New Delhi: Delhi riots accused Asif Iqbal Tanha on Tuesday objected to the “intervention” by a news broadcasters’ association in his plea before the Delhi High Court against the “leak” of his alleged “disclosure statement” in the case pertaining to the larger conspiracy behind the 2020 violence.
Counsel for News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) said the petition concerns a prayer for registration of FIR against journalists which would have ramifications and, being a well-recognised body, it wanted to assist the court in the matter by filing an intervention application.
Following the application, Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani had earlier suggested his recusal from the matter on account of his “past association” with the body.
Senior advocate Siddharth Aggarwal, appearing for the petitioner, alleged that the association, which was “not interested” in the issue of broadcast of the alleged disclosure statement when a complaint was made to it, has now filed the intervention application to ensure that the eventuality of the judge’s recusal “must come true”.
He asserted there can be no “intervention” by a third person in a criminal matter and urged the court to consider the fact that the application was filed only when the petition, which was filed in 2020, travelled through six judges to reach before this court for adjudication.
“Notice is not for asking in criminal matters… this is not a PIL. I am espousing a personal cause. This is my grievance,” Aggarwal argued.
Counsel for NBDA as well as another media organisation, which is seeking a hearing in the case, said their applications were not for recusal of the judge but only intervention.
The counsel for the petitioner also said he was not seeking the recusal of the judge on account of any apprehension of bias.
Justice Bhambhani then said although “recusal should not come so easy”, he “has to have some comfort to decide the matter” and there should be no perception of bias.
“Recusal should not come so easy but there are higher considerations than deciding than A versus B… It is not actual bias but the perception of bias. Even deciding the application, I have to have the comfort level. I never get into a matter where I myself am not comfortable with my independence,” said Justice Bhambhani.
Aggarwal said instances where applications are filed with the “knowledge” about a judge’s “predisposition” in relation to not hearing certain matters should be dealt with an “iron hand”.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, who appeared for Delhi Police, said the present case was not a “criminal matter as such” and the media organisations have a legitimate interest in its outcome.
He said the issue of recusal pertained to the judge’s “conscience” and “nobody has to persuade” him on that issue as there was no application for recusal from any party.
“There is a party your lordship has represented earlier (as a lawyer)… This (recusal) is your lordship’s own judgement,” Jain said.
Senior counsel for Tanha has earlier argued that the application for intervention was an “attempt to overreach the institution” after Justice Bhambhani suggested sending the plea to another judge on account of his “past association” with NBDA.
The senior counsel had then said that he would assist the court on the law of recusal, adding “This is the dirty tricks department at its worst and if we do not stand up to this, I think we are making it far too easy for people to do this exercise”.
Tanha had moved the high court in 2020 against certain media houses disseminating his alleged admission of his guilt before filing of cognisance was taken by the trial court.
In his petition, Tanha has said he was aggrieved by various publications reporting that he has confessed to orchestrating the Delhi riots and alleged that he was coerced to sign certain papers in the effective custody of the police.
He has contended that the action of two media houses in placing contents from charge sheet in the media violated the programme code.
Tanha, who was arrested in May 2020, was released from jail in June 2021 after the high court granted him bail in the riots case on larger conspiracy.
In its status report filed the case, the police said that while the inquiry could not establish how the details of the investigation were shared with the media, no prejudice was caused to Tanha in his exercise of the right to a free and fair trial.
Tanha’s counsel has earlier argued before the high court that the internal inquiry conducted by the police into the leak was an “eyewash”.
The matter would be heard next on April 12.