In an unprecedented act, four senior judges of the Supreme Court on Friday held a press conference and publicly accused Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra of selectively assigning cases to judges of his choice without any rational basis.
Transcending judicial protocol that sitting judges should not interact with the media, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — the senior-most judges after the CJI — accused Justice Misra of assigning cases of “far-reaching consequences to the nation” to junior hand-picked judges against the time-tested convention, practice and tradition of the court.
In a letter addressed to the CJI and circulated at the press meet, the four said certain Supreme Court judges arrogated to themselves the “authority to deal with and pronounce upon” cases which ought to be heard by other appropriate Benches. The letter is of October 2017 origin.
Efforts at remedy failed
Justice Chelameswar, speaking for the four, said they had collectively tried to persuade the Chief Justice to take remedial measures but their efforts failed.
The judges said that with the independence of the judiciary and the future of democracy at stake, they had “no other choice but communicate to the nation to please take care of this institution.”
Justice Chelameswar said they decided to act now because they did not want “any wise men to say 20 years later that Justices Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian sold their souls and did not take care of the interests of this illustrious institution.”
He said, “The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. Many things undesirable have happened in the last few months. As senior-most judges of the court and of this country, we hold a responsibility to the institution and to the nation.”
Justice Chelameswar recounted that the trigger for the press conference was a meeting they held with the Chief Justice on Friday morning regarding the assignment of a petition, seeking an independent probe into the mysterious death of CBI judge B.H. Loya, to a particular Bench. (Loya was the CBI judge hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheik encounter case).
The four had expressed their reservations to the CJI about the assignation of the Loya case. But the CJI had refused to budge. They had then informed him of their intention to go public.
Though Justice Chelameswar did not name the Loya petition, Justice Gogoi, who is scheduled to take over as Chief Justice of India after Chief Justice Misra retires on October 2 this year, spoke up to say the petition is indeed regarding judge Loya’s death. “Yes, yes. It was the Loya case,” Justice Gogoi said. “It is the discharge of our debt to the nation that brought us here. We have discharged our debt to the nation by saying what is what,” he said. The revelation at the press conference came a couple of hours after a Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra heard the Loya petition.
Without naming any, Justice Chelameswar said that several other important cases like this had been assigned to preferred Benches over the past months. The convention of the court demands that important cases of public interest or sensitive matters should be first heard by the CJI. If the CJI is not willing for some reason to hear the case, it should be assigned to the next senior-most judge in the Supreme Court. Instead of that, such cases have been assigned to certain Benches and eventually given a quiet burial.
“Unless the institution is preserved and allowed to maintain its dignity, democracy will not survive. The hallmark of a good democracy are independent and impartial judges,” Justice Chelameswar said.
Highly placed sources in the Supreme Court denied that the CJI was taking decisions in a biased manner. “The CJI’s conscience is clear. All high-profile cases are allocated uniformly to the top four judges.”
‘Not breaking ranks, only doing our duty’
Justice J. Chelameswar of the Supreme Court denied on Friday that the four judges were breaking ranks by going public with the grievances against Chief Justice Dipak Misra. They were only discharging their responsibility to the nation and asking it to decide, he said.
Asked if CJI Misra should be impeached, Justice Chelameswar said, “Let the nation decide.”
“Tomorrow is Saturday, then it is Sunday, and on Monday we go back to do our job,” Justice Chelameswar said.
The judges had finished their roster of cases for the day before meeting at Justice Chelameswar’s residence at noon to hold the press meet. Justice Chelameswar, at 10.30 a.m., addressed the courtroom, saying he would only hear urgent matters and finished hearing them before rising for the day. The Bench led by Chief Justice Misra also rose at noon, saying they would re-convene at 2 p.m. to hear the rest of the cases.
Justice S.A. Bobde, expected to be Chief Justice in November 2019, is said to have met Justice Chelameswar later in the day.