Supreme Court irked after Prashant Bhushan seeks recusal of Justice Khehar in Sahara/Birla diary case

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The Supreme Court on Friday termed as the “most unfair” the plea of lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking recusal of senior-most judge Justice J S Khehar from hearing a PIL seeking an SIT probe into alleged recovery of documents in Income Tax raids on two business houses in 2012.

Prashant BhushanThe PIL makes bribery allegations against politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat Chief Minister. The court had on Wednesday questioned Bhushan whether aspersions could be cast against the prime minister without placing sufficient evidence.

“You are talking about the highest court of the country.

Do you think we can succumb to any pressure?” a bench comprising Justices J S Khehar and Arun Mishra said.

The court was irked when Bhushan, representing NGO Common Cause which has filed PIL, sought recusal of Justice khehar, whose name has been recommended by outgoing Chief Justice T S Thakur as his successor.

“Though I have no doubt about the integrity, it is my duty, an unpleasant duty, as an officer of the court (to say) that this matter be heard by some other bench on reopening (after winter vacation),” Bhushan said, apparently hinting at the pendency of approval by the executive designating Justice Khehar as the next CJI.

“Why should you say all this? it’s very unfair. You appeared twice, thrice before us but you didn’t say anything.

Today you are saying things” the bench remarked.

“If you had any problem you should have pointed out. It is very, very unfair. You are talking about the highest court.

You are doubting a Constitutional functionary. Not fair,” the bench said.

The top court bench also questioned the NGO and Bhushan for coming out with a plea without sufficient material and raising serious allegations against the highest constitutional functionary of the country.

“This is the cheapest tactics and has never been done in the Supreme Court,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for centre, said adding that “This is more unfortunate as has been done in a PIL.”

The bench, which was visibly upset, offered two solutions to AG and Bhushan saying either this matter be sent to the CJI for hearing by another bench or let the hearing be deferred to January till after the winter break.

“I will agree with the second option,” Rohatgi said.

Bhushan also agreed to the suggestion and said he will file a detailed affidavit in the matter.

The apex court then deferred the hearing to 11 January, 2017.

The apex court had on December 14 made it clear that it is not going to entertain the plea of the NGO seeking SIT probe into alleged recovery of documents by the IT department in connection with the raids on two business houses unless it comes out with firm and relevant material.

The apex court had said there was difficulty in going into the petition which deals with high functionaries as it was not supported by even smallest material.

The NGO had moved an application seeking constitution of a special investigation team (SIT) to probe “incriminating” evidence and details of “unaccounted” cash recovered allegedly during the raids by the Income Tax department and CBI on the two companies in 2013-2014.

The NGO had alleged that the documents seized by CBI in its search operation in Mumbai reportedly revealed massive bribery of politicians and officials of various ministries over several years.

The bench had said it does not want to keep the matter pending and asked the NGO to come out with firm material on the matter in two days.

When Bhushan said the court was forcing him to bring the relevant material within two days, the bench had said, “it is not unreasonable as you are just casting aspersions”.

The bench, while stressing on the need for relevant material, had said, “Give us any smallest material, we will deal with it. We have already told you that you are talking about conversation about persons on telephone. These are nothing. You are dealing with high functionaries.”

On 25 November, the top court had refused to go into the NGO’s plea seeking probe into alleged recovery of documents by the IT department in connection with raids on two business houses here in 2013-14 which purportedly showed computerised inventories containing designations of top people having received money.

The application had claimed that “actionable evidence” gathered during the raids on both the groups was given a “quiet burial” by IT department and CBI.

(With inputs from PTI)

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