Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra on Tuesday refused to recuse himself from the Constitution Bench he was heading to re-examine one of his own judgements on the Land Acquisition Act, The Indian Express reported. Mishra said his “conscience is clear, my integrity is clear before God, I will not budge”.

On March 6, 2018, the top court had ruled that a larger bench would re-examine two judgements related to land acquisition that was delivered by two separate benches. Mishra had headed the three-judge bench, which also included Justices AK Goel (now retired) and Mohan M Shantanagoudar, that had passed one of these judgements last year. Another three-judge bench comprising former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha, Justices Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph – all of whom are retired now – had delivered the other ruling in 2014.

A five-judge Constitution Bench, led by Mishra and comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat, MR Shah, Vineet Saran, and Indira Banerjee, will now review the judgements to establish the correctness of the two conflicting decisions on the interpretation of Section 24 of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013.

Social media posts, including from Supreme Court lawyers, questioned Mishra’s presence on the Constitution Bench that would review one of his judgements. “Is this not maligning the court? If you had left it to me, I would have decided…” the judge asked. “But you are taking to the social media to malign me…and the Chief Justice of India? Can this be the atmosphere of the court?”

The remarks came after senior lawyer Shyam Divan, representing a few land associations, asked for Mishra’s recusal, saying that there could be impropriety if he continued to hear the case.

Sivan added there could be an element of impartiality, to which Mishra said: “‘Impartiality’, the word used by you, hurts. If you want to insult, do it. You have got the licence to do it. What will the common public feel?” The judge asked the lawyer to argue better and use respectful language in court as he had used “impartiality” several times.

Mishra asked whether there was any judge who had not had an opinion on the matter and if that meant all of them were disqualified. He agreed that the case should not have been listed before him, but “now it is before me, so the question of my integrity has arisen”.

The Supreme Court judge asked petitioners to provide a satisfactory reason for his recusal. He added that in a five-judge bench, no single judge can overrule the other four. “I will be the first person to sacrifice if the integrity of institution is at stake,” Mishra said, according to NDTV. “I am not biased and don’t get influenced by anything on earth. If I am satisfied that I am biased, only then will I recuse myself from hearing this case.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, opposed the request that Mishra recuse himself, saying that it undermined the presiding officer and members of the bench who could have different views on the matter. Mehta claimed that it was becoming common for articles and social media posts to appear a few days ahead of an important ruling in the Supreme Court to influence public opinion, The Hindu reported.

The Supreme Court will make a decision on whether Mishra can withdraw from the bench.

Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.