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SC dismisses CJI recusal plea in detention centres case

The Supreme Court on Thursday took a strong exception to a plea made by activist Harsh Mander for recusal of the CJI, apprehending “bias” in a case related to the poor condition of detention centres in Assam for illegal foreigners.

The top court dismissed his plea and warned that one must trust judges otherwise the institution would crumble.

“Oral observations are part of the debate. The day you don't trust the judges, you had it. Try to trust your judges. What would happen if the institution crumble? Where will you go,” a bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked him.

The court said it would not allow the plea for recusal as it would cause disruption in the institution.

The court struck out the name of Mander from the PIL and replaced it by SC Legal Services Authority. It appointed advocate Prashant Bhushan as amicus curiae.

The court said, “the inability and difficulty of a judge to hear a case should be decided by the judge himself not by a litigant.”

Mander argued the recusal plea after his counsel Bhushan got himself discharged. He contended before a bench that the CJI had made certain observations in the matter, which took his petition in “quite the opposite direction”. He pointed out the CJI questioned the Assam government for failing to deport over one lakh declared illegal foreigners.

“There was a subconscious bias. What was sought that thousands of more would be detained. It does not make any sense to me. A great sense of fear has been created in the country,” he said.

“How would defend if we say that you have been set up by the State of Assam,” the bench shot back.

“That is not correct,” Mander responded.

On this, the bench asked him, “How do you say we have pre-judged the case. Go through the written orders. Your plea is still pending.”

“This is not acceptable. Do you think the orders passed earlier are a reflection of any bias? You are taking quotes from social media,” the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna further asked the petitioner.

The bench told Mander that he was doing works in human rights as an activist but it asked, “Is this how court proceedings should go? You are a litigant, don't overstep”.

“What was said in course of a debate in court cannot be implied as bias,” the bench said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Assam and Union government, said the plea was scandalous. “This ought not to have been said that the CJI is using this petition to ensure the deportation of illegal foreigners,” he said.

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