Saturday, 13 January 2018 | Abraham Thomas | New Delhi-
The Supreme Court was a house on fire on Friday as the four senior-most judges revolted against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, questioning his “undesirable” decisions to assign politically sensitive or important cases to a “particular Bench” in violation of the prevailing rule of roster system.
The four judges in the order of seniority — Justice Jasti Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Kurien Joseph — at a Press conference held at 4, Tughlaq Road, the official residence of Justice Chelameswar, unanimously expressed their angst about how the CJI refused to act on their letter expressing these concerns addressed to him almost two months ago.
The unprecedented move by the senior judges to hold a Press conference has plunged the judiciary in serious crisis. While the Government has said it is the internal matter of the judiciary, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the judges could have avoided holding a Press conference, and now they would have to act in “statesmanship” to ensure complete harmony.
“What has happened today could have been avoided. The judges will now have to act in statesmanship and ensure that the divisiveness is wholly neutralised and total harmony and mutual understanding will prevail in future,” he said.
“This is what all of us at the bar want and I am sure that the judges, including the CJI, will rise to the occasion,” he said, but declined to come out with details of his deliberations with the CJI and others.
Justifying the decision to go public with their dissent with the CJI, Justice Gogoi said, “By holding this Press conference we are discharging our debt to the nation.”
Justice Chelameswar said they are compelled to hold this event which is an “extraordinary event” in the history of this country and institution. “Our efforts to convince the CJI have failed. It is with no pleasure we come before you but are compelled to do so. No wise man after 20 years should say that we — Justices Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur, and Joseph — sold our souls,” he said.
The two-month old letter, copy of which was shared by the judges with the media, criticised the CJI’s decision to hear a case pertaining to Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) with regard to appointment of judges.
As the matter on MoP resulted from a decision of the Constitution Bench in 2016, the letter said, “It is difficult to understand as to how any other Bench could have dealt with the matter….any issue with regard to MoP should be discussed in the Chief Justices’ Conference and by the Full Court.
Such a matter of grave importance, if at all required to be taken on the judicial side, should be dealt with by none other than a Constitution Bench.”
This matter on MoP was filed by a lawyer RP Luthra that was dismissed by a bench of CJI and two other judges on November 8 last year.
But this was not the only issue as was evident from the last paragraph of the letter. It said, “Once the issue mentioned above is addressed by you (CJI) and if it becomes so necessary, we will apprise you specifically of the other judicial orders passed by this court which would require to be similarly dealt with.”
Breaking the silence on this subject, Justice Chelameswar said, “Today morning all four of us met the CJI on an issue seeking appropriate directions to rectify a particular thing that is not in order. Despite senior most colleagues who went to meet him, the CJI did not heed our request.”
When journalists pressed for details, Justice Gogoi said, “It is an issue of assignment of a case (to a bench).” He later confirmed it was the PIL relating to death of a judge, BH Loya who met accidental death in 2014 while hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh murder case in which BJP president Amit Shah was one of the accused who later got acquitted.
The letter was careful not to mention the instances when the CJI “selectively assigned cases having far-reaching consequences for the nation and institution” to benches “of their preference” without any rational basis. By this, they meant that the CJI is only the first among equals and does not enjoy any “superior authority, legally or factually” over his colleagues. In assigning matters, though the CJI is the master of roster, he must assign cases to appropriate benches, both composition wise and strength wise, keeping due regard to the roster fixed, the letter said. “This must be guarded against at all costs,” they added in the signed letter.
Following the Press conference, the three judges who joined Chelameswar left for the airport as they had to catch separate flights. To a question whether they feel this split within the judiciary will affect functioning of the court or Collegium, Justice Chelameswar said, “No question arises. The Collegium will function as usual.” On being asked whether they will write to President for seeking impeachment of CJI, the judge added, “We are telling the nation to take care of the institution. Let the people decide on it (impeachment).”
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