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Judge opt-out in Bhima case

None of the five judges has cited any reason for withdrawing from the case, nor were they required to

By R. Balaji in New Delhi

  • Published 4.10.19, 2:25 AM
  • Updated 4.10.19, 2:25 AM
Five Supreme Court judges have in four days recused themselves from hearing rights activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea for quashing the FIR against him in the Bhima Koregaon case
Five Supreme Court judges have in four days recused themselves from hearing rights activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea for quashing the FIR against him in the Bhima Koregaon case (Shutterstock)

Five Supreme Court judges have in four days recused themselves from hearing rights activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea for quashing the FIR against him in the Bhima Koregaon case, with one day left before his interim protection against arrest expires.

None of the five judges has cited any reason for withdrawing from the case, nor were they required to. The primary reason that judges recuse themselves from a case is to avoid any charge of a conflict of interest.

On Thursday, Justice Ravindra Bhat — sitting on a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and including Justice Vineet Saran — withdrew from the case as soon as the hearing began, becoming the fifth judge to do so.

The matter was then referred to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to be listed before another bench on Friday.

Justice Gogoi had been the first to withdraw from the case when it came up before a bench headed by him on Monday. The matter was then listed before the bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and Bhushan Gavai.

When the hearing began on Tuesday, all the three judges recused themselves, after which the matter was assigned to Thursday’s bench.

Navlakha and nine other activists arrested last year are being probed for alleged incitement to caste violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune, and alleged links to Maoists who purportedly plotted to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies.

Navlakha, out on bail, denies the allegations. He had petitioned Bombay High Court to quash the FIR against him. The high court rejected his plea on September 13, noting there was prima facie material against him. But it gave him interim protection against arrest till October 4 so he could approach the apex court.

Justice Mishra on Thursday assured Navlakha his petition would be listed before a bench on Friday, the last day of protection he enjoys. The apex court will be closed for the next nine days, first because of the weekend and then for the Dussehra recess from October 7 to 13.

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