Sanjay kishan kaul
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#RecusalWatch: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul recused from five cases last week

Bar & Bench

Recusal of judges has been the talk of the town for some time now. The reasons for recusal of judges are  left to the litigant’s imagination more often than not. In fact, the dissenting opinion penned by Justice Kurian Joseph in the NJAC judgment called for greater transparency in recusals. Justice Joseph opined,

“The litigants would always like to know though they may not have a prescribed right to know, as to why a Judge has recused from hearing the case or despite request, has not recused to hear his case. Reasons are required to be indicated broadly.” 

A string of unpopular recusals and equally unpopular and unreasonable demands for recusals culminated in Chief Justice JS Khehar recently hinting that recusals need to be governed by some guidelines so that time is not wasted in hearing pleas for recusal of judges.

In the first of part of this series of Recusal Watch, we look at some facts relating to recusals by Supreme Court judges over the past week.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was recently elevated to the apex court, was inclined to recuse from more cases than his brother and sister judges. To be more specific, the former Chief Justice of the Madras High Court chose to recuse from as many as five cases.

Below are the cases from which he recused:

1. K Aswin Kumar@Ambrish Kumar v State Rep. By Chief Secretary and Ors

A Special Leave Petition (Civil) of 2016, this matter was listed before a Bench of Chief Justice Khehar, Justice DY Chandrachud, and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul on February 20. Justice Kaul recused from this case, probably because the appeal arose out of the case heard by him as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.

In 2014, the High Court had passed interim directions to municipal authorities in Chennai against unauthorised, rampant construction rendering buildings unsafe and prone to fire and other disasters. It was disposed of by the High Court on September 2 last year.

2. M/s Rahmath Trade Centre v K.R.Ramaswamy @ Traffic Ramaswamy

Listed before the same bench on February 23, Kaul J. recused from this case since he must have heard several cases filed by Traffic Ramaswamy, a PIL petitioner who appears regularly before the Madras High Court.

3. Yogesh Gupta v Election Commission of India

This case is a civil writ petition filed in 2014, seeking directions to the Election Commission of India to stop ward-wise counting of votes on the ground that the declaration of results of every polling booth strikes at the root of the right to privacy attached to voting.

The petition has sought declaration of results of every parliamentary or assembly constituency as a whole, instead of declaring the result of every Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), which is the practice currently being followed. In other words, the petitioner wants the results of every EVM to be mixed before the declaration of the final result.

The Election Commission had proposed a cluster counting system, but wants amendment of the relevant law for the purpose. The Centre had rejected the Election Commission’s proposal to introduce a ‘totaliser’ machine for mixing and counting of votes polled in different EVMs, as it did not want a controversy to crop up ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

The case was listed before the aforementioned Bench on February 20, when Justice Kaul chose to recuse.

Why he did so remains a mystery.

The case will  be listed before another Bench after four weeks.

4. Bhim Singh v. Union of India

A writ petition filed in 2005 seeking fast-tracking of the criminal justice system in the country, the matter was listed on February 23, when Justice Kaul chose to recuse. Again, it is not known why Justice Kaul chose to keep away from this case.

The case will now go before another bench after eight weeks.  The court had passed significant interim orders in the case in 2014.

5. NM Singh v. Union of India

On the same day, sitting on the same bench, Justice Kaul recused from hearing another case. A civil writ petition filed in 2013, this petition seeks directions to fill all vacant posts in the CBI through direct recruitment, to ensure its efficiency.

An amendment in 2000 had resulted in a decline in direct recruitment to the CBI through competitive civil service examinations. Nearly 20 per cent of the posts in the CBI are vacant, even as the demand for more cases to be referred to the CBI increases. Pleadings are complete in this case,  and it is ready for final hearing.

Some other recusals

The 2000 civil appeal of Manipal Academy of Higher Education v State of Karnataka was listed before Justice J Chelameswar and Justice S Abdul Nazeer on February 21. Justice Nazeer recused, probably because he heard another case involving Manipal Academy as a party when he was a judge of the Karnataka High Court.

Rajnish Kumar Bharti v State of Bihar, a Special Leave Petition (Crl) arising out of an order passed by the High Court of Patna on February 2, was listed before Justices Kurian Joseph and R Banumathi on February 22, when Justice Banumathi recused.

The appellant had been denied anticipatory bail by the High Court in a rape case. The matter was subsequently listed before the Bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Abdul Nazeer, which granted the anticipatory bail on February 23.

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