Justice Jasti Chelameswar, who retired from the Supreme Court Friday as the most senior judge, believes that there is a lot of speculation about the selection of the next Chief Justice of India, but he does not think that Justice Ranjan Gogoi, next in line to succeed CJI Dipak Misra in October, will be superseded.
“They are all speculations. I don’t think supersession will happen,” Justice Chelameswar said in an interview to The Indian Express as he left for his ancestral village in Andhra Pradesh. Recalling that he went to a village school where there would be a holiday each time it rained because it “had either leaking roofs or no roofs”, he said he drew on his deep personal experience of underprivileged India for difficult judicial decisions.
Ruling out any move to join electoral politics, he said he planned to write two books on legal and Constitutional matters. “I am not entering electoral politics. I won’t be contesting elections. Politics in a theoretical sense, watching it, commenting on it, yes I will be interested in it.”
The judge, who has been hailed by senior members of the Bar for standing up for the independence of the judiciary, reiterated that he would not be seeking any post-retirement employment with the State. He, along with three other members of the Collegium — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph — had held an unprecedented press conference on January 12, making public a letter they had written to CJI Misra in November.
Asserting that he did “not find anything wrong with the press conference”, Justice Chelameswar said, “I believe that without an independent judiciary, no democracy can survive. When we held the press conference, we believed that there is a threat to the independence of the judiciary and we thought that one way is to keep the nation informed. I acted according to the dictates of my conscience. It is for the civil society and future generations to decide whether I was right in my belief and action.”
As a member of the Collegium, he had written to the then CJI asking that the Collegium record in writing the reasons for selecting a judge. He was the sole judge on the Constitutional Bench who gave a dissenting judgment on the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) case.
Asked how he would like his tenure in the Supreme Court to be remembered, Justice Chelameswar said, “It gave me an opportunity to deal with momentous issues. For example, the NJAC. Leave alone the result and the political logic behind it. Of about 250 judges who occupied this court, how many of them got an opportunity to adjudicate upon the Constitutional validity of a Constitutional amendment? Not even 50, in the last 70 years. I got this big opportunity.”
He also hoped that the Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, Justice K M Joseph, will be elevated to the Supreme Court. Justice Chelameswar, who was part of the Collegium which recommended Justice Joseph’s name and vowed the reiteration of his name when the government returned it in April, said, “It is unfortunate that the matter is still lingering. I believe a man like him should come to the Supreme Court and it will be good for the institution. I still hope that it will happen.”
He said relations between the government and the judiciary have been tense because democratic disagreements are “misconstrued or taken as an adversarial stance”. “The other day, one of the honourable ministers wrote something about what all wrong things the previous government did, and therefore how right the present government is in some of the actions in dealing with the judiciary. The logic baffles me,” Justice Chelameswar said.