- Justice Mishra had delivered judgement on land acquisition
- Asked to exit bench on grounds of judicial propriety
- Top Court to decide whether he can withdraw from the case
Can a judge who delivered a verdict head a larger bench examining the same ruling? The question was key as Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra took strong exception on Tuesday to social media posts and news reports suggesting he should exit the Constitution bench examining issues related to the Land Acquisition Act, on which he had delivered a judgement.
Justice Mishra, heading the five-judge bench, said the social media posts and articles were not just against a particular judge but an attempt to malign the institution.
Some of the petitioners, including a farmers' association, had asked that Justice Mishra recuse himself on grounds of judicial propriety, saying that the Constitution bench is examining a verdict that he had authored.
On March 6 last year, the Supreme Court had said that a larger bench would test the correctness of two separate verdicts related to land acquisition, delivered by two benches of similar strength, which had snowballed into a major controversy.
"I will be the first person to sacrifice if the integrity of institution is at stake. I am not biased and don't get influenced by anything on earth. If I am satisfied that I am biased, only then will I recuse myself from hearing this case," Justice Mishra said.
He asked petitioners to give him a satisfactory reason for him to recuse himself.
"I may be criticised for my view, I may not be a hero and I may be a blemished person but if I am satisfied that my conscience is clear, my integrity is clear before God, I will not budge. If I think I will be influenced by any extraneous factor, I will be the first to recuse here," he said.
Justice Mishra added that the "question is can we not sit in the Constitution bench though it is us who referred the matter to the larger bench. It is not an appeal against the verdict in which I was party. I may change or correct my view, if persuaded".
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for some of the petitioners said since the presiding judge of the five-judge Constitution bench is a signatory of the verdict being examined, there could be an element of impartiality.
The judge was upset at the use of the word "impartiality".
"'Impartiality', the word used by you, hurts.If you want to insult, do it. You have got the licence to do it. What will the common public feel? Argue in a better way. Use respectful language in court. You have used this word a number of times," said Justice Mishra.
He said it was a pure question of law and in a five-judge bench, no single judge could prevail over the other four judges.
The other members of the bench include justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Sharan, M R Shah and S Ravindra Bhat.
Justice Mishra was part of the bench that ruled that land acquisition by a government agency cannot be cancelled if owners delay accepting compensation within five years due to reasons such as lingering court cases.
The Supreme Court will decide whether Justice Mishra can withdraw from the case. The government's lawyer, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, opposed the recusal request, calling it a "dangerous pattern" to write on the web or on social media the day a case is to be taken up the top court.