Manipur probe: Centre asks SC bench to recuse itself

Last Updated 26 October 2018, 09:43 IST

The Union government on Friday joined over hundreds of army officers in the Supreme Court to seek recusal of a two-judge bench from monitoring the CBI probe into alleged encounter killings in Manipur due to “perception and apprehension of bias”.

Attorney General K K Venugopal asked a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit to withdraw from hearing the matter, in view of the previous observation that "murderers are roaming on the streets of Imphal”.

The remarks were made on July 30 as the court had then quizzed the CBI chief over the delay in making progress in the investigations into some of the cases, ordered in the PIL alleging extra-judicial killings in 1,528 cases in Manipur by the armed forces.

“Armed forces faced a difficult time during the insurgency. More soldiers are killed than the insurgents. It is very difficult to fight the insurgency. This has shaken the morale of the forces sacrificing their lives. They can't understand why 20-30 years later, they have to face this (investigation)”, Venugopal asked.

“It is the question of life and death. Even before the trial, if the Supreme Court, the highest court of the country, says – murderers are walking on the streets of Imphal – which trial court judge would have the courage to decide their cases otherwise,” he asked.

The bench of Justices Lokur and Lalit sought to clarify that the observations were then made in a particular context. The bench said if the petitioners want, the court could clarify it.

Venugopal, however, said, “It is not a question of bias but the likelihood of bias in the minds of persons concerned. This bench should not hear the matter.”

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Col Amit Kumar and others, contended that even if the court clarified, it is not going to clear the perception and apprehension of bias. “If some statements are made and it has created an impression that there would not be a fair trial, this bench should recuse itself,” he submitted.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, supported by amicus curiae Menaka Guruswamy, read out the news report to maintain that there was nothing for the bench to recuse. “The Attorney General is trying to overawe the court,” he said.

Rohatgi countered, “Nobody has a vested right to say which bench should hear a particular matter”. After hearing both sides, the court reserved its judgement on point of recusal.

(Published 28 September 2018, 13:46 IST)

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