CHENNAI: The Supreme Court has been rocked by a controversy over judicial corruption and the propriety of judges hearing cases in which they may have an involvement in. Last week, a Supreme Court bench ruled that the chief justice of India is the "master of the roster", and that his ruling on all administrative matters will prevail.
But what brought about this development?
Earlier on Friday, a bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar referred a petition seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Lucknow medical college case to a five-judge Constitution bench comprising the five seniormost judges of the court.
However, Justice Chelameswar's ruling was overturned by a bench headed by chief justice Dipak Mishra which ruled that no one apart from the CJI has the authority to assign cases or decide on the size or composition of the benches.
What is the Lucknow medical college case?
The Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences run by the Prasad Educational Trust was among 46 medical colleges that were barred by the government from admitting students owing to a lack of facilities. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing the charge that the college tried to use back-door methods to influence the judicial process. In an FIR, the agency alleged that promoters of the medical college approached High Court judge Ishrat Masroor Quddusi and sought his help in this matter.
Who is Justice Quddusi?
I.M. Quddusi was a judge of the Odisha High Court between 2004 and 2010. He also served as a judge in the Allahabad High Court. On September 21 this year, CBI arrested six persons including Quddusi or charges that they were involved in deals to try and secure favourable court orders for Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences.
Who is Justice Chelameswar?
A former chief justice of the Kerala High Court, Justice Jasti Chelameswar is presently a Supreme Court judge. It was a two-judge bench headed by Justice Chelameswar that took up a petition filed by advocate Kamini Jaiswal seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Lucknow medical college corruption scandal. Justice Chelameshwar's bench referred the matter to a five-judge bench comprising the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. In a surprising turn of events the very next day, that order was struck down by a bench headed by chief justice Dipak Mishra.
The two petitions before SC
An NGO called the the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform (CJAR), represented by Prashant Bhushan, and and advocate Kamini Jaiswal filed separate petitions in the apex court seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the corruption allegations allegedly involving some top judicial functionaries. Prashant Bhushan strongly objected to chief justice Dipak Mishra being a part of the bench that hears the plea, or even nominating a bench to hear the petitions.
A five-judge constitutional bench in its response to Bhushan said, “There cannot be any direction to the chief justice of India as to who shall be sitting on the bench or who shall take up the matter as that touches the composition of the bench. We reiterate that such an order cannot be passed. It is not countenanced in law and not permissible.”
What did CJI’s bench decide?
A five-member bench headed by Justice Dipak Mishra struck down Justice Chelameswar’s order referring Kamini Jaiswal’s petition to a constitutional court. The bench headed by the CJI, withdrew the matter from Chelameswar’s bench and assigned it to a three-judge bench headed by Justice RK Agarwal. The bench ruled that the CJI is the master of roster and can alone assign cases to different benches and decide on the composition of benches.
Who is Prashant Bhushan?
A senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan has made news time and again for his campaign against corruption in government and the judiciary. He filed a PIL before the SC seeking a court-monitored probe into the Quddusi scam. He had earlier filed PILs seeking probes into illegal mining and rules suppressing RTI. He is associated with the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and has represented it in the Supreme Court. In 2011, he was a part of Anna Hazare movement against corruption in India.