New Delhi: The last hearing in the career of Sharad A Bobde as Chief Justice of India was rather bitter. There were heated arguments in the court between the bench and the bar. The judges and the senior advocates had clashed on the question of perception of the attitude of the Supreme Court bench presided over by Justice Bobde which passed an order taking suo motu cognizance of the covid cases in the high courts across the country. Senior advocate Harish Salve who was appointed amicus requested the bench to allow him to recuse from the responsibility. “With utmotst humility and the greatest degree of regret, I request you to please allow me to recuse from this matter,” prayed senior advocate Harish Salve.
Asked why he wanted to recuse, Salve said motives have been attributed to the decision of the bench by saying that I happened to be the classmate of the chief justice in school or college. “This is the greatest and the most sensitive case that this court will handle in its existence. We know how the states are divided and how the country is on tenterhooks,” said the senior advocate. CJI said there is nothing clandestine about it (the appointment) and it was the decision of the whole court. But Salve persisted with his request.
Salve talks of Palkhiwala
Salve talked about his early days in the highest court when he saw Nani Palkhiwala appearing in Minerva Mills case in 1978. He said there was grace and dignity in the way advocates behaved. Now it is very difficult to expect that standards. At this point Justice Bobde commented that although he had no future in this court, the Supreme Court has to look for amicus curie from those who are not known.
At this stage Solicitor General Tushar Mehta interjected to blame the media for the misunderstandings. He said the comments shown in electronic and social media amount to insulting the highest court.
Justice Nageswara Rao, Dave have argument
Justice Lavu Nageswara Rao also had argument with senior advocate Dushyant Dave. Justice Rao has asked Dave, “Do you intend to attribute motives even without seeing the order?”. Dave replied that it was not the question of attributing motives but it was the perception entertained by not only him but by the fraternity as a whole. “The whole country shared this perception. We love you. But we as citizens have every right to express our viewpoint. Your lordships have done in the past during covid concerns. We have our apprehensions,” state Dave. “Do you give public statements depending on your perception?’ asked Justice Rao. Dave said perception has been formed by the decisions of the court over the years. Justice Rao said the Bench did not mean to take away cases from the high courts. When Justice Rao commented that “You are supposed to protect the institution,” Dave replied that they have always been protecting the institution. Healthy criticism is good for the institution. It strengthens the institution and does not undermine it,” Dave explained.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh also spoke of the perception. “Last year the Socilitor General said there were no migrants on the road and the Supreme Court accepted it. Just because the SG said something the SC passed an order. That is why the country has apprehensions,” argued Vikas Singh.
Justice Bobde says he is leaving on a happy note
Justice Bobde said the last hearing has evoked mixed feelings.”I have been on the ceremonial Bench before, but these feelings are too mixed to allow me to say anything. But I must say I leave the court with happiness, with fond memories of arguments, excellent presentation, good behavior and great commitment to the cause of justice not only from my learned colleagues but also from the Bar and everyone else. During the hearing on the last day of his tenure, however, Justice Bobde expressed strong reservations and resentment at the way the decision of the Bench presided over by him was criticized even without seeing the order.
In his farewell address, Justice Bobde said he is demitting office after 21 years as judge. Talking in lighter vein about virtual hearing, Justice Bobde said, “I have seen some advocates with hills behind them, with paintings and sometimes even guns and pistols. I am happy with the knowledge that I have done done my best. I do not know how that has come across. With that, I hand over the baton to Justice Ramana. Jai Hind.” Following the convention, Justice Ramana sat on the same bench with Justice Bobde.