Two judges of the Supreme Court opposed the decision of Chief Justice of India H L Dattu to call a conference of judges on Good Friday and one of them, Justice Kurian Joseph, said “I am deeply hurt… shocked by the tenor” of the response from the CJI rejecting his suggestion while raising questions of “individual interest”.
Justice Joseph said he was invited by the Prime Minister’s Office to the joint conference of judges and chief ministers to be held on Sunday but he had expressed his inability to attend. He also brought it to the notice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that such events should be avoided on a day of religious observance. These events, he said, are of immense significance for people of the country in terms of belief, faith and propagation of religion which is recognised under the Constitution.
Justice Joseph was not the only judge opposed to holding such a conference on a public holiday, including Holi, Diwali and Eid. His colleague Justice Vikramjit Sen also raised the matter with the CJI who did not yield — the meeting began on Friday.
Sources said the CJI told Justice Sen that the conference was being organised in the first week of April because the CJI and his two most senior colleagues and chief justices of high courts would be free from regular court work and be able to contribute to the cause of judiciary.
Justice Joseph wrote to the CJI on March 18 and questioned the timing of the conference and subsequent functions, saying he would be away in Kerala “committed on account of the holy days when we have religious ceremonies and family get together as well”. Such events, he wrote, were not held during Diwali, Dussehra, Holi or Eid.
The CJI, according to a report in The Times of India, wrote back saying “institutional interest should be given preference to individual interest” and highlighted the need to strike a balance between needs of the institution and family commitments.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Kochi, Justice Joseph said: “I am deeply hurt. It is not about, and should never be about, individuals, judges or otherwise. It was not about me or the other judges. When I wrote that letter to the CJI, I raised concerns only in the interest of the secular nature of this country and its social fabric, which we all are obligated to maintain as our constitutional duties.”
Justice Joseph said nobody could doubt his institutional interest and it was exclusively in the interest of the judiciary that the conference should have been held with a different itinerary.
“When the world is looking at India and its judiciary, it is the duty of this institution to send the right signal. We have taken the oath to uphold the majesty of this institution and to protect the interest of the citizens.I shall do it as a judge. I feel duty-bound to raise concerns when the institution seems to be acting in manner that could raise questions over its integrity and secular nature. I still maintain such conferences should not be held on any public holiday,” he said.
A member of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Roman Catholic Church, Justice Joseph is a regular at church functions, mainly as a representative of the Catholic laity. In 2012, he was one of the resource persons for an annual conference of the Canon Law Society of India. Its office-bears and members are generally bishops and priests —canon law is the system of laws legal principles enforced by the Pope.
Last year, when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India held a conference on church and media, Justice Joseph was one of the speakers.
On May 27, 2012, when the Faridabad archbishop was consecrated, Justice Joseph, then Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh, did the first reading during mass.
While serving as a high court judge, Justice Joseph preached Bible on Christian TV channel Shalom TV. Then, he would religiously read a passage from the Bible and interpret the verses. This weekly programme was held every Saturday evening.