Last evening, Justice NW Sambre was assigned to hear the revision applications, which were being heard by Justice Revati Mohite-Dere. The judge, who had been hearing the case for three weeks, had recently expressed reservations about the prosecution's case.
The alleged fake encounter case -- in which BJP chief Amit Shah was an accused -- had triggered an unprecedented rift within the judiciary last month, after questions were raised about the death of special judge BH Loya. The judge who replaced him had discharged Amit Shah, saying there was not enough evidence to put him on trial.
Last year, former former Gujarat police officer DG Vanzara and Rajasthan police officer MN Dinesh were discharged in the 12-year-old case, taking up the number of accused let off to 15. The court said there was insufficient evidence against them. In August 2016, Gujarat IPS officer Rajkumar Pandian was discharged in the case. The judge said there was no permission to prosecute him. Altogether, 38 people were accused in the case.
Questioning the timing of the reassignment, senior criminal lawyer and NCP leader Majeed Memon told NDTV that in the Supreme Court, there has already been a "crisis with the allocation of benches".
"What is the reason for the administration in the Bombay High Court to take away this matter, which is so sensitive, which the entire nation is watching, where the judge has given clear indications that she was not happy with the CBI's case and where the matter has been substantially heard?" he said. "We are not attributing motives or making allegations, but the common man is wondering why this is happening. And therefore the principle that 'justice must appear to be done' is being violated."
A few days ago, Justice Mohite-Dere had expressed displeasure with the Central Bureau of Investigation for the lack of clarity in presentation of the prosecution's case. During a hearing, she had also said she was "not getting enough assistance" from the agency. "I have not been informed yet what the entire case is against the accused... I am still unclear on the prosecution's overall case since I am not getting enough assistance from the CBI," the judge had said.
Reassignment of cases is routine and along with Justice Mohite-Dere, cases of several other judges have also been reassigned.
Senior lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani, who is representing some of the accused, refused to comment on the reallocation.
Advocate Sujay Kantawala told NDTV that he did not find anything "inappropriate". "It is absolutely routine and some persons for the sake of political mileage may give it a different colour, but there is nothing wrong," he said.
Earlier this year, four of the most senior judges of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference over the allocation of cases, alleging that "cases of far-reaching consequences" were being assigned to judges who are low in the pecking order.