Will recuse myself if I feel I am biased: SC judge on Land Acquisition case

Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra on Tuesday expressed anguish at a social media campaign and news reports seeking his recusal from a constitution bench hearing pleas linked to compensation in the Land Acquisition Act.

Justice Mishra, who is heading a five-judge bench, referring to the social media posts and news reports, said: "I am not biased... If I am satisfied that I am biased, then I can recuse myself from hearing this case."

This issue cropped up while the apex court was hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the validity of provisions related to compensation in the Land Acquisition Act.

Insisting that he will sacrifice himself if the integrity of institution is at stake, Justice Mishra expressed unhappiness by the repetitive use of "impartial" by the parties involved in the hearing, who sought his recusal.

"This word hurts me. Don't use it as it will send wrong message to the common man," he said.

The bench also comprises Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Sharan, M R Shah and S Ravindra Bhat.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing some farmer associations and individuals, had registered an objection over Justice Mishra hearing the matter, and sought his recusal citing judicial propriety. Divan told the court that the bench would have to look into the verdict, which Mishra authored.

Justice Mishra was part of the verdict in February last year, which held acquisition of the land by a government agency cannot be overturned, if there was delay by land owners who fail to accept compensation within five years, citing pending court cases. In 2014, another verdict had ruled the land acquisition can be overturned if there is delay in accepting the compensation awarded against the acquisition. In March 2018, the top court had said a larger bench would look into the verdicts.

Divan told the bench that Justice Mishra had expressed his opinion in an over 100 page judgement and opined other view taken by another bench is bad in law. Therefore, a judge cannot sit over appeal of his past verdict.

Justice Mishra said: "It is not so simple. Letters are being written and there are social media posts. Articles are being written. You and I know what the issue is. I can tell you but not in open court... the institution and the Chief Justice is being maligned on social media."

He said that it is not the appeal against the verdict in which he was the party, and if persuaded, he may change or correct his view.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre said: "The prayer is not for undermining a single judge but the entire Constitution bench. The publication articles or content on social media, there is a pattern wherein two days before important matters these things appear. It intended to influence the hearing. Nobody takes social media seriously but this pattern is serious".


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