Tamil Nadu

ACJ reverses ex-CJ’s decision on Bench hearing Sterlite case

Registry told to list the case before a Bench that had already heard it substantially.

Acting Chief Justice (ACJ) of the Madras High Court Vineet Kothari has reversed a change made by former Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani to the composition of a Division Bench that was hearing a batch of cases filed by natural resources company Vedanta Limited, challenging the forced closure of the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi by the State government last year due to environmental concerns.

Acceding to a joint request made by lawyers who had already argued the case substantially before a Bench of Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan for 28 sittings between June 20 and August 30, the ACJ directed the High Court Registry to list the cases before the same Bench without listing them before Justices Sivagnanam and R. Tharani in Madurai, as ordered by Ms. Tahilramani on September 5. The ACJ also left it to the two judges concerned to decide the date and mode of hearing of the cases, depending on their convenience, since Justice Sivagnanam is currently on deputation as the administrative judge of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, and will continue there till the end of November. According to informed sources, the hearing of the cases will effectively begin only after he returns to Chennai in December.

In the meantime, the judges might take up the matter through video conferencing for the limited purpose of deciding the date from which the hearing could be continued. Since the lawyers themselves had expressed reservations over arguing the matter through video conferencing due to the voluminous records involved in the case, it may not be possible to complete the arguments in their entirety on merits through video conferencing.

It was after the Division Bench heard marathon arguments advanced by a battery of senior counsel, representing Vedanta as well as a host of interveners who had objected to the plea to reopen the copper plant, and was assured of the possibility of being able to wrap up the entire hearing in the case within a week or so, that then Chief Justice Tahilramani deputed Justice Sivagnanam to the Madurai Bench for a period of three months, beginning September 3.

Special permission

Shocked by the sudden development, the lawyers, on August 30, obtained the leave of the Bench to make a representation to the Chief Justice so that special permission could be granted for the same Bench to hear the cases in person for seven to eight days. The Bench granted the leave and directed the Registry to list the cases for hearing on September 6. However, the cases were not listed on that day as directed by the Bench.

Inquiries revealed that then Chief Justice Tahilramani had passed an administrative order on September 5, just a day before her resignation, stating that the cases should henceforth be listed before Justices Sivagnanam and Tharani, who were sitting together in Madurai since the Bench comprising Justice Subbaroyan had “not heard the matter on merits” so far. This development upset the entire team of lawyers, who made a representation to the ACJ on September 20. The second representation stated that the former CJ appeared to have changed the constitution of the Bench on an “erroneous understanding” that arguments on merits were yet to commence.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 3:39:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/acj-reverses-ex-cjs-decision-on-bench-hearing-sterlite-case/article29684562.ece

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