CJI Ranjan Gogoi continues Justice Misra's legacy of keeping a tight grip on PIL pleas

CJI Ranjan Gogoi plans to allocate certain PILs to the number two judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur.  

The new subjectwise roster, introduced by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi as the master of roster, is a continuation of his immediate predecessor Dipak Misra's legacy of keeping a tight grip on public interest litigation (PIL) petitions.

Among the Supreme Court’s 11 Benches, the Chief Justice’s court is dominantly in charge of fresh PIL petitions. Justice Misra too had kept the entire PIL jurisdiction with him.

However, Chief Justice Gogoi has madea a slight change. The new roster, which came into existence on October 3, allows certain PIL petitions “allocated by the CJI” to go to the number two judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur. This means no fresh PIL petitions will make their way to any other Bench.

The subjectwise roster of allocation of cases to judges was created by Justice Misra as a consequence of the January 12 press conference by four judges. Chief Justice Gogoi was among the four — the others being Justices Jasti Chelameswar (retired), Lokur and Kurian Joseph.

One of the prominent grouses voiced by the four judges was the manner in which Chief Justices of India flexed their power as master of roster. There was no transparency in the allocation of cases. Sensitive cases and those of national importance were selectively allocated to certain Benches “without any rational basis.”

An October 2017 letter, written by the four judges to the then CJI, was circulated at the press conference.

The four judges had said the Chief Justice’s authority as master of roster did not make him a “superior authority.” “The Chief Justice is only the first among equals — nothing more or nothing less.”

Reinforcing authority

The past months have witnessed three back-to-back judgments, reinforcing the authority of the CJI as the undisputed ‘master of roster.’ The first came on November 10 last year when a five-judge Constitution Bench, led by then CJI, declared his dominance as the master of roster in order to protect the court from “anarchy.”

The Constitution Bench had declared that it was the prerogative of the CJI to decide what case should be heard by which judge. The judgment had effectively nullified a judicial order passed by Justice Chelameswar barely a day ago to constitute a Bench of the five seniormost judges to hear a PIL petition for a special investigation team probe into the Lucknow medical college scam involving an alleged conspiracy to bribe Supreme Court judges for a favourable order. A Bench, led by the then CJI, had heard the case.

In April last, a Bench, led by the then CJI, again declared the CJI an “institution in himself,” with the “exclusive prerogative” to constitute Benches and allocate cases. It had held that there was no room for any “presumption of mistrust” against the high constitutional functionary.

Finally, on July 6, a Bench, led by Justice A.K. Sikri, declared that the ‘Chief Justice of India’ denotes an individual judge and not a collective of the first three or five seniormost judges of the Supreme Court called the ‘collegium.’ The judgment held that it was the exclusive authority of this individual judge to allocate cases to fellow judges in his role as master of roster. The judgment dismissed a petition filed by former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan that resting the power of master of roster in one individual might risk its “absolute, singular and arbitrary” use.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 2:34:26 AM |

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