During a high voltage drama over allegations of bribing judges to procure favourable orders in medical admission involving retired Orissa High Court judge IM Quddusi, a Supreme Court five-judge Constitution Bench on Friday overturned an order of a two-judge bench that directed setting up of a larger bench to hear the matter, saying the chief justice of India was the “master of the court” and had the sole prerogative to allocate matters. While passing an order effectively annulling the order passed by another bench led by justice J Chelemeshwar on Thursday, a bench led by chief justice Dipak Misra reiterated the legal position that the CJI is the “master of the roster”who can assign cases and direct composition of benches and any order passed by any bench assigning any matter to itself or directing the composition of benches won’t be binding.
He cited 1998 order of the apex court that held that the chief justice of a high court will be the master of rolls and assign cases to different benches.The Misra-led bench, which also had justices RK Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar as other judges, said any order contrary to the 1998 judgement would be inactive in law and shall not be binding. The Constitution bench also said that allocation of matters by the CJI was the principle of law, judicial discipline and the decorum of the court. The CJI also refused to gag the media from reporting the case, saying “I believe in freedom of speech, expression and the press.” The order came a day after the two-judge bench led by justice Chelameswar, the senior-most judge after the chief justice of India, had referred a petition filed by advocate Kamini Jaiswal to a Constitution bench of top five judges, including the CJI.
Earlier in the day, another two-judge bench headed by justice AK Sikri referred a similar petition filed by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms on the issue to the CJI. At the outset, advocate Prashant Bhushan said since there were allegations against the CJI, he should not be part of the bench hearing the matter. However, his attempts to address the court could not succeed as he was invariably interrupted by lawyers supporting the bench or the judges. Additional solicitor-general PS Narasimha, Supreme Court Bar Association president RS Suri and a large number of lawyers supported the CJI’s views and demanded an apology from Bhushan. They said if such a practice was allowed, it would lead to anarchy and chaos in the top court. A frustrated Bhushan angrily stormed out of the court amid commotion and demanded initiation of contempt proceedings against him.
A petition filed by Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal on Thursday sought an investigation into the case by a court-monitored Special Investigation Team. The petition was taken up for hearing by the bench headed by justice Chelameswar. Jaiswal’s petition was filed even as a plea by the NGO Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms seeking a similar probe in the case was already listed before the bench headed by justice AK Sikri. The CBI had lodged an FIR on September 19 and arrested Quddusi in connection with an alleged “cash-for-judicial relief scam” involving a Lucknow-based medical college. The FIR also alleged that a middle man named Biswanath Agarwala from Orissa was engaged with the purpose of influencing the judges. Immediately after registration of the FIR, raids were conducted and reports suggest that about Rs 2 crore in cash was recovered from the conspirators and some of them were arrested including the retired judge, who was later granted bail by a special CBI court in Delhi. The investigating agency had accused Quddusi of trying to influence a “public servant” and had recorded a large number of conversations between various accused during the investigation.