Say democracy won’t survive in India if SC not preserved
New Delhi: Warning that democracy is at stake, four senior judges of the Supreme Court on Friday mounted a virtual revolt against the country’s chief justice, raising questions on “selective” case allocation and certain judicial orders, sending shockwaves across the judiciary and polity.
The unprecedented move by the four judges including Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior judge after Chief Justice Dipak Misra, brought to fore the simmering differences between India’s top judge and some senior judges in the apex court in recent months. The apex court currently has 25 judges.
Justice Chelameswar himself described as an “extraordinary event” in the annals of the Indian judiciary when the judges addressed a joint news conference during which he said, “sometimes administration of the Supreme Court is not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in the last few months”.
The judge accused Justice Misra of not taking any “remedial measures” on some of the issues which affected the functioning of the court that they had raised. Justice Misra became the CJI on August 28, 2017 and he is due to retire from on October 2 this year.
Unless this institution is preserved, “democracy will not survive” in this country, Justice Chelameswar said at the unscheduled press conference, in the first of its kind event in independent India, leaving uncertain how this open dissension in the hallowed institution would be resolved.
In a scathing criticism and unvarnished self-reflection of the Supreme Court, Chelameswar, who was accompanied by Justices Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph at the press conference, said they had met the chief justice this morning and “raised issues affecting the institution.” The CJI and the four judges comprise the Supreme Court collegium that selects judges for the higher judiciary.
“Unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country,” Justice Chelameswar said, adding that it was “extremly painful” to hold the press conference in such a manner. The conference was held at his residence here.
He said all the four judges “failed to persuade CJI that certain things are not in order and therefore you should take remedial measures. Unfortunately our efforts failed.
“And all four of us are convinced that democracy is at stake and many things have happened in recent past,” he said.
Asked what these issues were, he said they included the “allocation of cases by CJI”. The remarks assume significance as the apex court earlier in the day took up for consideration the issue of alleged mysterious death of special CBI judge B H Loya, who was hearing the sensitive Sohrabuddin Sheikh ‘fake encounter’ case.
Justice Chelameswar said, “we owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. Our efforts have failed in convincing CJI to take steps to protect the institution.”
“This is an extraordinary event in the history of any nation, more particularly this nation and an extraordinary event in the institution of judiciary … It is with no pleasure that we are compelled to call this press conference.”
There was no immediate official response from the CJI office. Asked whether they wanted the Chief Justice to be impeached, Justice Chelameswar said, “let the nation decide.”
The government of India made it clear it is not going to intervene on the unprecedented development, saying the judiciary will resolve the issue itself. “Our judiciary is reputed all over the world, independent and they will sort the matter themselves,” said minister of state for law P P Chaudhury.
The letter said that there have been instances where cases having “far reaching consequences for the nation” and the institution have been assigned by the chief justices of this court “selectively to the benches ‘of their preference’ without any rationale basis” for such assignment. “This must be guarded against at all costs.”
“We are not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution but note that such departures have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent.”
The letter also raised the concerns of the judges on allocation of cases. “It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of this country that the chief justice is only first amongst the equals — nothing more or nothing less.
“A necessary corollary to the above mentioned principle is the members of any multi numbered judicial body including this court would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition wise and strength wise with due regard to the roster fixed.