Supreme Court set to resume physical hearings on Wednesday
The Supreme Court is set to resume physical hearings on Wednesday, over a year and a half after the Covid lockdown forced its closure in March 2020, with the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre and the Pegasus snooping cases attracting attention.
The Lakhimpur Kheri incident where a car owned by a Union minister and with his son allegedly in it mowed down four farmers and a journalist on October 3, is among the cases that is scheduled to be taken up for physical hearing on Wednesday.
As many as 14 benches will hear various cases on the opening day. A record 33 judges — the entire strength — will be simultaneously in action in the apex court on Wednesday.
However, physical hearings will be held only on Wednesdays and Thursdays. A mix of offline and online hearings will be conducted on Tuesdays. On Mondays and Fridays the apex court will continue to hold virtual hearings.
The quality of hearings had been significantly affected because of patchy Internet connectivity disturbing the proceedings, court sources said. Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had pulled up the court registry several times over inconsistent Net connectivity.
Online hearings had also given an undue advantage to senior and prominent lawyers who have been appearing in several cases across the country virtually from one location, affecting the incomes of local lawyers, the sources said.
The physical hearings will be held adhering to Covid protocol. All entries will be closely monitored and visitors, including lawyers and journalists, will have to undergo thermal screening and wear masks. The court halls will be sanitised between hearings.
The decision to resume physical hearings on at least three days a week was taken by CJI Ramana following representations from various lawyers’ associations, including Supreme Court Bar Association president Vikas Singh.
A bench of CJI Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli will hear the Lakhimpur case in person on Wednesday.
The bench had earlier expressed its displeasure at the tardy handling of the matter by the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh.
After sustained grilling by the CJI, the Adityanath government arrested Ashis Mishra, son of Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra Teni, seven days after a Thar jeep ploughed through protesting farmers.
At the last hearing on October 8, the Supreme Court had come down heavily on the state government for failing to arrest Ashis, with CJI Ramana wondering if similar privileges would be extended to all other murder accused in the country.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the investigation conducted by the Adityanath government, the court had said the police officers involved should no longer be associated with the probe and that the court would explore the possibility of constituting an independent team as even the CBI could not be relied on in this case.
Senior advocate Harish Salve had assured the court that he would convey its anguish and suggestions to the government.
On Wednesday, the Uttar Pradesh government is expected to inform the court about whether it would set up an independent special investigation team, and its composition and other details, failing which the court could pass orders.
During the course of the week, the CJI is expected to constitute an independent team to investigate the allegations that the Centre had used the Israeli spyware Pegasus to snoop on judges, journalists, activists, politicians and others. Several petitions have been filed by members of the civil society alleging violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
Justice Ramana is said to be in the process of eliciting the consent of certain independent personalities, some of whom had expressed their inability to be part of an SIT proposed by the apex court citing “personal reasons”.
The court had earlier decided to set up the SIT after the Narendra Modi government refused to either admit or deny the espionage charges.