#RecusalWatch: Three Supreme Court judges recuse from four cases

Last week, the rate of recusals by Supreme Court judges was lower than that of the prior weeks, but the element of suspense in tracking those cases continues unabated.

Justice AM Khanwilkar recused from two cases. The first was on March 29, when he withdrew from hearing the civil SLP [10215-10217/2016] ITC Limited v Blue Coast Hotels Ltd. & Ors, which was listed before Justice Dipak Misra and himself. The recusal order stated,

“The Registry is directed to list these matters immediately as there is urgency as submitted by Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, learned Attorney General for India appearing for IFCI Ltd.”

Apart from the AG, the parties were represented by Senior Advocates Harish Salve, LK Bhushan, Shyam Diwan, Shekhar Naphade, CU Singh, and Dr. Bharat Bhushan Parsoon.

The case was later listed before Justices Dipak Misra and Mohan M Shantanagoudar on April 6, when the bench directed its listing on April 12.  Curiously, the AG was conspicuous by his absence on April 6, even though Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar and ASG PS Narasimha were present.

So, what was this case about?

In 2010, the Industrial Finance Corporation of India (IFCI), a Government of India undertaking, sanctioned a corporate loan of Rs. 150 crore to Blue Coast Hotels Limited (BCHL). With the BCHL defaulting on its loan repayment, IFCI Limited exercised its rights as a secured creditor, to sell by public auction, Park Hyatt (Goa) Hotel, which was mortgaged by BCHL, to obtain the loan. BCHL had mortgaged the property with IFCI against the loan taken for its expansion programmes.

ITC was the sole bidder, and IFCL sold Park Hyatt, owned by BCHL, to it. The IFCI’s enforcement of the mortgage was challenged by BCHL, on the ground that the price quoted by the ITC was not even half the property’s value; collusion between ITC and IFCI was alleged.

The Bombay High Court reversed this sale, by its order dated March 23, 2016, and allowed BCHL to retain physical possession of the property, and has entitled ITC to get the refund of the amounts paid to IFCI.

Why did Justice Khanwilkar recuse from this case?

As Justice Khanwilkar was first an Additional Judge of the Bombay High Court from 2000 to 2002, and continued as permanent Judge from 2002 to 2013, it is possible that he might have dealt with any of the cases involving the parties in this case, although the impugned High Court order was not delivered by him.

Justice Khanwilkar also recused from hearing a second case, Deepak Sharma v State of Uttar Pradesh, [SLP civil CC 18393/2016] arising out of the impugned judgment delivered by the Allahabad High Court in 2013, listed before Justice Dipak Misra and himself on March 27.

The case deals with service matters (recruitment/transfer/compassionate appointment). It is not clear why Justice Khanwilkar recused from hearing this case.

In the third instance, Justice Deepak Gupta recused from hearing a group of civil appeals, [5247/2016], identified with the lead case, State of Madhya Pradesh v RB Rai & Ors, which was listed before Justice Madan B Lokur and himself, on March 29.

Dealing with service matters (promotion), the recusal order tagged this matter with another civil SLP (19765-19767) of 2015, State of Tripura & Ors Etc Etc v Jayanta Chakraborty & Ors Etc. As Justice Deepak Gupta was the Chief Justice of the High Court of Tripura from 2013 to 2016, he might have heard this case earlier.

Lastly, Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar recused from hearing a civil SLP [8843/2017], Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust and Ors v S.S.Naganand and Ors, listed before Justice RK Agrawal and himself on March 31.

The case, arising out of the judgment of the Karnataka High Court in February, deals with religious & charitable endowments and matters relating to management, administrative disputes of temples etc. As Justice Shantanagoudar was a judge of the Karnataka High Court from 2003 to 2016, it is possible that he might have heard this case earlier.