New Delhi: A peculiar scene was witnessed during the hearing of Kashmir matter in the Supreme Court on Tuesday when a lawyer insisted on occupying the front row chair meant for the arguing counsel.
Advocate M L Sharma, who was the first person to challenge the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, was reluctant to vacate the chair which infuriated a 5-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice N V Ramana.
"You are not arguing the case. Please let him (senior advocate) come. You are holding the chair," the bench, also comprising justices S K Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, told Sharma.
Sharma, who was sitting in the front row chair on the petitioners' side, stood up and said he has already vacated his chair. "If the court will say, I will leave the courtroom," he said. To this, the bench said, "That is your choice. Have some respect for the senior lawyers."
When Sharma tried to say something more, the bench said, "Nothing further please". However, while pointing to other advocates, he said, "Everybody is firing because M L Sharma is here".
The bench made it clear that the counsel, who would advance his arguments, should come in the front row along with his assisting lawyers. Attorney General K K Venugopal, who was also present in the courtroom, said, "There is one Game of Thrones and this is like a game of chairs".
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is appearing for Jammu and Kashmir administration, said there was no pleadings in Sharma's writ petition and the court should dispose it first.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who is appearing for one of the petitioners, told the bench that earlier the apex court had asked Sharma to revise his writ petition. "I have revised my petition. I will argue in the last," Sharma said, adding, "I am sitting on the side. Let the main seat be occupied by the arguing counsel."
The Attorney General told the bench that "almost half an hour" has been wasted on this issue.
As soon as the 5-judge bench assembled to hear the matter, Sharma said the case should be heard in the "largest courtroom" of the top court since many lawyers were unable to enter the courtroom due to space constraints.
He said there should be "live telecast" of the proceedings as it is a "very big matter". "Will hearing on the ground be okay?," the bench said, adding, "Please leave it there". Venugopal told the court about the convenience volumes which would be referred during the hearing in the case.
He said that 10 volumes have already been filed but the other side wanted to add another 3,000 pages of documents, which would become another 15 volumes. "It should not become inconvenience volume. Senior counsel from both the sides should apply their mind and see what is required to be referred during the arguments," the bench said.
Dhavan told the bench that there were "gaps" in the materials placed in the convenience volume as several constituent assembly debates have not been added to it. "Our problem is that when we will sit to write the judgement, we will find it difficult to find out the documents," the bench said while pointing at the difficulty if materials would be periodically added in convenience volume.
As soon as the hearing commenced, one of the counsel appearing for an intervenor told the bench that there are two "contradictory" judgements of the constitution bench on Article 370 and they have prayed that the matter be referred to a larger bench. "We are aware of the judgements but we just want the case to be opened first," the bench said.
The apex court is hearing a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Centre's August 5 decision abrogating provisions of Article 370 giving special status to erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.