The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee challenging Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Pritinker Diwaker’s order withdrawing the Gyanvapi mosque case from a single-judge bench before which it was pending. The committee manages the mosque in the Gyanvapi complex in Varanasi.
“There are grounds by the Chief Justice. We will leave it at that,” Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, presiding over a three-judge bench, said while refusing to interfere with the August 28 High Court order.
Chief Justice Diwaker had withdrawn the case from the single bench of Justice Prakash Padia, acting on a complaint filed by the counsel for one of the parties on July 27, 2023.
Appearing for the mosque committee, senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi said the matter in which the committee had challenged the maintainability of suits filed by Hindu worshippers seeking the right of worship in the mosque was withdrawn from the bench of Justice Padia citing procedural reasons, after he had reserved the judgment on August 25.
As per Chief Justice Diwaker’s order, Justice Padia had heard the matter first in 2021 and reserved it for judgment on March 15, 2021, but the judgment was never delivered. Thereafter, it was re-heard by Justice Padia in 2022. He took up the matter again on August 25, 2023, and reserved the judgment.
The Chief Justice’s order noted that after 2021, “the cases…continued to be listed before” Justice Padia, though he had “ceased to have jurisdiction in the matter as per roster”. It pointed out that as per an administrative order of the Chief Justice, dated December 16, 2013, the appropriate course of action in such a situation was to place the matter before the Chief Justice, who would take a call, but this was not done.
On Friday, Ahmadi told the Supreme Court that “it is very, very unfair to the learned judge”. He contended that all parties appeared before the judge for 75 postings without raising any semblance of an objection on the point of jurisdiction. “The so-called impropriety that is being pointed out is the judge hearing the matter with consent of parties, all through 2022,” the senior counsel argued.
Ahmadi said the timing of the complaint was also significant. “Only after it has been heard and you see the way the wind is blowing. This is directly a perversion in the administration of justice,” he contended.
CJI Chandrachud, however, pointed out that the High Court Chief Justice “has indicated reasons” in his August 28 order. Referring to the 2013 administrative direction, the CJI said the parties had the option to go before the Chief Justice and say this has been heard very substantially and the Chief Justice would have allowed them to go back to the same judge.
The CJI added that what was said by the High Court Chief Justice in para 11 and 12 of his order “puts a sort of disquiet in our mind. What the CJ has said in those two paras is enough for us to affirm the order”.
The High Court, in para 11 and 12, said that as per a report of the registry, “the records of these cases were never sent to the parent section in the registry for the procedures to be followed for listing of the cases in terms of the applicable orders, both on the administrative side and the judicial side” but “remained in the chambers of the learned Judge and the cases were listed on the instructions of Bench Secretary and the officials attached to His Lordship’s chambers”.
“Extraordinary. Never happens. Records are always sent back to the Registry. Never kept in the chamber of the judge,” the CJI said while dismissing the plea.