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"Nothing Unusual": Former CJI UU Lalit Explains How The Special Bench Headed By Justice MR Shah Was Constituted To Hear Saibaba Matter

13 Nov 2022 3:11 PM GMT
Nothing Unusual: Former CJI UU Lalit Explains How The Special Bench Headed By Justice MR Shah Was Constituted To Hear Saibaba Matter

Former CJI UU Lalit said that there was "nothing unusual" about the extraordinary special sitting held by the Supreme Court on Saturday to hear Maharashtra government's appeal against the discharge of Professor GN Saibaba and five others in a UAPA case.

The appeal with interim prayer for stay was filed at 3.59 PM on October 14 (Friday), same day the Bombay High Court pronounced its judgment. The matter was mentioned before Justice Chandrachud (now CJI) who refused urgent listing.

However, then CJI and master of roster, Justice Lalit constituted a special bench (comprising Justice MR Shah and Justice Bela M Trivedi) and listed the matter for hearing on a non-working day (Saturday). This bench suspended the Bombay High Court's order and stayed their release.

While this move of then CJI Lalit invited massive criticism, he explained the circumstances that led to the event and said that it was his "job" to make a bench available, if occasion demands.

In an interaction with the press, the former Chief Justice said he was unaware of the oral remarks made byJustice Chandrachud while refusing urgent listing.

He said the case was mentioned on the last working day of Justice Hemant Gupta and his bench had risen early (hence the matter was mentioned before bench of Justice Chandrachud).

Justice Lalit said he was about to leave for Justice Gupta's farewell, when the Registry informed him about the request for urgent listing. At this point, he was unaware of what had transpired in Justice Chandrachud's case.

"Registry official simply came to me and said there is a bench to be formed…How do I know at that point?... Paperbook doesn't come to Chief Justice, only order comes…What was the context, what kind of matter, what kind of prayer…"

Justice Lalit said that the order passed by Justice Chandrachud's bench had only recorded the submission, and nothing was said against listing the case on Saturday.

"If the order had actually recorded the submission that if the urgency is there then Saturday can be convened, therefore order said that, so I convened, what happens before the bench is completely different…"

He further disclosed that Justice Chandrachud was the first Judge he approached to convene the special bench. However, Justice Chandrachud said he had prior commitments. As per Justice Lalit, Justice Chandrachud did not say anything against the urgent listing.

"He didn't say that…I asked, he said he has certain commitments."

Justice Lalit said he then turned to Justice Rastogi, Justice Gavai and Justice Ravindra Bhat. However, they had some commitments too.

Thereafter, he asked Justices Bela Trivedi and MR Shah, who agreed to hold the special sitting. "Neither of us were aware as to what exactly happened in the court (of Justice Chandrachud)," Justice Lalit said.

He added that allegations about Supreme Court acting in a politically motivated manner are "absolutely unfair".

"My job is to make the bench available if occasion demands."

Saibaba, who is bound by wheelchair due to post-polio paralysis, had earlier filed an application seeking suspension of sentence on medical grounds. He said that he is suffering from multiple ailments, including kidney and spinal cord problems. In 2019, the High Court rejected his application to suspend the sentence.

They were sentenced to life by the Sessions Court at Gadchiroli, Maharashtra in March 2017 for offences under Sections 13, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAPA and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code for alleged association with Revolutionary Democratic Front(RDF), which was alleged to be an affiliate of outlawed Maoist organization. The accused were arrested in 2014.

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