The Supreme Court on Friday expressed its displeasure at the criticism by senior lawyers for registering a suo motu case on the management of the coronavirus pandemic, Bar and Bench reported.

A bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde, on his last working day, said senior advocates had “imputed motives” to judges in the case. The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, said that there was no intention to take over Covid-19 cases from the High Courts.

“You have read the order,” the court told Vikas Singh, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. “Is there any intention to transfer the case? Singh listen to us. Even before reading the order, there was criticism about something which was not there in [the] order. This is how the institution is being destroyed.”

The Supreme Court Bar Association had pointed out that the High Courts were better placed to get immediate reports on the Covid-19 situation and pass swift directions in the cases. It also moved the Supreme Court against its order.

Addressing Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the Gujarat High Court Advocates Association, Justice Rao said, “You have imputed motives to us without reading the order.”

Dave said everyone thought that the cases being heard by High Courts will be transferred to the Supreme Court. “We never said a word and did not stop the High Courts,” Justice Bhat shot back. “We asked the Centre to go to High Courts and report to them. What kind of perception are you talking about?”

During Thursday’s hearing, the court had directed that the cases pending before the High Courts be withdrawn as it will create confusion.

The chief justice said the bench was disappointed with the views of senior advocates, according to Live Law. “But everyone has their own opinion,” he added.

Justice Bobde said it was a “collective decision” of all the judges in the bench to appoint senior advocate Harish Salve as amicus curiae for the suo motu case. This came after Salve sought permission to be discharged as amicus curiae. “I don’t want the matter to be heard under a shadow that I was appointed on the basis of my school friendship with CJI,” he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta requested Salve not to withdraw from the case, saying that no one should succumb to “such pressure tactics”. Mehta also claimed that a “maligning competition” was going on in the media and said this should be the last thing that India needs while tackling a disaster.

However, the Supreme Court accepted Salve’s decision. “We will honour your sentiments and you must have been pained,” Bobde told him. “We will allow your request.”

Salve, who is in London, was appointed to assist the court when he appeared for Vedanta Limited in a case seeking the court’s permission to re-open its plant in Tamil Nadu, to help reduce oxygen scarcity. Senior counsels had pointed out his conflict of interest in the case as the plant had been closed for violation of environmental norms.

Meanwhile, Singh asked the court to look into problems of oxygen shortages raised by several hospitals in Delhi. “That is exactly what we are looking at,” Bobde told him.

But, Bobde said the bench was adjourning the matter to Tuesday as Mehta sought time to file his response in the case.

India set a grave new milestone on Thursday by recording 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases – the world’s highest single-day rise in infections since the virus surfaced in China last year. Hours later, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Centre and sought a “national plan” from it. The Supreme Court said it was taking cognisance of matters related to supply of oxygen, essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination and the power of state governments to impose lockdown.