New Delhi: Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra Wednesday refused to withdraw himself from heading a Constitution bench examining his own past ruling in a case related to the Land Acquisition Act.
The decision came after several social media posts and articles asked Mishra to step down on the grounds of judicial propriety, stating how he would be examining a verdict authored by himself.
Mishra is, however, no stranger to controversy, and this is also not the first time that demands have been raised for his recusal from a case.
Among a litany of objections that were listed by the four senior-most SC judges during their unprecedented press conference on 12 January 2018 was also the assignment of Judge B.H. Loya case to Mishra’s bench. The four senior judges, including current Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, had accused former CJI Dipak Misra of selectively assigning contentious cases to “junior judges”.
While a virtual revolt was mounted by the four senior judges, who broke rank to question the then CJI, Mishra was then 10th in the hierarchy and sitting on benches hearing some of the most high-profile cases.
‘Junior judge’ hearing the Loya case
In December 2017, the controversial Loya case was allocated to a bench headed by Mishra. What followed was a spat between “senior judges” who believed a case of such importance should have been listed for them.
Days after the historic press conference, Mishra is said to have broken down during an internal meeting of judges on 15 January 2018 and asked why he was being targeted.
Even though the then CJI did not change the bench for the Loya case, Mishra soon recused himself from it. He left the case remarking that a personal attack on judges and attributing political motives on their rulings were a “contempt of the gravest form”. The judge also lashed out at a “group of lawyers” who were hungry for “cheap publicity”.
Mishra later often reminded his courtroom audience of the 12 January press conference by asking people to not crowd it since he was only a “junior judge”.
In May this year, Mishra’s name was again mired in controversy when he was part of a collegium that approved his brother, Vishal Mishra, as a judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Suspicions of a ‘favoured appointment’ were raised until it was later found that the nomination had been first recommended by the high court collegium, ruling out any influence of the SC judge.
Hailing from Gwalior, Mishra was also appointed a judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in October 1999. His father, Hargovind Mishra, was also a judge of the Madhya Pradesh HC.
In August again, senior advocate Dushyant Dave had written a letter to CJI Gogoi asking why cases related to the Adani group were listed before Mishra during the summer vacations. Dave alleged that there was no tearing hurry to hear them.
“This was surprising because generally, if never, senior judges did not sit on vacation benches. Whatever, may have been the justification, it has resulted in shocking outcomes in a few matters heard during the summer vacation,” read the letter.
In interviews to news channels, Dave had also said: “Everyone knows Justice Mishra has close relations with the BJP and top politicians.”
Hearing CJI’s sexual harassment case
Almost a year after the historic press conference, this “junior judge” was also the one to hear the sexual harassment case against CJI Gogoi in April this year.
The CJI had chosen Mishra from among 27 judges for the special hearing on 20 April. Mishra was the second senior-most judge on a three-judge bench headed by CJI Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta.
Advocate of religious customs
Mishra is also known to be an advocate for religious customs and practices. In October this year, he had lashed out at the Odisha government for demolishing several religious mutts around the Jagannath temple.
He had asked the state government to desist from “interfering in rituals of the religion if it didn’t understand them”.
Benches under him are also said to be very careful to see that HC judges don’t overstep any SC order. Mishra made some scathing remarks against the Kerala High Court earlier this year for passing orders supposedly in contravention with the top court’s in the Malankara Church case.
“It is a very objectionable order. Who is this judge? Tell his name loud. Let everyone know,” Mishra had said.