FOR THE first time, the Supreme Court has made public its Judges Roster — a list that shows which judge hears what matter by subject — with Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra retaining all matters related to PILs.
The roster was posted on the Supreme Court’s official website Thursday, nearly three weeks after its four most senior judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — went public with concerns over the conduct of the CJI, especially in the allocation of cases.
The website also posted the Collegium’s unanimous decision on January 10 to recommend the elevation of Senior Advocate Indu Malhotra and Uttarakhand Chief Justice K M Joseph as Supreme Court judges. Sources close to the four most senior judges described Thursday’s move to make the roster public as an acknowledgement that “something was amiss” and a “moral victory” for their stance.
However, they said the substance of the solution proposed has done little to assuage the concerns of the judges. The 13-page roster states it will be applicable only to fresh cases and will take effect from February 5, 2018, “till further orders”. It lists the subject-wise allocation of cases to benches headed by various judges.
Justice Chelameswar gets criminal matters and cases related to judicial officers, among others, while environmental issues will be dealt with by Justice Madan B Lokur. Cases pertaining to admission and transfer to medical and engineering colleges will go to separate benches headed by Justices S A Bobde and Arun Mishra, respectively. The bench headed by Justice Bobde will also handle cases on admissions to colleges other than medical and engineering institutions, and other academic matters.
On Wednesday, The Indian Express had reported that the four senior judges had suggested the formation of a committee comprising those who would be CJIs in future, to suggest an institutional mechanism for marking cases. The latest allocation, according to the new roster, does not address that suggestion. Sources close to the judges said the central principle of challenging all power being focussed in one person — or the Chief Justice — is what had led to the proposal of involving all possible successors to the top position as part of a panel while taking any decisions.
Sources pointed out that the Second Judges’ ruling in 1993, which led to the formation of the Collegium, is also premised on the idea that all power, even administrative, in such an important court, must not rest on the discretion of just one node, or the Chief Justice. Secondly, sources said the new roster is solely about the presiding judge. “Why is the roster not about the other judges who would constitute the benches and why is that a secret?” said sources.
However, sources close to the Chief Justice said the fact that important matters — related to elections, PILs, the appointment of Constitutional functionaries — would still be “heard in Court number one is logical and correct as there is a reason the Chief Justice is the Chief Justice of India”.
The four senior judges had gone public with their concerns at an unprecedented press conference in New Delhi on January 12. Since then, the four and the CJI, who together form the Collegium, held a series of meetings to resolve the impasse, with no significant outcome. On Wednesday, a scheduled meeting of the four judges and the CJI did not materialise with Justice Chelameswar on leave.
Sources said that at the previous meeting, last week, the main point discussed was a proposal from the CJI that all five judges must come out together publicly and state that all issues were being resolved. However, sources said, the four judges declined to do so until they saw visible and tangible progress on issues raised by them. Making the roster public has been one of the demands of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), too.
According to rules, the CJI has the final say over the roster and decides the constitution of the benches. The ‘Handbook on Practise and Procedure and Office Procedure’ states that the roster “shall be prepared by the Registrar (Judicial-I) under the orders of the Chief Justice. It may contain general or special instructions regarding assignment/allocation of work to a Bench and includes allocation of work of a Bench, on account of non-availability, to another Bench”.
The Handbook also states that “in order to meet contingencies, the Chief Justice may, from time to time, direct the Registrar (J-I) to prepare roster instructions or amendments for re-allocation of judicial work”. “Where a Bench directs listing of a case before another Bench, particular Bench, appropriate Bench or larger Bench, as the case may be, the Registrar (J-I) shall place the matter before the Chief Justice for orders,” it states. While the announcement of a formal division of responsibility is a first in the Supreme Court, it is a known practice in High Courts, especially for a term when certain subjects are heard by certain judges for a certain period.