Two judges of Supreme court withdrew from hearing petitions by Bharti group chairman Sunil Mittal and Essar promoter Ravi Ruia with in four days, forcing Chief Justice Altamas Kabir to defer scrutiny of their pleas against a trial judge’s order summoning them as accused in the case of grant of excess spectrum during the NDA regime.
Justice Vikramjit Sen had recused from the hearing on Monday.
Justice A R Dave followed suit, forcing the bench headed by the CJI to postpone the hearing and direct the trial court to defer proceedings against Mittal and Ruia till April 29.
Since both have been summoned as accused, there is an apprehension of their being taken into custody before consideration of grant of bail. Both have furnished bonds promising to appear on the dates they are required to attend proceedings before the special CBI judge in Patiala House court.
The bench of Justices Kabir, Dave and Sen had issued notice to the CBI on April 8 and had posted the petitions for hearing on April 15 with a direction to the trial court to postpone proceedings against Mittal and Ruia till April 16.
On April 15, Justice Sen decided to recuse from the proceedings. Interestingly, on April 8, Justice Dave had recused from hearing a dispute between Bharti Airtel, Department of Telecom and Reliance Communications relating to adding of new customers by Airtel in circles where it had failed to get 3G spectrum licence.
After Justice Sen withdrew from the bench, the CJI said the bench comprising Justice Dave and him would assemble later to hear petitions by Mittal and Ruia.
Appearing for the CBI, senior advocate K K Venugopal had told the bench that the investigation into alleged irregularities in spectrum allocation was monitored by a bench headed by Justice G S Singhvi. “It would be appropriate to send the petitions for hearing before the bench headed by Justice Singhvi,” he also said.
“Moreover, since the Justice Singhvi-headed bench had directed that the view of CBI director must prevail in filing of the chargesheet in the case relating to grant of excess spectrum, which is an issue raised by the two petitioners, it would be better that the matter is heard by that bench,” Venugopal had mentioned.
Justice Dave appeared to concur when he said “that bench would be aware of every order passed in the case”. Mittal’s counsel Harish Salve said it was of little consequence which bench heard the matter. “The issue which merits importance is that there is no evidence against the person and that is the reason why the CBI did not name him in the chargesheet,” according to Salve.
But the CJI said the bench comprising Justice Dave and him would hear the petitions on April 18 and if need be, would consider transferring it to another bench. Now, the CJI has to constitute a bench to hear the petitions filed by Mittal and Ruia challenging the trial court’s summons.