In refusing Justice Mishra’s recusal, SC relied on two verdicts by CJI-led benches

NEW DELHI : The five-judge Constitution bench hearing a case on the interpretation of a provision of the Land Acquisition Act refused recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from the bench by relying on two judgments delivered by benches headed by former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Mishra.

The verdicts, delivered in 2018, had held that the CJI has the last word in assigning cases to other benches.

The petitioners — land associations — had sought Justice Mishra’s recusal on the ground that he had delivered the 2018 verdict, which has to be reconsidered, in which the court deviated from the settled law and subsequently sought a larger bench hearing on the issue.

Among the judgments cited, Justice Mishra relied upon a three-judge bench’s ruling in Asok Pande v. Supreme Court of India, and another ruling by a five-judge bench in Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India

Both benches, headed by then CJI Dipak Misra, reiterated that there cannot be any “mistrust in functioning of the office of the CJI” (then Misra).

While Asok Pande’s plea had challenged the CJI’s powers to assign cases to other benches, following allegations that CJI Misra was “selecting assigning cases” to Justice Arun Mishra, the Constitution bench was set up to overturn an order of a two-judge bench to set up a larger bench to hear a matter of alleged bribes taken in the name of judges.

Justice Arun Mishra was also part of the five-judge bench hearing the latter case.

At a press conference in January 2018, four then-most senior judges of the Supreme Court — CJI Ranjan Gogoi (then second in seniority) and Justices J Chelameswar, Madan Lokur, Kurian Joseph (now retired) — had expressed concern that significant cases were being assigned by CJI Misra to Justice Arun Mishra.

Refusing to recuse from the case, Justice Mishra said, “There may not be even one judge in this court who has not taken a view one way or the other concerning Section 24 of the Act of 2013, either in this court or in the High Court. If the submission is accepted, no judge will have the power to decide such a matter on the judicial side. We have to deal with cases every day in which similar or somewhat different questions are involved concerning the same provision.

“For having taken a view once, if recusal is to be made, it would be very difficult to get a judge to hear and decide a question of law.”