A day after a bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra reiterated that the CJI was the “first among equals” with “exclusive prerogative” to allocate cases and form benches, the disquiet among judges of the apex court came to fore again Thursday. Justice J Chelameswar, its most senior judge, declined to hear a PIL challenging the powers of the CJI, saying “I do not want another reversal of my order in 24 hours”.
Underlining there was a “tirade” against him that he was “waiting to grab some office”, Justice Chelameswar said he did not want to hear the matter when he was approaching retirement.
“For obvious reasons, I will not deal with this” given the developments of the last two months, Justice Chelameswar said when advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared before him and submitted that a PIL filed by his father and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, questioning the CJI’s role as “master of the roster”, had not been taken up by the Supreme Court Registry — hours later, the matter was listed for hearing before the bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.
In an apparent reference to the November 10, 2017 judgment of a five-judge Constitution Bench which reversed the order he and another judge had delivered a day earlier, Justice Chelameswar said: “I do not want another reversal of my order in 24 hours.”
The two-judge order had directed that a petition demanding a court-monitored SIT probe in the medical admission scam, allegedly involving a Lucknow-based medical college in which the CBI arrested former Orissa High Court judge I M Quddusi, be heard by a bench made up of five most senior judges of the court.
Overturning this, the Constitution Bench headed by CJI Misra had held that the CJI, being the master of the roster, alone had the power to allocate cases to various benches.
“Two months for my retirement, I don’t want it to be said that I am doing certain things because I want to grab some office,” said Justice Chelameswar who is set to retire in June.
Refusing to act on Bhushan’s plea, he said: “Let the country take its own course.” He suggested that the petitioner explore other ways.
His request declined, Bhushan mentioned the matter before a three-judge bench headed by CJI Misra — the Registry later listed it before the bench of Justices Sikri and Bhushan.
Justice Chelameswar and three senior colleagues — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — had, in an unprecedented press conference on January 12, raised questions on the allocation of cases by the CJI.