The Supreme Court’s most senior judge, Justice J Chelameswar, today again expressed anguish over the affairs in the apex court and refused to order listing of a PIL filed by former union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan seeking formulation of guidelines on allocation of cases. In fast-moving developments, advocate Prashant Bhushan, after being denied urgent listing of his father’s PIL, rushed to Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s court and mentioned the matter for listing expeditiously. The bench headed by CJI said, “We will look into it.” Bhushan initially mentioned the matter before Justice Chelameswar and said this was an emergency situation. He said he was referring the matter to Justice Chelameswar’s bench as the PIL challenges the master of roster concept and the CJI cannot deal with it.
Justice Chelameswar said he would not like to deal with the matter as the reasons were “too obvious”. His remarks came in the backdrop of two recent letters written by him and Justice Kurian Joseph over the affairs of the Supreme Court and alleged interference by the executive into judicial matters. Justice Chelameswar said today that he had written a letter a few days ago to highlight the affairs in the Supreme Court and in the country. “Someone is running a relentless tirade against me that I am up to grab something. There is nothing I can do much in this. I am sorry. You please understand my difficulty,” Justice Chelameswar told Bhushan.
He said the country will understand everything and follow its own course. “I don’t want one more reversal of my order in the next 24 hours. This is why I can’t do it. Please understand my difficulty,” he said. He was apparently referring to the reversal of an order of a bench headed by him by the CJI’s bench on November 10 last year. Chelameswar’s bench had ordered setting up of a larger bench, comprising five senior most judges, to hear a PIL of NGO Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms relating to alleged medical admission scam.
The CJI-led bench had then held that since the Chief Justice was the Master of the Roster, he alone had the prerogative to constitute benches and neither a two-Judge, nor a three-Judge bench can allocate the matter to themselves or direct the constitution of a bench. Yesterday, the apex court bench headed by the CJI had again ruled that the Chief Justice of India was the “first among equals” and occupied a unique position having the “exclusive prerogative” to allocate cases and set up benches to hear cases.
On January 12 this year, with a warning that democracy is at risk, the four senior judges of the apex court, Justices Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph mounted a virtual revolt against the CJI raising questions on “selective” case allocation and certain judicial orders, sending shockwaves across the judiciary and polity. In an unprecedented move, these judges had convened a press conference and said the situation in the top court was “not in order” and many “less than desirable” things have taken place. Subsequently on March 21, Justice Chelameswar had shot off a letter to the CJI asking him to consider convening a full court to take up the issue of alleged executive interference in judiciary. In that unprecedent letter, he had said the bonhomie between the judiciary and the government in any State “sounds the death knell to democracy”.
The letter, copies of which were also sent to 22 other apex court judges, had questioned the probe initiated by Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari against District and Sessions Judge Krishna Bhat at the instance of Union Ministry of Law and Justice, despite his name being recommended for elevation twice by the Collegium. In a latest development, Justice Kurian Joseph has also shot off a letter to the CJI expressing concern over the delay by the government in clearing the names recommended by the collegium in February for elevation. The collegium had in February recommended the names of senior advocate Indu Malhotra and Justice K M Joseph, Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, for appointment as judges of the Supreme Court.
Expressing concern over the independence of the judiciary, Justice Joseph has asked the CJI to establish a bench of seven senior-most judges to suo motu take up the matter of the government sitting on the two names. He has also said that the government’s act of sitting over on the recommendations of the Collegium was “abuse of power” which sends a wrong message to all the judges not to cause any displeasure to the executive.