The change in the judges’ roster comes abruptly on the last working day of the week when it is due to hear the public interest litigation (PIL) on all issues pertaining to Covid-19. The PIL was being heard by a division bench headed by Justice Pardiwala, along with Justice Ilesh Vora, since May 11.
Following a scathing order of May 22 where a division bench headed by Justice J B Pardiwala of Gujarat High Court compared the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital to a dungeon and a subsequent order of May 25 where the same bench said it would pay a visit to the hospital, refusing to give the state government a clean chit, the bench was shuffled for Friday listing of matters. The new bench, as notified on Thursday, will now be headed by the Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Vikram Nath, while Justice Pardiwala will be the junior judge in the bench.
The change in the judges’ roster comes abruptly on the last working day of the week when it is due to hear the public interest litigation (PIL) on all issues pertaining to Covid-19. The PIL was being heard by a division bench headed by Justice Pardiwala, along with Justice Ilesh Vora, since May 11. Prior to May 11, the PIL was taken up seven times by the bench headed by the Chief Justice, since March 13, when the PIL came to be registered following the court’s suo motu cognisance of WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic.
Since the bench headed by Justice Pardiwala had taken over, the high court had taken suo motu cognisance of several media reports highlighting the plight and issues of migrant labourers. The bench had also taken suo motu cognisance of the high mortality rate in the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital.
Hours after the reshuffled division bench was notified, several concerned citizens, including several advocates, wrote to the Chief Justice of the Gujarat HC, to express their “disappointment and serious concern” regarding the Chief Justice’s decision to change the bench, citing that the change may break the continuity of the hearings and the significant directions that the court had issued to the government earlier.
The letter requests for a reconsideration of the Chief Justice’s decision as he is the master of the roster and further, to retain the same bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora, “in the interest of continuity and efficiency, till matter is fully and finally disposed off.”
Signatories to the letter included lawyers Anand Yagnik, Pratik Rupala, Shamshad Pathan, Abhishek Khandelwal along with retired JNU professor Ghanshyam Shah, House of MG founder Abhay Mangaldas, IIM-A professor Ankur Sarin and nearly 50 others.
In an order on March 22, Justice Pardiwala’s bench had pulled up senior IAS officers, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel who also holds the health portfolio, and questioned the state government if it was “artificially” controlling the number of cases in the state by gatekeeping testing in private laboratories, among several other issues.
The court had also taken on its record an anonymous report by a medical officer listing out 22 problem areas in Civil Hospital as well as an anonymous letter by a resident doctor of Civil Hospital, highlighting the dire conditions.
Following the 143-page order, the state government on May 25 had moved a civil application on urgent priority, with Chief Justice Vikram Nath’s endorsement for urgent hearing the same day. The application had “endeavoured” to clarify that the condition of Civil Hospital “was not as pathetic” as the high court observed in its May 22 order. However, Justice Pardiwala’s bench had said “it was too early to give a final certificate” and had said that the bench will visit the civil hospital “one fine morning” and put an end to all controversy.
Since the full-court functioning was disrupted due to Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, a designated division bench has been seen to function for all five days of the week, starting Monday. From April 20 to 24, the division bench was headed by Justice N V Anjaria, along with Justice Ashokkumar Shah. From April 27 to May 8, the division bench was led by Justice R M Chhaya along with Justice Gita Gopi, except for on May 1, when a second division bench headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath along with Justice A J Shastri worked, with this bench taking up the Covid-19 PIL for hearing.
Subsequently, from May 11 to May 15, May 18 to May 22, as well as from May 25 until May 28, division bench of Justices Pardiwala and Vora was functioning, conducting four hearings of the said PIL. The new roster for Friday now includes two division benches, one headed by the Chief Justice along with Justice Pardiwala while another bench will be headed by Justice R M Chhaya, along with Justice Ilesh Vora.