If the senior-most judge is appointed the CJI, as has been the norm but for twice in independent India, then Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramanna, U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud, are set to be the next four chief justices.
In their unprecedented press conference a year ago, four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court at the time had expressed fundamental differences over the CJI being the Master of the Roster and allocating matters to different benches, often seen to be in an arbitrary manner. The four judges, including current CJI Gogoi, had called for a system regarding handling of court administrative matters to help evolve a more robust institution.
In the months that followed, the four judges had at least four-five meetings with the then CJI, Dipak Misra, where a key proposal was involving “future Chief Justices” in all matters of a certain import, enabling a more consensual approach, than just decisions taken by one person, even if he was the Master of the Roster.
While Justice Gogoi is now CJI, the other three judges who held the press conference have since retired. On November 29, on his last day in office, one of those judges, Justice (retired) Kurian Joseph, had called for a more inclusive system that took along the entire court and for reducing the arbitrariness that came in as successive chiefs changed.
Justice Joseph had told The Indian Express, “There is no dispute about the ‘Master of the Roster’ and the Chief Justice is that in all courts. But it is not his individual choice alone. He should be guided by systems and practices.”
He had revealed that in the discussions with the then CJI, there was a suggestion that “there be a committee of future Chief Justices, not for bench allocations specifically, but to generally guide the Chief and ensure that ill-informed decisions are not taken”, but that this was “not acceptable” to Justice Misra.
While the Ayodhya Constitution bench is significant in this regard, it is the first time that there is no minority judge in a bench hearing a significant matter related to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, since the issue came to the Supreme Court in the Eighties.