At around 10.45 am, a member of Justice J Chelameswar’s personal staff received a message from the Supreme Court judge, asking him to “make arrangements” for 30 people at his home at 4 Tughlaq Road. Although he did not know then what the gathering was for, the staff member guessed something important was going to happen.
Around half-an-hour later, Justice Chelameswar, second in seniority in the Supreme Court, arrived along other senior justices Madan Bhimrao Lokur, Ranjan Gogoi and Kurian Joseph. Justice Gogoi is in line to become the Chief Justice of India in October 2018, succeeding Dipak Misra.
It was then that Chelameswar’s staff were informed that the media had been called for a conference. “Isliye hum kothi chodh ke kabhi nahi jaate… Kuch bhi ho sakta hai. Hum logon ko to pata bhi nahi tha ho kya raha hai. Charoon judge ek saath aaye… Baad mein pata chala ki press conference hai (That is why I never leave the building… Anything can happen… All four judges came together… I came to know later that there was a press conference),” said the staff member who got the message.
By then, news about a press conference by the most senior judges had gone viral. “Justice Chelameswar is conducting a press conference. When??” read a message in a group. Another read, “Is it about Loya” — a reference to the death of special CBI judge B H Loya on which the Supreme Court heard a petition Friday.
At around 11.30 am, a few reporters arrived at the main gate. The guards appeared uncertain at first, and let them in only when the judges asked them to. More and more arrived over the next half-hour. Justice Chelameswar greeted a few journalists with folded hands. Media vans arrived, mikes were placed on a coffee table in the lawn and four chairs placed beside it. Reporters had already started speculating. “There is some disagreement with the CJI on the roster system. I think he is going to address that,” said one.
At exactly 12.16 pm, all four judges arrived at the lawn and thanked the media for arriving at such short notice. When he began, he was not audible at first, then repeated: “The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. Many things that are less than desirable have happened in the last few months.”
He said his efforts had failed to convince the CJI to set things in order. “Has there been an intervention from the executive?” a reporter asked. Justice Chelameswar read out a letter he would circulate to the media, one that he had sent two months ago to the CJI. “Is this about Judge Loya?” another reporter asked. Justice Chelameswar gestured to indicate it was.
At one stage, the four judges started talking to each another. When journalists stepped closer, Justice Chelameswar intervened: “Please don’t overhear us. Please don’t.”
When the press conference ended, a member of Chelameswar’s personal staff, who was supposed to circulate the letter among around 100 journalists, pointed out that he had only one copy. Someone suggested photocopies. “Letter leke aana (bring the letter),” said Chelameswar. “Saat panne ka letter hai. 700 pages total ho jayenge (The letter is of seven pages. The total will be 700 pages),” said the assistant. A reporter suggested, “Put it on Google Drive”; the staff member wondered, “Woh kya hota hai?”
He then walked to the centre of the lawn and said he would lay the seven pages on the table so that reporters could click pictures. “There will be chaos,” said one of the reporters.
One TV reporter sought an interview with Justice Chelameswar, who did not agree. The journalists were treated to tea, water and rasmalai.
By 12.35 pm, all seven pages were laid out beside the office of Chalameshwar’s assistants. Journalists shoved one another, cameras flashed, and those who clicked first could not send it to others for lack of connectivity. Many did, however, call their editors.
Around 2.35 pm, Justice S A Bobde, next in line for CJI after Justice Gogoi, and Justice L Nageswara Rao visited Chelameswar. They left after 25 minutes, without speaking to journalists. Around 3.30 pm, CPI’s D Raja entered through the exit gate.
At the end of the press conference, one of the assistants had a new concern. “How do I get them out now?”