The Supreme Court on Friday accepted senior advocate Harish Salve's request for recusal as an Amicus Curiae from the suo motu proceedings on complications arising from the second COVID wave in the country. Chaos marked outgoing Chief Justice of India SA Bobde's last day in court after Salve requested to recuse himself.
On Thursday, outgoing Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, who led the three-judge bench had appointed Salve as an amicus curiae, while taking note of the situation across the country. An amicus curiae or a friend of court, is an impartial adviser appointed by a court in a particular case.
We will only hear Solicitor General Tushar Mehta (for the Centre) and Salve on this matter, CJI Bobde had said.
"I say this with utmost humility and regret that I wish to recuse myself from this hearing. This is one of the most sensitive cases this court will look into in its entire existence. I didn't know the States are divided…and under the shadow that I was appointed AC because I am friends with the CJI," Salve said. To which, CJI Bobde said there was nothing "clandestine" about his friendship with Salve, and that the appointment was the "collective decision of the bench".
"I did not know our Bar is divided among industries we appear for. I thought we represented clients. One day we will have to justify this narrative in court," Salve added. "I was in court (virtual hearing) because 10 minutes prior to that I was told that Mehta was going to mention the Vedanta matter who are my clients...," Salve added justifying his appearance. "I don't want any sideshow. The language of the narrative now is very different," Salve said.
Salve was referring to his client's plea seeking to re-open its copper plant in Tamil Nadu to produce oxygen for medical use. On Thursday, Vedanta had submitted that it was capable of producing 1000MT of oxygen for medical use which it was willing to distribute to those who need for free.
"We understand you must have been very pained by it; I also saw what a senior lawyer said, but everyone is entitled to their opinion," CJI Bobde said accepting Salve's decision for recusal.
"We will now have to start looking at Amicus Curiae among people we don't know," CJI Bobde further remarked.
Salve's decision to recuse kickstarted a war of words between the senior lawyers present. However, a lot of it went unheard since the virtual hearing was marked with technical glitches.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), remarked there was nothing against Salve. SCBA has filed a plea challenging the court's suo motu proceedings.
However, Mehta said that "some of the comments made in the media especially digital media was virtual abuse. Someone in the judiciary will have to take note of this one day. We will not have any independent counsel left if one lawyer succumbs to these tactics."
Tremendous local opposition to re-opening of Sterlite copper plant: Tamil Nadu to Supreme Court
Before the court descended into chaos in the suo motu proceedings, the top court was hearing Vedanta's plea seeking operationalization of its Tamil Nadu unit for the limited purpose of producing oxygen for medical use. The Centre had supported Vedanta's offer and batted for its re-opening for this particular job. The top court on Thursday had sought Tamil Nadu's opinion for the same.
Tamil Nadu told the Supreme Court that there was immense local opposition for the proposed plan to re-open Vedanta's Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi.
"The re-opening of the plant will result in a law-and-order situation. Even now there's a total lack of confidence in Vedanta," senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan submitted on behalf of the state.
In 2018, Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) shut down Vedanta's copper plant citing violations of environmental laws. The order directing its closure was issued soon after the plant turned into a protest site resulting in the Thoothukudi massacre where state police open fired at protestors killing 13 and injuring more than 100.
Families affected by the environmental violations committed by the plant are opposed to its re-opening, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said. However, he added that the families were not opposed to the State taking over operations for oxygen production. "The same argument for the re-opening of the plant was made in the suo motu proceedings initiated by Madras High Court. There, the State submitted operationalizing the plant was not required since the state had surplus oxygen," Gonsalves added.
To this, CJI Bobde then asked all parties to explore the possibility of the Centre or State taking over the plant which is capable of producing 1000MT of oxygen. "Whole point of this exercise is because the country needs oxygen. Local sentiments (against the plant/company) are appreciated, but one cannot accept this argument just because Tamil Nadu has surplus oxygen," CJI Bobde added.