For all institutions—the pillars of democracy, so to speak—there comes a day of reckoning. The Supreme Court is at such a crossroads. It has to sit in judgement of itself, in a manner that preserves the public’s faith in the judiciary. For, it is not a mere interpreter of law, it’s seen as the ultimate protector of citizens's rights. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
As it is, the tug-of-war between the judiciary and the executive over the mode of appointing judges has left everyone with as many questions as answers on the collegium system. The CBI’s FIR of 19 September 2017, which states that an educational trust tried to compromise the judicial procedure—that it conspired to influence the senior judiciary through pecuniary benefits, via former Odisha high court judge I M Quddusi and one Bhawna Pandey—is grave enough.
The alleged conspiracy hatched for ‘favourable settlement’ of a blacklisted medical college, the Rs 2 crore recovered during raids, `1 crore of which is said have been handed over by a hawala operator to the aide of the former judge, are stunning revelations which need a proper probe.
The tangle that saw Justice J Chelameswar and Justice S Abdul Nazeer referring the case to a five-member Constitution Bench, and CJI Dipak Misra quashing it subsequently, upholding his right as the ‘master of the roster’, has muddied the episode further.
The drama and internal acrimony over technicalities apart, the fact that the government’s law officers have cleared the air over the highest functionary of the court—that the Chief Justice is not under any cloud and the allegations are just allegations under investigation—has come as a relief. The SC must come out of this trial unscathed with its reputation restored. It’s as vital for the citizenry as it is for the judiciary itself.