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After an incendiary hearing, the Supreme Court today dismissed the application filed by activist Harsh Mander seeking the recusal of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi from the case related to the treatment of inmates in Assam’s detention centres.
The Court also struck down Mander’s name as the petitioner in the case while replacing it with the Supreme Court Legal Services Authority. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was earlier representing Mander, has been appointed as the Amicus Curiae in the case.
When the matter was taken up today, the Bench of CJI Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna allowed Harsh Mander to file his application. This, after the Supreme Court Registry had refused to accept it.
At the outset, Mander told the Court that he had discharged his counsel Prashant Bhushan, and would argue in person. To this, CJI Gogoi responded,
“Say whatever you have to fearlessly. Do not read out from the text, speak from your heart.”
Mander went into the merits of his application, highlighting the plight of inmates in Assam’s detention centres. He went on to argue,
“As the hearings proceeded, my petition seeking release of detained persons was converted into more people being arrested. Thousand of people were being forcefully deported.”
At this point, CJI Gogoi interjected,
“What if we say that you have been set up by the Govt of Assam to file this application seeking recusal of the Chief Justice of India. How will you defend yourself?”
He went on to add,
“When Court debate takes place, a judge says a lot of things to test the waters. What was said in the debate was misinterpreted by you as the opinion of the Judge. The opinion of the judge is reflected in the Court’s order.
The main prayer is still pending before this court. How can you form an opinion that this Court has decided on the issue? Is this fair? That is why you should not have become a lawyer yourself. You should have kept the lawyer.”
Gogoi J called for Mander to show some faith in judges.
“Oral observations are part of the debate. Learn to trust your judges. The day you don’t trust your judges, you have had it.”
Justice Sanjiv Khanna backed him up, saying,
“When we ask questions, we want answers. Till we pass an order, we are open to change.”
An unconvinced Mander then said that he is still concerned about the matter. In reply, CJI Gogoi said,
“You see the damage you have done to the institution? Is the Court not entitled to ask questions? If the Court asks, has it made up it’s mind? Is it biased?”
Gogoi J then asked Mander where he got the information regarding the Court’s oral observations in the matter when he was not in Court. Mander replied that the media had reported on it. CJI Gogoi shot back,
“So you got it from social media and you come and tell CJI, ‘recuse yourself’?”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Court for the record that the government does not support the application for recusal.
CJI Gogoi finally said,
“Recusal is destruction of the institution. We are not recusing. We will not allow anybody to browbeat this institution.”
With that statement, the Court dismissed the application filed by Harsh Mander. It then proceeded to appoint Prashant Bhushan as Amicus Curiae in the case.
The case relates to the living conditions of foreigners in Assam detention centres. When the matter filed by Harsh Mander was heard in February this year, the Supreme Court decided to look into it. Specifically, the issues of living conditions and the long periods for which foreigners are detained in the centres was sought to be looked into.
When the matter was taken up in April, the Court had expressed its dissatisfaction with the data provided on the issue by the Assam government. It summoned had the Chief Secretary of Assam, after initially moving to order a non-bailable arrest warrant against him.