NEW DELHI -- Controversial Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan on Tuesday faced severe haranguing from the Supreme Court, which directed him to appear on 8 March before the Allahabad High Court to honour a bailable warrant against him due to his non-appearance in a case.
The apex court, which rebuked the Samajwadi Party's minority face for "hoodwinking" the high court, also expressed surprise that the bailable warrant could not be served on a serving minister of the Uttar Pradesh cabinet.
"Where is the chairman (Khan) of UP Jal Nigam? Is he in Allahabad or Lucknow," asked an angry bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar.
Khan's counsel, with some hesitation to inform about his whereabouts, said "he will appear whenever he is asked".
At this, the bench asked "doesn't he have a helicopter?"
Again, there was some hesitation on the part of the advocates' appearing for Khan to respond to the query and no clear answer emerged.
The top court said "the (high) court feels you (Khan) are hoodwinking it. It is asking you to appear but you are not appearing. You are such a person that no bailable warrant can be served upon you. He is only an ex-officio chairman (of the UP Jal Nigam)."
When Khan's counsel pointed out that he was also a minister and would comply with the high court's order after completion of Assembly elections on March 11, the bench shot back, saying "see how much time you have already been given".
The high court had sought his personal appearance on March 1 and 6.
"You have not gone to the court. Bailable warrant was issued, even then you did not appear. You are a chairman but the bailable warrant was not served upon you. You have never gone to the court. You go and tell the high court whatever you want to explain.
"There is no reason for you not to go. There is no reason for you not to be served with the bailable warrant. There is also no reason for you that you did not attend the high court. You are a minister but even then the warrant was not served upon you," the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, said in an oral observation.
The hard-hitting remarks against Khan came a day before the final round of the ongoing assembly polls in the state.
Khan enjoys a considerable clout in the ruling party in the state as he holds high-profile portfolios ranging from Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development to Minority Welfare and Haj in the Akhilesh Yadav government.
The top court refused to interfere with the orders of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and said the reason for being pre-occupied with electioneering was not substantiated as "there is no indication that he had meetings on those days".
From the beginning of the hearing at 1400 hours, the bench was not inclined to accept that Khan should be given an opportunity to appear after March 11.
"You must go there and appear in the court which wants your appearance. If the court wants you to appear, you must appear and explain," the bench said and noted that since the election in Khan's constitutency, Rampur, was over, there was no reason why he will not appear in the high court.
"The election is over in his constituency. He does not have to vote. He is free on Wednesday," the bench said before delivering the final order in which it said "it is not within our purview at this juncture to hear Khan with reference to the orders passed by the high court".
"We are of the considered view that explanation sought by the high court has to be tendered with. In view of the unequivocal and unqualified submission of the petitioner that he would surrender to the jurisdiction of the high court and tender the explaination as sought for by the high court, we dispose of this application.
"We consider it just and appropriate by directing Khan to appear before the high court on Wednesday at 2 PM. We hope that the high court will allow an appropriate opportunity to Khan to tender such explanation and it will pass an appropriate order as per the law," the bench said.
The day's hearing had a bit of drama since morning when senior advocate Kapil Sibal succeeded in getting the matter listed for hearing at 1400 hours.
When the matter came up, Sibal was replaced by senior advocate V Giri, who informed the bench that the high court was waiting for the outcome of the hearing here and has kept the scheduled hearing at 1500 hours.
Giri's response came after the bench asked him, "what has happened in the high court today".
After getting the answer that the high court will hear the matter at 1500 hours, the bench asked, "Where is the chairman (Khan) of UP Jal Nigam? Is he in Allahabad or Lucknow?"
When the bench categorically asked why Khan had not appeared before the high court on the last two dates, the lawyer said "he was busy in the election process".
To this, the bench said, "But he does not say (in his affidavit filed before the high court yesterday) whether he is involved in the election process. We don't know if he actually had an election programme on those dates".
When his counsel said he was busy in "public rallies and road shows", the bench said, "Don't make general statements."
The high court had ordered issuance of bailable warrant against Khan on a service petition filed by the UP Jal Nigam in 2013.
The petition was filed challenging the judgement of the UP Public Services Tribunal in favour of Assistant Engineer D K Singh, against whom the Jal Nigam had initiated recovery proceedings in a case of alleged financial irregularities.
The high court had passed the order against Khan after rejecting an exemption application moved on his behalf.
The high court, in its earlier order on February 17, had said that a document filed by the petitioners appeared to be forged and fictitious and issued notices to the petitioners to show cause as to why appropriate proceedings be not initiated against them for forgery and committing contempt/criminal contempt of court.
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