An appeal filed by activist Gautam P. Navlakha has taken an unusual trajectory in the Supreme Court - so far five judges have opted to recuse themselves in the three instances the case came up for hearing since September 30.
The appeal concerns Mr. Navlakha’s plea to protect his fundamental right to personal liberty and quashing of the FIR against him in the Bhima Koregaon case.
On Thursday, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat recused from hearing the petition when it came up for admission before a third three-judge Bench that also comprised Justice Arun Mishra, who led it, and Justice Vineet Saran.
The case will now come up for hearing before a fourth Bench on October 4.
Earlier, on September 30, the case came up for the first time before a three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde and S. Abdul Nazeer. However, the CJI withdrew from the case.
The one-line order said, “List the matter before a Bench wherein one of us, Justice Ranjan Gogoi (CJI) is not a member”.
The CJI, lawyers in the case said, may have recused himself from the case because of the paucity of time.
The CJI, who is retiring on November 17, wants to entirely focus on the Ayodhya appeals. He heads the Constitution Bench, which is hearing the appeals all day from Monday to Friday. The Bench intends to finish the hearing it by October 18.
The Navlakha plea then came up for hearing before another Bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai on October 1. Though the expression of reluctance to hear the case seems to have come from Justice Gavai in the courtroom, the court’s order later showed that all the three judges did not want to hear the case.
The one-line order read, “List on October 3 before a Bench of which none of us are members”.
The petition then came up for admission before the third three-judge Bench comprising Justice Bhat.
Mr. Navlakha has moved the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court decision to reject his plea to quash the FIR against him in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Protection from arrest
On September 13, the High Court granted him protection from arrest for two weeks to approach the Supreme Court in appeal.
The FIR filed by the Pune Police accuses Mr. Navlakha of links with naxal groups.
Poet Vara Vara Rao; lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj; and activists Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Mr. Navlakha were arrested by the police as part of a pan-India crackdown and raids.
In September 2018, a majority judgment of the Supreme Court held that the arrests were not an attempt to silence dissenting voices in the country. It had given the go-ahead to the Maharashtra police to pursue the case against the five activists under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act but allowed the house arrests of the five to continue for four weeks. In October, the court dismissed a review petition.