NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Wednesday deprecated the attempts made for recusal of a judge from a Constitution bench hearing challenges to provisions of the Land Acquisition Act saying it is nothing but a ploy of "bench hunting" which, if allowed, "would destroy the institution".
The top court said if a request of parties demanding that Justice Arun Mishra be recused from the five-judge Constitution bench is accepted, it would be the "blackest chapter in history" as an "onslaught is going on to tame the judiciary".
The bench, also comprising justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Sharan, M R Shah and S Ravindra Bhat, said it would pronounce order on October 23 on the plea seeking the recusal.
"This is nothing but an attempt of bench hunting and you want a person of your liking to be in the bench.
If we allow your request and accept your view for recusal of judge, it will be destroying the institution.
This is a serious issue and history will judge it that even senior counsel were involved in this attempt," Justice Mishra told senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for some farmer association.
Divan contended that a judge must avoid any reasonable apprehension of bias, otherwise there would be erosion of public confidence and their prayer for recusal is nothing but for upholding the integrity of the institution.
He said their prayer is not remotely concerned with bench hunting and "there are global principles that have to be applied here. We are only drawing attention to it".
During the hearing, Justice Mishra observed that the plea seeking his recusal from the bench is "sponsored" and said, "In case, we succumb to these attempts this would be the blackest chapter in the history. These forces are trying to compel the court to act in a particular way. Onslaught is going on to tame this institution. This cannot be the way, must not be the way, and shall not be the way".
Without naming anybody, Justice Mishra said "these forces which are trying to compel this court to act in a particular way, are the forces which are compelling me to continue. Otherwise, I would have recused".
He said that as a judge, he knows the responsibility to protect this institution for the people and observed, "What is happening in this institution is really shocking".
Divan referred to various judgements and said that a judge should not be unduly sensitive when recusal is sought, should not take it as a personal affront.
"Predisposition can be on facts, but also on a question of law and here we are dealing with the construction of section 24 of Land Acquisition Act. The detailed judgement which is being examined by this bench is given by the said judge and there is an element of predisposition," he said.
Divan added that the narrow issue is whether is it correct if a judge has decided an issue finally and then that issue is referred to a larger bench, should that judge be a part of that larger bench? Justice Mishra appreciated Divan for arguing fearlessly for recusal of a judge for more than five hours which would have taken hardly thirty minutes and said it is a good quality and the bar should have this attribute.
"Now my question is that if you can argue fearlessly on recusal then what is the harm if you argue on merit of the issue fearlessly," he said.
Divan thanked the court for the appreciation and said, "once a bench is constituted, a litigant expects the court to decide the issue without holding any predisposition".
Similarly senior advocates Dinesh Dwivedi and Gopal Shankaranarayanan also argued for recusal of Justice Mishra saying the need is to protect the institution.
Shankaranarayanan said that the dissenting judge in the 2018 verdict wanted the issue to be referred to the larger bench and said that reasonable apprehension in the minds of the parties is a ground for recusal.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre said that there is a pattern emerging in which reports and articles are published on the eve of hearings.
To this, Justice Mishra said, "My determination has strengthened on the basis of these circumstances. They have put me in this embarrassment to hear it. There is a certain lobby, in a certain guise, to control the court. This attempt is sponsored".
Mehta said it is an intellectually surreptitious method to influence the decision-making process of the court and everyone knows from where these social media messages are generated and made viral.
"A representation sent to the Chief Justice of India on behalf of farmers is made viral on social media within minutes. These are not farmers but some other forces," he said.
Justice Mishra said that poor farmers are not behind this but a powerful force and "when I am in this institution, I have a responsibility to protect it".
Justice Mishra was part of the verdict in February last year which held that land acquisition by a government agency could not be quashed for delay on the part of land owners in accepting compensation within five years due to reasons such as lingering court cases.
In 2014, another verdict had held however that land acquisition can be quashed on account of the delay in accepting the compensation.
On March 6 last year, the apex court had said that a larger bench would test the correctness of the verdicts delivered by these two benches of similar strength on the same issue.