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State accuses Bombay High Court judge AS Oka of bias in the noise pollution case

In a first, the state government on Thursday filed an application before the Chief Justice of the Bombay high court, seeking the transfer of all cases pertaining to noise pollution from a division bench on the ground that one of the judges was biased against it.

Earlier in the day, when the matter of compliance had come up for hearing, the judge concerned expressed shock at such allegations being levelled against him, but said that he would not be provoked and refused to recuse himself from the case.

However, when the matter came up for hearing, the court was informed that the Chief Justice had already taken cognisance of the state’s application and transferred the case to a separate bench.

The issue picked up steam on Wednesday after the state informed the division bench of Justice A.S. Oka and Justice Riyaz Chagla to review an order passed by it in 2016 on setting up silence zones across the city in light of an amendment to the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules by the Central government.

Justice Oka had been part of the bench that passed the 2016 order and hence was asked by the state to have a relook at it.

On Wednesday, Justice Oka refused to either review or recall the order, saying it would be in force till the time all parties to the petitions and the state had a say on the amendments and it was decided by the court.

The state in its application to the CJ stated that while all noise pollution-related cases had been disposed off, the judge had kept them pending for compliance.

The application further said that even after the bench consisting of Justice Oka was informed that there had been compliance during the recently concluded Dahi Handi festival, he had remarked that there was little compliance, which indicated that he was ‘biased against the state’.

In light of this observation, the state sought the case to be transferred to another bench.

When the matter came up for hearing at 3 pm, the court registry informed the bench of Justice Oka that the case had been transferred to another bench and hence it could not be heard by it.

Taken aback by the application by the state senior advocate Birendra Saraf, who appeared for Awaaz Foundation in one of the petitions against noise pollution, said, “It is shocking that the government can come down to this level. Such an application can be expected from a private litigant but the government is expected to act in a responsible manner. The application is nothing but a politically motivated move to ensure there are no noise restrictions during Ganpati festival. It is shocking to see the extent to which one can go to achieve political ends.”

Meanwhile, Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation said that though she was taken aback by the state’s stand, she would continue collecting data on noise violations in the city. “I will continue my work of collecting data and providing it to the government authorities concerned. It is for the people to decide on whether they want to put up with high decibel levels,” said Ms Abdulali.

Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, while asking the court to recall or review its 2016 order, had said that in light of the amendment by the Central government the orders of the bench on silence zones were rendered ineffective and would not remain operational. “When the amendments say that the state has to identify and declare silence zones, the court orders become infructuous and hence should be reviewed or recalled,” Mr Kumbhakoni had said.

The earlier orders had stipulated that the areas around 100 metres of hospitals and educational institutions were deemed as silence zones.

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