Karnataka crisis among several when Supreme Court burnt midnight oil

SC bench on July 29, 2015, sat through midnight to consider urgent plea to stay scheduled execution of Yakub Memon at 6 am the next day.

New Delhi: The drama and excitement thrown up by the crisis in Karnataka was not the lone case in the history of the Supreme Court burning the midnight oil. The historic hearing, which paved the way for Thursday's swearing-in of B S Yeddyurappa as the chief minister of the state, witnessed examples cited by senior lawyers about some of the previous post-midnight hearings in the top court.

Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for some BJP MLAs, recalled his experience when a bench on July 29, 2015, sat through the midnight to consider an urgent plea to stay the scheduled execution of lone death row convict of 1993 Mumbai blasts case, Yakub Memon, at 6 am the next day.

Rohatgi, who opposed the hearing of the Karnataka crisis at night, said it was not like Memon's case which concerned a life and death situation, to be considered for urgent hearing in the wee hours. He faced opposition from a lawyer from the other side who justified the ongoing hearing saying the Constitution was being hanged in this case.

While these two cases are the latest examples of the Supreme Court accepting pleas to hear matters in late hours, jurists are reminded such emergency hearings earlier.

In 1985, the top court's doors were opened past midnight to hear the bail plea of a prominent businessman who was charged under the stringent FERA law.

The Supreme Court had attracted tremendous criticism in this case when then chief justice E S Venkatramaiah was woken up at midnight and he proceeded to grant bail to industrialist L M Thapar. Thapar was arrested on the basis of a Reserve Bank of India complaint that several companies run by him had violated the then Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).

The Ayodhya case was heard at the residence of Justice M N Venkatachaliah, who later became the Chief Justice of India. The hearing continued past midnight at the residence of the judge on the intervening night of December 6 and 7, 1992 after the demolition of Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid at Ayodhya.

In that case, one of the parties to the Ayodhya dispute had rushed to the top court immediately after the medieval structure was razed by karsevaks. After the hearing at his residence, the bench headed by Justice Venkatachaliah directed that status quo has to be maintained at the disputed site.

Like the 1993 Mumbai blasts case in which the convict was to be hanged next day, there are other instances in which petitions have been rushed late in the evening for considering a stay on their execution.

In the infamous Ranga-Billa case of national capital, a bench headed by Justice Y V Chandrachud, who held office of Chief Justice of India from February 22, 1978 to July 11, 1985, sat late in the night to consider a plea that they should not be hanged.

Among such petitions was also the matter concerning Noida's Nithari serial murders convict Surinder Koli, when the top court heard the late night move on his behalf for staying the execution of his death sentence.

Another such hearing took place in the eve of April 9, 2013 when a petition was moved on behalf of one Manganlal Barela against the execution of his death sentence in a murder case.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves recalls that in the case titled Shatrughan Chauhan v/s Union of India, he and his colleagues got to know about the execution of death sentence against 16 persons at 4 pm and rushed with a petition to the residence of then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam.

He said the CJI and Justice M Y Iqbal heard the matter at around 11:30 pm and at around midnight ordered a stay on the execution.

Lawyers also recall some political matters when the top court had held late night hearings, including the one in which it ordered a composite floor test in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 to determine who enjoyed the majority - Kalyan Singh or Jagadambika Pal.

( Source : PTI )
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