UNPRECEDENTED: 4 SC judges express anguish, virtual revolt against CJI

TNN Bureau. Updated: 1/13/2018 2:14:52 AM Front Page

JAMMU: In a move unprecedented in the history of Indian judiciary, four senior judges of Supreme Court- nonetheless all of them sitting members of the Apex Court Collegium which along with CJI selects judges for the higher judiciary, expressed their 'anguish and concern' while mounting a virtual revolt against the country's chief justice, raising questions on "selective" case allocation and certain judicial orders, sending shockwaves across the judiciary and polity, in an unscheduled press conference called at one of the judges' residence in New Delhi.
The presser, which could be seen one of the biggest in the history of Indian judiciary, brought in public the simmering differences between the country's top judge and some senior judges in the apex court in recent months.
While the government has refused to intervene in the matter leaving it to judges to sort out the issues, the legal fraternity including former Chief Justices has termed the course of event as sad and unfortunate. On Friday noon, four senior judges of Supreme Court including Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior judge after Chief Justice Dipak Misra, gathered at former's residence in National Capital, and launched a scathing criticism and unvarnished self-reflection of the Supreme Court, warning that democracy is at risk.
Chelameswar, who was accompanied by Justices Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph at the press conference, himself described as an "extraordinary event" in the annals of the Indian judiciary when the judges addressed a joint news conference during which he said "sometimes administration of the Supreme Court is not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in the last few months."
The judge accused Justice Misra, who became the CJI on August 28, 2017 and is due to retire on October 2 this year, of not taking any "remedial measures" on some of the issues which affected the functioning of the apex court that they had raised.
Unless this institution is preserved, "democracy will not survive" in this country, Justice Chelameswar said at the unscheduled press conference, in the first of its kind event in independent India, leaving uncertain how this open dissension in the hallowed institution would be resolved. In a scathing criticism, Chelameswar said they had met the chief justice this morning and "raised issues affecting the institution."
He said all the four judges "failed to persuade CJI that certain things are not in order and therefore you should take remedial measures. Unfortunately our efforts failed. "And all four of us are convinced that democracy is at stake and many things have happened in recent past," he said.
Asked what these issues were, he said they included the "allocation of cases by CJI". The remarks assume significance as the apex court earlier in the day took up for consideration the issue of alleged mysterious death of special CBI judge B H Loya, who was hearing the sensitive Sohrabuddin Sheikh 'fake encounter' case.
Justice Chelameswar said "we owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. Our efforts have failed in convincing CJI to take steps to protect the institution."
There was no immediate official response from the CJI office.
Asked whether they wanted the Chief Justice to be impeached, Justice Chelameswar said, "let the nation decide."
The four judges, in their seven-page letter to the CJI, said, "It is with great anguish and concern that we have thought it proper to address this letter to you so as to highlight certain judicial orders passed by this court which has adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivering system and the independence of the high courts besides impacting the administrative functioning of the office of the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India."
The letter, that was released to the press, was sent a couple of months back, Justice Chelameswar said.
"It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of this country that the chief justice is only first amongst the equals -- nothing more or nothing less."
The letter said that there have been instances where cases having "far reaching consequences for the nation" and the institution have been assigned by the chief justices of this court "selectively to the benches 'of their preference' without any rationale basis" for such assignment. "This must be guarded against at all costs."
At the press conference, the judges rubbished suggestions that they have broken ranks and said they will discharge their duties as usual.
Justice Gogoi said "nobody is breaking the rank and it is discharge of debt to nation which we have done." Gogoi would be succeeding Misra as CJI in October this year.
Meanwhile, the Centre made it clear it is not going to intervene on the unprecedented development, saying the judiciary will resolve the issue itself. "Our judiciary is reputed all over the world, independent and they will sort the matter themselves," said minister of state for law P P Chaudhury.
The Opposition parties demanded a "thorough probe" into issues flagged by four judges over its functioning, prompting a strong reaction from the ruling BJP that accused its rivals of "politicising internal matters" of the judiciary.
Terming the concern voiced by the judges as "extremely important", Congress president Rahul Gandhi also called for a probe into the mysterious death of judge B H Loya, who died in 2014 when he was hearing the sensational Sohrabuddin Sheikh murder case in which BJP chief Amit Shah was an accused but later discharged.
"I think the points that have been raised by the four judges are extremely important. They have mentioned there is a threat to democracy. It needs to be looked into carefully.
"They also made a point about judge Loya's case. I think that is also something that needs to be investigated properly.
The BJP shot back, with its spokesman Sambit Patra accusing the Congress of politicising internal matters of the judiciary.
"Politics by political parties of the country, outside the judicial purview, trying to drag issues which are internal to the judiciary and politicise that is something which should not be attempted.
Meanwhile, the legal fraternity said they were "pained" and "sad" at the outcome of events in the country's highest court.
Former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee expressed his dissatisfaction over the development and stated that it would have severe repercussions on the functioning of the judiciary.
"I am very upset about this, I wish the 4 SC judges hadn't done this. This will have severe repercussions on the judiciary," Sorabjee told a local news channel.
"It is very unfortunate," said former CJI K G Balakrishnan, while Congress leader Ashwani Kumar, who is also a senior advocate, observed, "It is a sad day for the judicial system." Some senior advocates like K T S Tulsi said there could have been some "compelling" reasons for the four judges to lay bare their differences.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, who had a meeting with Justice Misra after the joint news conference of the judges, said it "could have been avoided" and that all judges would now have to act in "statesmanship" to ensure total harmony.

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