convention required the case to be listed before either of the two associate judges, Justices Rastogi or Justice Bhat, on Justice Lalit’s Bench.

On Friday, Mr. Sibal made the mentioning before Chief Justice Chandrachud.

Chief Justice Chandrachud said he could have constituted a Bench of himself and Justices Rastogi and Bhat. But that would have meant breaking up two separate Benches headed by Justices Rastogi and Bhat. Remarking that the case may have been sent to Justice Shah, as the next senior judge available, for practical reasons, the Chief Justice said he would look into the file on the administrative side and take a call.

Transfer sought

The case concerns allegations of cheating worth crores through the supply of low-quality food through the public distribution system in Chhattisgarh. The ED had also registered a money laundering case. It had approached the apex court seeking a transfer of the case outside Chhattisgarh. It had alleged that some constitutional functionaries were in touch with a High Court judge to help the accused. Both the State and the ED had submitted documents in sealed covers earlier in the Supreme Court.

Appearing for the ED, the Solicitor General said there was a growing trend to malign the judicial institution in the face of adverse orders, especially in politically sensitive cases. He said he could “neither choose nor avoid a Bench”.

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