Noise pollution matters: State accuses HC judge of bias, Chief Justice transfers petitions to other bench

Hindustan Times | ByKanchan Chaudhari, Mumbai
Aug 25, 2017 08:14 AM IST

Expressing utter shock over the allegation leveled by the state government, Justice Abhay Oka said, “We are glad that the state has acted like an ordinary litigant” said the judge.

The chief justice of the Bombay high court on Thursday withdrew a bunch of petitions concerning noise pollution from the bench headed by a senior judge of the court, who had taken a tough stand over the issue, and transferred it a special bench. The move came after the Maharashtra government levelled accusation of “serious bias” against justice Abhay Oka.

Expressing utter shock over the allegation levelled by the state government, Justice Abhay Oka said, “We are glad that the state has acted like an ordinary litigant.”(File)
Expressing utter shock over the allegation levelled by the state government, Justice Abhay Oka said, “We are glad that the state has acted like an ordinary litigant.”(File)

Meanwhile, utter confusion prevails over the existence of the silence zones in Mumbai and the rest of the Maharashtra, and loudspeakers and high-decibel noise are expected during the forthcoming festivals. The state government itself has maintained that there are no silence zones in existence anywhere across Maharashtra.

Justice Oka reacted sharply to the accusation of bias saying he was shocked to notice that the state government had “acted like an ordinary litigant” without elaborating on various tactics employed by private litigants to seek transfer their matters from the judge or the bench which is unfavourable to them. “Once state starts acting like an ordinary litigant, they [authorities] can do anything,” said justice Oka, completely disapproving the conduct of the government. On Thursday morning, the judge refused to recuse from hearing the matters and had posted the group for hearing in the afternoon session.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of Maharashtra that the state government has levelled an accusation of bias against a senior judge of the Bombay high court and sought transfer of a group of petitions on that ground. Almost all the petitions in the group raise concern about increasing menace of noise pollution, especially during public celebration of religious festivals and the complete lack of action against the violators of the Noise Pollution Rules.

“These and such other aspects of the matter in general demonstrate that the Hon’ble Judge (Justice Oka) is somehow harbouring a serious bias in the subject matter of these petitions against the state machinery,” said the state’s application addressed to chief justice Manjula Chellur, seeking transfer of the group of petition to some other bench in the interest of “fitness and justice”.

It referred to the observations of justice Oka that there was hardly any compliance of the high court orders as regards to implementation of the Noise Pollution Rules and news reports highlighting the view expressed by the judge, who had taken a strong view of the matter and insisted that the noise pollution rules be adhered to and action be taken against the violators.

Perhaps, what bothered the government most was the “Hon’ble Judge’s” refusal to accept the government’s stand that no silence zones existed in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra after the August 10 amendment to the Noise Pollution Rules, which provided that “no area shall be treated as silence zone unless specifically declared so by the state government”.

Central government has brought the amendment on request of the Maharashtra government after the August 2016 judgment pronounced by Justice Oka was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The government insisted that the amendment had made inoperative the law laid down by the Hon’ble Judge in August 2016 that areas falling within 100 meters of educational institutions, hospitals, courts and religious shrines were deemed to be silence zones and no specific declaration was required for the same. The judge, however, insisted that the judgment was operative and was required to be implemented till the time it was modified or reviewed.

The state’s move was also criticised by lawyers representing the petitioners in the group. Birendra Saraf, who represented activist Sumaira Abdulali, said the act of levelling the accusation against Justice Oka was nothing but a desperate attempt to wriggle out after noticing that there was no legal way out. “This is nothing but election propaganda and an endeavour to ensure that there are no noise restrictions during forthcoming festivals,” said the senior advocate referring to the fact that Ganpati festival starts tomorrow.

Senior advocates Anil Anturkar and SM Gorwadkar, who represented Thane resident Dr. Mahesh Bedekar, put forth similar views and urged the court not to recuse.

“This indicates the test of the time to come,” said Anturkar. “Whenever this Court takes tough stand against the government, such allegations will be levelled against the judges concerned and therefore this approach is required to be dealt with sternly at threshold itself,” the senior advocate had said.

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