Manipur Encounter: SC bench dismisses plea for recusal

The bench presided over by Justice Lokur said those observations are not intended to compromise the "independence" nature of the investigation. PTI file photo.

A Supreme Court bench on Monday dismissed a plea by the Union Government and the Army officers to recuse from hearing a matter related to alleged extrajudicial killings in Manipur due to "apprehension of bias".

Union government on September 28 joined over seven hundreds Army officers in the court to urge the two-judge bench presided over by Justice Madan B Lokur to recuse from monitoring the CBI probe into alleged encounter killings in Manipur for “perception and apprehension of bias”.

Both the Centre and Army officers were aggrieved with the court's observations that "Murderers are roaming on the streets of Imphal”.

On Monday, the bench presided over by Justice Lokur said those observations are not intended to compromise the "independence" nature of the investigation.

"We don't find any merit in the plea," the bench said.

On September 28, Attorney General K K Venugopal had asked the bench also comprising Justice U U Lalit to withdraw from hearing the matter, in view of previous observations 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 Armed forces personnel.

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

“It is a 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 had said.

The bench of Justices Lokur and Lalit had then sought to clarify that the observations were then made in 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 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,” 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,”.

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Manipur Encounter: SC bench dismisses plea for recusal

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