Delhi Riots accused Asif Iqbal Tanha objects to intervention by media associations in plea against leak

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Justice Bhambhani on Tuesday said that the recusal of a judge should not come so easy but the question is of perception of bias and the judge’s comfort level.

Asif Iqbal Tanha, an accused in the 2020 Delhi riots case, objected on Tuesday to the "intervention" of news broadcasters' group in his petition before the Delhi High Court against the "leak" of his purported "disclosure statement" in the case involving the bigger conspiracy behind the violence.

Counsel for News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA), asserting the reasons for filing the intervention application, stated that the petition requested the filing of a First Information Report (FIR) against journalists, which could have repercussions.

However, taking note of this new development, Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani proposed his recusal from the case due to his "past association" with the organization.

The question of Justice Bhambhani's possible recusal in the matter has arisen due to the applications filed by the NBDA and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), both of which fear that a decision in the case could result in the filing of FIRs against journalists and have an impact on the issue of disclosure of sources.

The matter will now be heard next month on the question of Justice Bhambhani's possible recusal of the matter.

"Both of you may or may not see any bias [but] I have to have the comfort level to decide the matter," said Justice Bhambhani. During the course of the hearing, the judge also said, "Your perception of bias or his perception of bias is a separate matter but I can certainly say my comfort level in hearing the matter. I am using this phase adversely."

Counsel for Tanha, Senior Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal claimed that the judge would not use comfort as a criterion for not fulfilling the requirement. He stated that the judge's satisfaction is vital, but "that is not the starting point."

The counsel has earlier argued that the application for intervention was an "attempt to overreach the institution" after which Justice Bhambhani suggested sending the plea to another judge on account of his “past association” with NBDA.

“Recusal should not come so easy but there are higher considerations than deciding than A versus B… It is not actual bias but the perception of bias. Even deciding on the application, I have to have a comfort level. I never get into a matter where I myself am not comfortable with my independence,” said Justice Bhambhani.

The senior counsel then stated that he will provide assistance to the court regarding the law of recusal.

Case Title: Asif Iqbal Tanha (Through Pairokar) vs. State of NCT of Delhi & Ors.