Almost a month after the Delhi government approved appointment of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and other Central government counsel as Special Public Prosecutors in a case relating to the Delhi riots, the Delhi High Court again witnessed a battle of words between the lawyers of the Centre and the state as to who will represent the Delhi Police.
The Delhi government had last month appraised the high court that as per a communication dated May 29 issued by the Deputy Secretary, Home, Mehta, Additional Solicitors General Maninder Acharya and Aman Lekhi besides government counsel Amit Mahajan and Rajat Nair were appointed as special public prosecutors to represent Delhi Police in one of the riot cases.
On Monday, while the high court was hearing the bail application of Jamia Millia scholar and Jamia Coordination Committee member Safoora Zargar through video conferencing, Delhi government”s Standing Counsel (Criminal) Rahul Mehra clashed with the SG and Lekhi.
Objecting to the appearance of the two senior law officers on behalf of Delhi Police in the case, he stated that unlike another matter pertaining to the Delhi riots in which requisite approval was sought by the Delhi Police to be represented by the SG and his team, no such procedure was followed in the present case.
“I am an officer of the court and I am not supposed to be a mouthpiece of the police. They know that my approach in such a case would be more humanitarian and not according to their whims and fancies,” Mehra submitted.
In response, Lekhi said: “A client chooses the advocate, the lawyer can”t impose himself on the client.”
While the matter ended with the court posting the hearing on Tuesday, the fight also entered another courtroom where a separate matter connected to the said riots was being heard.
The next incident occurred before the court of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, who was hearing an application filed by the police seeking cancellation of bail granted to Rajdhani school owner Faisal Farooqui who was among 18 people who were arrested in a case of rioting and for burning down an adjacent school in the area on February 24.
When the matter began, Mehta appeared for the Delhi Police, but, simultaneously Mehra too also entered his appearance and submitted before the court that the Central government has no power to file the present petition.
Responding to the same, Mehta submitted that he has received instructions from the Central government to file the present petition and to appear before this court. However, Mehra disputed this and the Solicitor General, “out of disgust” submitted before the court that in such a situation, he seeks permission to withdraw his name from the present case.
The court then renotified the matter for a later hour in the day to resolve the issue.
In the second half, Lekhi entered his appearance in place of Mehta and APP Amit Chadha appeared in place of Mehra, who was appearing in another court.
Chadha told the court that the controversy will be resolved during the course of the day and jointly sought adjournment, following which the court also posted the matter for Tuesday.
This isn”t the first time the counsel of both governments are at loggerheads. In March, the never-ending tussle between the Centre and the Delhi governments was in full display inside the high court over the same issue.
The debate had led to a heated argument between Mehra and Additional Solicitor General Maninder Kaur Acharya when the former submitted that he is the designated counsel to represent Delhi Police in the case.
Mehra had also said that he has not been issued any written intimation about Acharya in this regard. “I deserve this much dignity. If you route it through my office, I would cooperate. In three cases, I withdrew on request.”
As at this the ASG commented: “He has a bit of a politician in him”, Mehra, objecting strongly to the statement, replied: “I am an officer of the court. I won”t take such statements. ASG should take back her words.”
The bench asked the two lawyers to calm down and said: “Put your house in order by the next date of hearing.”
On February 27, Lt Governor Anil Baijal appointed Mehta, Acharya and few others to represent Delhi Police in the matters relating to the violence that erupted on February 23.
While this year, it was the Delhi riots that became the cause of “Mahabharata” between the Modi and Kejriwal government, back in 2016, former JNUSU President and left leader Kanhaiya Kumar and his case regarding the seditious remarks became the reason of the rift.
As soon as the hearing on Kanhaiya Kumar”s bail plea commenced before a bench of Justice Pratibha Rani, Mehra opposed the appearance of then ASG Mehta, ASG Sanjay Jain and others. Mehra said that he was a senior standing counsel appointed by the full court reference of the High Court and if there was no notification empowering the ASGs to appear in the matter, they cannot represent the state.
“If they don”t have the notification, they can”t stand on their legs before this court,” Mehra said. ASG Jain had then responded: “Once the ASGs are appearing in this matter, you have no business to interfere in it.”
Mehra, then in rage, said: “They have crossed the ”Laxman Rekha” and I will not allow this unless the court passes an order. I am appointed by the full court reference of this court. As a senior standing counsel, I am not allowed to argue in the matter and they are here on LG”s unofficial order.”