It is not the first time that justice J Chelameswar has hit the headlines. Not to mention his dissenting judgment in the National Judicial Accountability Commission (NJAC) case and the judges’ bribery case, he even stopped attending meetings of the collegium in 2016 when TS Thakur was CJI as he found its procedures “most opaque”. Expressing his unhappiness over the process, he had said the “majority gangs up” to shoot down genuine objections against undesirable candidates being chosen to be judges of higher courts. “No reason, no opinion is recorded. Just two people decide the names and come back to the meeting and ask for a yes or no,” he had said.
“Are we doing anything good for the country through this selection process? Should it not be on the basis of merit? What if a person who is opposing a name has the most valid grounds? Can such valid grounds be brushed aside by majority or through expression of yes or no” — were a few of the many questions Chelameswar had raised. However, he clarified that he was not recusing from the collegium but would participate when the files with recommendations come to him by “circulation”.
Chelameswar was also the sole judge to record his dissent in 2015 against the collegium system and had supported the NJAC as a better alternative. The Supreme Court, by a 4:1 majority, had struck down a constitutional amendment and stalled the government’s attempt to have a say in judges’ appointments.
In his judgment, he had noted that the judiciary must introspect if the collegium system has become “a euphemism for nepotism” where “mediocrity or even less” is promoted and a “constitutional disorder” does not look distant. He was the part of the bench that favoured freedom of speech by invalidating Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in 2015. While being a part of the three-judge bench, he had said that no citizen can be denied government subsidies and other services just because they do not have Aadhaar.
Born on June 23, 1953, Chelameswar graduated in law from Andhra University, and started practising law. He was appointed as an additional judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1999. He was elevated as the chief justice of the Gauhati High Court in 2007, and later transferred to Kerala High Court as the chief justice.
It was in 2011 that the judge was elevated to the Supreme Court and he is set to retire in June this year.