All eyes on Ranjan Gogoi, next in line

He is the third senior-most judge after CJI Misra, but Chelameswar, second in seniority, will retire soon

January 12, 2018 11:24 pm | Updated December 03, 2021 09:58 am IST - NEW DELHI

Government benefits: Justice Ranjan Gogoi at a press conference in the Capital on Tuesday.

Government benefits: Justice Ranjan Gogoi at a press conference in the Capital on Tuesday.

Of the four senior-most Supreme Court judges who publicly accused Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra of selectively assigning nationally important cases to his preferred judges, the most notable is Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

Justice Gogoi, who barely spoke during the press conference held by the four judges, stepped up at the end to firmly say that they had come to pay a debt to the nation. It was he who confirmed that the assignment of a petition on the death of Judge Loya was the immediate cause of the press conference.

Succession issues

Justice Gogoi is the third senior-most judge after Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Though Justice Chelameswar, who led the four-judge press conference, is senior to Justice Gogoi, the former is scheduled to retire on June 22, 2018.


Justices Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph would also retire in the course of this year — Justice Kurian on November 29, 2018 and Justice Lokur on December 30, 2018.

The procedure of succession is triggered by a letter of recommendation by the current Chief Justice to the government, naming his successor. The letter is the starting point of succession. The government proceeds further on the basis of this letter. So, Chief Justice Misra, who is retiring on October 2 this year, is supposed to recommend Justice Gogoi’s name as his successor.

This is done well in advance of the date of retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice of India so that the government would get enough time to proceed with the formalities and get the assent of the President.

The succession or the line of Chief Justices is decided on the basis of seniority from the time of their appointment to the Supreme Court.

Darkest chapters

The darkest chapters of the Supreme Court’s history were written when Justice H.S. Khanna was superseded by Justice M.H. Beg following his historic dissent in the ADM Jabalpur case, where he stood up for the fundamental right to life and due process of law during the Emergency period.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi superseded Justice Khanna in 1977 despite the fact that he was the then senior-most judge in the Supreme Court and a natural choice to be the next Chief Justice of India. Justice Khanna chose to retire immediately.

On an earlier occasion, in 1973, following the Kesavananda Bharati judgment, which toppled Ms. Gandhi’s Constitutional amendments to give Parliament supremacy over the judiciary and introduced the basic structure doctrine, three senior-most judges of the Supreme Court — Justices J.M. Shelat, A.N. Grover and K.S. Hegde — resigned after the government superseded them to appoint Justice A.N. Ray as CJI to succeed then CJI S.M. Sikri.

The supersession was considered a serious attack on judicial independence and often called the “blackest day in Indian democracy”.

In 2004, a majority of the judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court went on a day’s mass leave following differences with their then Chief Justice B.K. Roy. The situation was ironed out by a judicial delegation from the Supreme Court.

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