In an unprecedented development, the Maharashtra government has got the senior most High Court judge changed after it feared that he may not pass a favourable order on noise pollution. This unprecedented move came after the state’s BJP government alleged biases against Justice Abhay Oka, who was hearing a case pertaining to noise pollution, reported Mumbai Mirror.
In his application filed before the court, the Deputy Secretary of State’s Home Department, Vijay Patil said, “With utmost respect and utmost regards towards Hon’ble Shri Justice AS Oka, it is humbly submitted that during the course of hearing the Hon’ble judge has expressed such views which clearly demonstrate that the Hon’ble judge is biased in subject matter of these petitions.”
The state government’s application also expressed it unhappiness on Justice Oka’s criticism for Dahi Handi festival and his views on silence zones. While making observations on the recently amended Noise Pollution Rules on declaration of silence zones, Justice Oka had said that the same court’s order passed in August last year stating that there was no specific need to notify such zones would remain in force till the state gets that order modified or reviewed.
On Thursday morning, the bench was informed that the state government had moved in an application before the Chief Justice seeking the transfer of the case. Justice Oka refused to recuse himself from the cases and passed an order asking the AG to seek an order from the Chief Justice.
Few hours later, at 3 PM on Thursday, the bench was informed that the Chief Justice had transferred the cases to another bench leaving Justice Oka utterly shocked.
The bench of Justice AS Oka and Justice RI Chagla observed, “We are shocked to record all this. As stated earlier, we followed the tradition of expressing prima facie view to the learned counsels representing the parties only with a view to get proper assistance from them. After the matters were adjourned yesterday with a view to accommodate the learned Advocate General, the State has filed the letter dated 24th August 2017 making serious allegations of bias against one of us.”
The move has also left senior lawyers incensed. Speaking to Janta Ka Reporter, Supreme Court lawyer, Mohammad Ali Khan said that while it was common for an individual petitioner to make such allegations, this was the first time a state government had made these extraordinary remarks against a senior High Court judge.
He said, “The standard of proof required to establish Judicial biases is extremely high and one that doesn’t seem to have been satisfied in this case. Furthermore, given that it is the state government and not a private person, a claim of bias has far reaching effects as a precedent. It should not be used lightly.”
Senior Advocate Janak Dwarkadas condemned the move likening it to an attempt to ‘forum shop’ to avoid an inconvenient bench.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan tweeted, “Absurd! Maharashtra govt seeks & gets judge changed because the judge was going against govt stand. Unheard of!”
Absurd! Maharashtra govt seeks & gets judge changed because the judge was going against govt stand. Unheard of!https://t.co/tSzMAY62TC
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 25, 2017
The Centre’s BJP government has often come under flak for allegedly attacking the key institutions that are expected to safeguard the democratic values in India. Critics have long alleged that a large section of Indian media had already surrendered their independence either for the want of monetary gain or fear of reprisals. Lower judiciary too was often accused of corrupt practices. But the latest episode of high-handedness by the BJP government in Maharashtra will give credence to allegations that the saffron party under Modi and Amit Shah simply doesn’t like democracy in India.