NEW DELHI: Media is not where you expect judges to wash dirty linen. But when four respected senior Supreme Court judges — Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — call an extraordinary press conference and publicly criticise Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, it appears like a vote of no confidence against the head of the institution.
Significantly, all four judges are on the Supreme Court Collegium that appoints judges to the higher judiciary. And Justice Gogoi is in line to become the chief justice of India when Misra retires in October this year.
The revolt against the CJI has been months in the making, from that November day when he declared himself as “the master of the roster” and overruled an order by Justice Chelameswar assigning a five-judge bench to look into allegations of bribes paid to senior judges in a medical college scam. One of the main issues they raised was his selective assigning of cases to benches, ignoring the senior judges. They first flagged it in a joint letter to the CJI. When that failed to produce results, they personally met him on Friday. Since he refused to budge, they decided to go public.
“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. But 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,” said Justice Chelameswar.
Addressing the media on the lawns of his official residence, Justice Chelameswar, the second-most senior judge in the Supreme Court, said, “We were left with no choice except to communicate it to the nation that please take care of the institution. Don’t want people to say 20 years later that we did not take care of the institution.”
“There is an issue of assignment of a case which is raised in that letter (to the CJI),” Justice Gogoi said, adding that it pertained to the assigning of the case related to the death of special CBI judge B H Loya.
Just before the conference, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, who is the 10-senior most judge took up the petitions requesting for an independent probe into the death of judge Loya who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case of 2004, in which various police officers and BJP president Amit Shah are named as parties.
The court did not issue a notice to the Maharashtra government but asked the standing counsel to seek instructions and slated the hearing for January 15.
A letter, written two months ago, released subsequently by the judges raised questions on the justice delivery system and the allocation of cases.
Curious case of Aadhaar bench
In the Aadhaar case, justices Chelameswar and Bobde were on the bench since 2013. It referred the matter to a larger bench after which then CJI Khehar reconstituted it with himself and justices Chelameswar, Bobde, Chandrachud and Nazeer on it. When that bench referred the privacy question to a nine-member Constitution bench, all five were part of it. That bench ruled that privacy was a fundamental right. Later, when CJI Dipak Misra constituted a five-judge bench to adjudicate on other matters of Aadhaar, justices Chelameswar and Bobde were not taken in. The bench as it stands now has CJI Misra with justices Sikri, Khanwilkar, Chandrachud and Bhushan. Curious?