The Supreme Court termed as the "most unfair" the plea of lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking recusal of senior-most judge Justice JS Khehar from hearing a PIL seeking an SIT probe into alleged recovery of documents in Income Tax raids on two business houses in 2012.
The PIL makes bribery allegations against politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat chief minister.
The court had on Wednesday questioned Bhushan whether aspersions could be cast against the Prime Minister without placing sufficient evidence.
"You are talking about the highest court of the country. Do you think we can succumb to any pressure?" a bench comprising Justice JS Khehar and Justice Arun Mishra said.
The court was irked when Bhushan, representing NGO Common Cause which has filed PIL, sought recusal of Justice khehar, whose name has been recommended by outgoing Chief Justice TS Thakur as his successor.
"Though I have no doubt about the integrity, it is my duty, an unpleasant duty, as an officer of the court (to say) that this matter be heard by some other bench on reopening (after winter vacation)," Bhushan said, apparently hinting at the pendency of approval by the executive designating Justice Khehar as the next CJI.
"Why should you say all this? it's very unfair. You appeared twice, thrice before us but you didn't say anything. Today you are saying things" the bench remarked. "If you had any problem you should have pointed out. It is very, very unfair. You are talking about the highest court. You are doubting a Constitutional functionary. Not fair," the bench said.
The top court bench also questioned the NGO and Bhushan for coming out with a plea without sufficient material and raising serious allegations against the highest constitutional functionary of the country.
"This is the cheapest tactics and has never been done in the Supreme Court," attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for centre, said adding that "This is more unfortunate as has been done in a PIL."
The bench, which was visibly upset, offered two solutions to AG and Bhushan saying either this matter be sent to the CJI for hearing by another bench or let the hearing be deferred to January till after the winter break. "I will agree with the second option," Rohatgi said.
Bhushan also agreed to the suggestion and said he will file a detailed affidavit in the matter. The apex court then deferred the hearing to January 11, 2017.