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The hearing in Supreme Court in the contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan was eventful in itself due to the remarks from the Bench and the submissions of Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave and Attorney General KK Venugopal. However, what grabbed attention in the interim was the face-off between Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan.
Mehta, appearing for the Central government vehemently argued against entertaining the recusal application filed by Prashant Bhushan seeking recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from the case.
“He has made many such attempts (to get judges to recuse) even before. Any interference (by the court) in this application will embolden other litigants to come before ‘Your Lordships’ with similar prayers.”
Mehta placed heavy reliance on the judgment by the Supreme Court in Judge Loya case in which the Court had come down upon Bhushan for seeking recusal of two judges. In that case, the Court had said that the conduct of lawyers appearing for some of the petitioners amounted to criminal contempt but had refrained from pursuing the matter.
“This application is yet another attempt at forum hunting”, Mehta submitted.
Dushyant Dave objected and questioned the locus of the Solicitor General.
“What is the message we are sending when we allow persons who are not parties to the matter to argue at length”, asked Dave.
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan then intervened, which led to a heated exchange.
“This is the wrong precedent. AG has already filed a petition. What is this other one? Centre has not been allowed to argue.
He does it everywhere, just gets up and argues. Solicitor General does not have the right to address this court in any matter, it is nonsense. This court is setting a wrong precedent by allowing it”, said Dhavan.
Attorney General KK Venugopal objected to the choice of words by Dhavan saying words like “nonsense” should not be used.
“It is nonsense. He is abusing the process of this court”, Dhavan maintained his stance.
Tushar Mehta said that he won’t employ the language employed by Dhavan and it was becoming frequent on the part of Dhavan to engaged in such tirades.
“It is becoming very frequent”, he said
“On your part”, shot back Dhavan.
The Bench also intervened with Justice Arun Mishra saying, “Cool down Mr. Dhavan.”
“I am cool Your Lordship. One advantage I have is my blood pressure is normal”, Dhavan.
“You should get that checked now”, said Justice Mishra.
Mehta in response questioned the conduct of Dhavan inside Court. In order to buttress his arguments, Mehta quoted extensively from the Supreme Court judgment of May 2014 in SEBI Sahara case in which Justices KS Radhakrishnan and JS Khehar had come down heavily upon Rajeev Dhavan for “affronts, jibes and carefully and consciously planned snubs” while seeking recusal of the two judges.
This is not the first time Dhavan has sparred with Mehta. In 2015, during the hearing of a case involving the Medical Council of India, tensions between the two reached their zenith. Right from the beginning of the hearing, there was hostility from both Dhavan and Mehta as they sought to interrupt each other. Dhavan, evidently not pleased with Mehta’s interruptions, suddenly burst out and told Mehta,
“Don’t ask me to sit down.”
Mehta was taken aback by the sudden outburst and there was a brief exchange of words between the two.
Subsequently, when the hearing was over and the lawyers were leaving the courtroom, Mehta responded to Dhavan. But it was met with a curt and sharp “Shut up..just shut up” as Dhavan walked away.
During the hearing of the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid case, Dhavan had a bone to pick with another ASG, Maninder Singh. Coming to Singh’s defence, Mehta had said in open court,
“There are people who are arrogant. With due respect to the learned Senior Counsel, he seems to have undergone a course in it.”
More recently, during the hearing of Bhima Koregaon case, Mehta and Dhavan had a spat with Mehta telling Dhavan that he does not want to “stoop to the level” of Dhavan.