The Supreme Court, the nation’s highest judiciary which routinely sets the agenda for institutional propriety and probity, was grappling with an unprecedented crisis after four of its most senior judges went public Friday, questioning the conduct of the Chief Justice of India, especially over the allocation of cases.
At a press conference held at Justice Jasti Chelameswar’s house in New Delhi, Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph targeted Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra — the five make the current Supreme Court Collegium, the highest decision-making body of the judiciary.
Speaking for the four judges, Justice Chelameswar said “we were left with no choice than to communicate it to the nation” that “less than desirable things have happened” in the Supreme Court in the last few months and “we tried to collectively persuade the Chief Justice that certain things are not in order… he must take remedial measures” but “our efforts failed”.
The judges made public a seven-page letter they had written to the CJI about two months ago, pointing out that “certain judicial orders passed by this Court” had “adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system and the independence of the High Courts, besides impacting the administrative functioning of the office of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India”.
The letter mentioned “instances where case having far reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justices of this Court selectively to the benches ‘of their preference’ without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all cost.”
“It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of this country that the Chief Justice is only the first amongst the equals — nothing more or nothing less.”
The letter also referred to the row over the issue of delay in finalising the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. It said when the MoP was the subject matter of a decision of a Constitution Bench, “it is difficult to understand as to how any other Bench could have dealt with the matter”.
“The Government of India has not responded to the communication and in view of this silence, it must be taken that the Memorandum of Procedure as finalised by the Collegium has been accepted by the Government of India on the basis of the order of this Court… There was, therefore, no occasion for the Bench to make any observation with regard to the finalization of the Memorandum of Procedure or that, that issue cannot linger on for an indefinite period,” the letter stated.
Justice Chelameswar said “all four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country or any country. For the survival of a democracy, it is said, the hallmark of a good democracy is an impartial… judiciary”.
He said they had met the CJI Friday morning too in regard to listing of a case, but could not convince him. “Even this morning, on a particular issue, four of us went and met the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India with a specific request which we could not unfortunately convince him that we were right. Therefore, we were left with no choice than to communicate it to the nation that please take care of the institution and take care of the nation, because we have heard a lot of wise men talking in this country earlier.”
“I don’t want that twenty years later, some very wise men in this country blame… Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph… sold their souls; they didn’t take care of this institution; they didn’t take care of the interests of this nation. We don’t want it to be said. So we place it before the people of this country,” Justice Chelameswar said.
While Justice Chelameswar did not give a specific reply when he was asked what was the matter over which they had met the CJI Friday morning, Justice Gogoi said “it is an issue of an assignment of a case which is an issue raised in court”. Asked if it was about the petitions seeking a probe into the death of special CBI judge B H Loya, Justice Gogoi replied in the affirmative.
On Thursday, two petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, seeking a probe into the death of Loya who had been hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Both petitions, mentioned before a bench of Chief Justice Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud Thursday, were marked to the bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M Shantanagoudar. On Friday, this bench sought the Maharashtra government’s views on the plea for an independent probe into the death of Loya.
Asked if they were seeking impeachment of the CJI, Justice Chelameswar said: “We are not saying anything. Let the nation decide.”
Justice Gogoi said: “I think whatever Justice Chelameswar has told you is the whole of it. It’s the discharge of a debt to the nation that has brought us here. And we think that we have discharged the debt to the nation by telling you what is what. More is there in the letter. Beyond this, I don’t think there is any other issue we need to address.”
Justice Chelameswar said the four judges were speaking for themselves and not their other fellow judges. “We are speaking for ourselves. We did not consult anyone else.” Asked if they were expressing no-confidence in the Chief Justice, he said “don’t put words in my mouth”.