Supreme Court judge Justice Surya Kant on Monday recused himself from hearing an appeal filed by the Punjab government against the high court order granting bail to former minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a drug case.

As soon as a bench of Justice Surya Kant and Justice J K Maheshwari took up the appeal of the Punjab government, Justice Kant said he was part of the high court bench which had directed the setting up of a special task force to probe the case.

"Let the matter be listed before a bench in which one of us (Justice Surya Kant) is not a member," the apex court ordered.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan appeared for the Punjab government, which had challenged the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court dated August 10, 2022. On August 10, 2022, Majithia walked out of the Patiala jail after the high court had granted him bail, saying that there were "reasonable grounds" to believe that he is not guilty. It had, however, said the observation is only for the purpose of adjudicating his bail application and the trial court should proceed independently of the observations made by it.

Majithia was released after spending more than five months in the Patiala jail in the drug case. The Akali leader came out of the jail around 6.30 pm on August 10 last year and a large number of party leaders and workers assembled outside the prison to welcome him and showered petals over his vehicle. Majithia is the brother-in-law of SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal and brother of former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. He had been lodged in the Patiala jail since February 24 last year.

The high court had said, "We are satisfied that reasonable grounds exist to believe that petitioner is not guilty of the offences alleged against him in the FIR and he is not likely to commit such offences while on bail."

It had said it would take time for the trial against him to start and culminate. "So no fruitful purpose is going to be served even if the petitioner is kept in judicial custody for a further indefinite period," it had said.

The high court had asked Majithia to furnish a personal and surety bond of Rs 2 lakh each and also deposit his passport with the investigating agency concerned. It had said that Majithia shall travel abroad only with leave of this court and shall not tamper with the prosecution evidence. Majithia was booked on the basis of a 2018 report of the anti-drug special task force (STF) into a drug racket in the state. The STF report was based on confessional statements given to the Enforcement Directorate by some accused, including Jagjit Singh Chahal, Jagdish Singh Bhola and Maninder Singh Aulakh.

Earlier, the apex court had directed the Punjab Police not to arrest the former Punjab minister till February 23 last year in the drugs case so he could undertake electioneering in the state. The court had, however, directed Majithia to surrender before the trial court after the Punjab Assembly polls on February 20 last year.

With PTI Inputs