Having been a Judge in the Bombay High Court for 14 years now, Justice Oka has passed judgments and orders in several important matters like the beef ban where a bench headed by him allowed consumption of imported beef while continuing the ban on slaughtering of cows in Maharashtra.

Bombay High Court

The Maharashtra government earlier this week made allegations of bias against Justice Abhay Oka of the Bombay High Court in a letter addressed to Chief Justice Manjula Chellur.

The allegations had come to light when Justice Oka, along with Justice Riyaz Chagla, was hearing a batch of petitions regarding noise pollution in the state. The petitions had been disposed of by a judgment dated August 16, 2016, after which they were placed before the aforementioned bench for compliance.

On August 22, Advocate General AS Kumbhakoni, appearing for the Maharashtra government, submitted that a particular direction of the judgment regarding silence zones had been rendered inoperative as a result of a state government notification issued on August 10.

The next day, after hearing arguments at length, the Court expressed its prima facie view on the matter and sought the state’s reaction to the same. The view was that the direction cannot be rendered inoperative, as the state had to first make an application of review or modification of the judgment. The Court also made it clear to the AG that they were willing to hear his contentions against the prima facie view, and gave him ample time to make further submissions.

Then, on Thursday, the AG placed on record a letter signed by Additional Government Pleader Manish Pabale, drafted on the instructions of Vijay Patil, Deputy Secretary of the Home Department.

It was alleged in the letter that Justice Oka had been “harbouring a serious bias”against the state machinery. The letter also requested Chief Justice Chellur to club all connected matters. It is pertinent to note that before the letter was sent, Chellur CJ had assigned another connected PIL to the bench headed by Oka J.

Even as the state government levelled allegations against Justice A S Oka of harbouring “serious bias” against the state machinery during a hearing relating to noise pollution matters, lawyers’ associations and many senior counsels have come out in his support and expressed confidence in his judicial integrity. “He is one of the finest judges who is known for his capacity and devotion for work and his legal acumen. He does not shy away from passing courageous orders. He is not affected by the identity of the litigant or the lawyer. These allegations are completely baseless. I don’t think the state realises the ramifications of making such allegations and I hope that better sense prevails and they withdraw their application,” said senior counsel Darius Khambata.

Giving on example of why Justice Oka is known to be a honest Judge, state lawyer and counsel for CBI Hiten Venegaonkar said, “When he was practicing as a lawyer he had gone back to the then Chief Justice B P Singh and apologised for citing an overruled Supreme Court judgment due to which the petition in which he had appeared had succeeded. But owing to his honesty, the same petition was later dismissed. The CJ had applauded his conduct and had taken judicial note about the same.” Senior Advocate Milind Sathe, who is also the president of the Bombay Bar Association, said Justice Oka is not known to dodge matters owing to its content, volume or substance. “He is known for his very methodical way of working,” he added.

Shocked at this revelation, the Bench noted in its order,

We are shocked to record all this. As stated earlier, we followed the tradition of expressing prima facie view to the learned counsels representing the parties only with a view to get proper assistance from them. After the matters were adjourned yesterday with a view to accommodate the learned Advocate General, the State has filed the letter dated 24th August 2017 making serious allegations of bias against one of us (A.S.Oka,J).

We are not saying this to blame the learned Advocate General. But we are saying this for a different reason. The State should have respect for the highest Office of the learned Advocate General who is the constitutional functionary. Suffice it to say that by this conduct on the part of the State Government, they have made the position of the learned Advocate General most awkward.

The Advocate General is the leader of the Bar who is the Officer of the Court first. We are sorry to record that the State Government has not bothered to even consider the effect of such a prayer made today when the matters were adjourned yesterday to accommodate the learned Advocate General.”

The Bench, therefore, refused to recuse from the case, and deferred the hearing of the matters for later in the day.

Later, lawyers appearing for various petitioners, including Senior Counsel AV Anturkar and SM Gorwadkar, as well as Bombay Bar Association (BBA) Secretary Dr. Birendra Saraf, would stand up for Oka J, deeming the allegations of bias as completely malafide.

It was noted in the order,

“The learned counsel Shri Saraf also contended that this attempt is made to make the whole issue academic with a view to ensure that there is a lot of noise pollution in coming Ganpati festival. He also stated that this application is politically motivated.”

The matter has not ended there. The BBA has scheduled an extraordinary general meeting on August 28 to discuss the resolution of this incident.

What action the state faces for its intemperate letter levelling allegations against a sitting High Court judge remains to be seen.

Read the order:https://barandbench.com/bombay-bar-association-states-allegations-bias-justice-oka/

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