Today marks the end of what has been a tumultuous five years at the Supreme Court for Justice Arun Mishra. While the Bar is divided on how he delivered judgments and held court, no one can deny that Justice Mishra exhibited a quality that is rare in sitting judges - passion.
And as lawyers appearing before him, representatives of companies, and even his fellow judges discovered, this passion would often manifest itself in negative ways, rubbing many the wrong way.
With this context in mind, it was a wholly different Justice Mishra that spoke at his virtual farewell held yesterday. He said,
"Sometimes I have been very harsh in my conduct directly or indirectly. Nobody should feel hurt. Analyse every Judgment and don't colour it this way or that way. If I have hurt anybody then please pardon me, pardon me, pardon me."
While we have done another piece on the important judgments passed by Justice Mishra, this article focuses on his headline-grabbing outbursts in (and outside) Court.
So, how will posterity remember Justice Mishra? He has been described as a kind-hearted, generous, hard-working person by his peers and his juniors. Although, one or two incidents would show a different side.
While observations made by judges in court ought not be given too much importance, Justice Mishra's statements offered a glimpse into another side of a person described as the "Iron Judge".
Justice Mishra made this comment during the hearings on Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) that took place recently. During the hearing on March 18, he expressed, in no uncertain terms, his displeasure at attempts made by the telecom companies seeking re-assessment of the dues payable by them. He even went as far as threatening the heads of the companies with imprisonment if they didn't comply with the Court's orders.
In a statement made outside court, that caused quite the furore, Justice Mishra lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the International Judicial Conference held in February this year. The Bar found the remark to be inappropriate, sparking debates on the independence of the Judiciary at a particularly difficult time in India's history.
This is an excerpt from the judgment authored by Justice Mishra, who refused to recuse from hearing the batch of petitions relating to the Land Acquisition Act. His recusal was sought by certain parties to the litigation on the grounds of “bias of predisposition” with respect to his judgment in the Indore Development Authority case. Justice Mishra was part of the three-Judge Bench that had already delivered a judgment on the issue under consideration by the Constitution Bench headed by him.
Justice Mishra has had a history of run-ins with members of the Bar in open court. On this occasion, it was Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan who faced the judge's ire. After Sankaranarayanan sought permission to explain the background to the Land Acquisition Act case, the Bench urged him to come to the point. A heated exchange ensued, with Justice Mishra threatening Sankaranarayanan with contempt. This prompted the Senior Counsel to walk out the courtroom.
To his credit, Justice Mishra was quick to apologise for losing his temper with Gopal Sankaranarayanan. This, after a battery of senior lawyers approached his Court to address concerns of the Bar. In the end, the matter came to an amicable conclusion, with Justice Mishra conveying his best wishes to the lawyer.
Mishra J made this remark to Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was arguing the AGR matter on behalf of Bharti Airtel.
In September last year, Justice Mishra made some scathing remarks against the Kerala High Court for passing orders supposedly in contravention of the Supreme Court’s orders in the Malankara Church matter. He even went to the extent of taking the name of the High Court judge in open court, lamenting at the "judicial indiscipline" that was developing.
Justice Mishra reportedly made these statements in open court, while hearing a medical college case from Kerala.
Mishra J had yet another of his infamous exchanges with the Bar, this time with Senior Advocate Aryama Sundaram, while hearing the AGR case. He reacted in this manner after Sundaram argued that the judge was not willing to listen to him and was passing judgment without even hearing him.
The judge uttered these words while hearing the case pertaining to sexual harassment allegations against then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. The statement was made after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta suggested a Special Investigation Team probe into the issue.
As Justice MY Eqbal found out back in 2016, even judges were not immune to Justice Mishra's outbursts. While Justice Eqbal wanted to admit a matter, Justice Mishra, who was sitting on the Division Bench with him, wanted to dismiss it.
When things reached an impasse, Justice Eqbal remarked that he has been presiding the Bench for three years. Justice Mishra refused to take that remark standing down and retorted that he had equal rights as a puisne judge of the Bench.
Summing up his career at the Supreme Court, Justice Mishra made this statement during his farewell, perhaps offering the rationale behind his heart-on-sleeve approach.