NEW DELHI: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s letter to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde, in which he levelled serious allegations against Justice NV Ramana, has perhaps put the CJI in a position no other head of India’s judiciary has ever faced.
Unlike anonymous complaints from the public against members of the judiciary, this one has been written by a person holding a constitutional position against another person, who also holds a similar post.
In the face of this situation, Chief Justice Bobde may have no option but to take cognisance of the letter one way or the other, especially as the matter is now in the public domain after the letter was shared with the media by the chief minister’s principal adviser Ajeya Kallam on Saturday.
But opinions are divided over the options before the CJI to address the issue. One set of apex court judges said as per procedure, CJI Bobde will have to place the complaint before the full court of the Supreme Court for its consideration.
These judges said if a complaint is received against a sitting judge, it needs to be placed before all judges of the court, who will then take a collective decision on the matter.
“The fact is that the complaint has been made by a Chief Minister, it is expected of the CJI to place the matter before the full court of the Supreme Court so that an appropriate response can be initiated,” said a former judge.
This procedure is also contained in the principles of judicial conduct adopted by the SC’s full court two decades ago, which clearly laid down that any complaint against sitting judges would have to be considered by all the judges of the highest court.
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The need for a full court sitting was considered necessary to keep the judiciary’s image above suspicion.
Some other judges felt that the CJI can even decide to set up a committee to look into the allegations.
“In some cases, the CJI can formulate a committee of sitting judges, too, to probe the allegations,” another former SC judge explained, adding that since Justice Ramana is next in line to become the CJI, the allegations against him cannot be ignored.
These judges said in the event of the CJI constituting a panel, he may have to divest Justice Ramana of some of his responsibilities, such as dropping him from the SC collegium.
Justice Ramana has been a collegium member for some years now. A senior Supreme Court lawyer said irrespective of the merit of the complaint, “the public has a right to know about the collective response of the Supreme Court to it.”
No precedent to fall back upon
Whatever be the CJI’s next step, he has no precedent to fall back upon. In his letter, Jagan alleged that Justice Ramana’s family members were involved in “questionable” land deals relating to the Amaravati project and that he interfered with the functioning of the Andhra high court.