Four Supreme Court judges took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising chief justice Dipak Misra on Friday, warning a lack of impartiality could imperil India’s democracy.
The press conference, by justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph, appears to have blown the lid off a growing rift between senior judges and chief justice Misra. The four, along with the CJI, are part of the Supreme Court collegium that selects judges to the apex court and high courts.
“This is an extraordinary event in the history of any nation, more particularly this nation, and an extraordinary event in the institution of judiciary … It is with no pleasure that we are compelled to call this press conference. But 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,” said justice Chelameswar.
Responding to the developments, a top functionary of the government said it will not interfere because “it is an internal matter of the judiciary”, but the judiciary should “resolve the matter” as soon as possible.
At the press meet, justice Chelameswar, the second-most senior judge in the Supreme Court after the chief justice, said: “We tried to persuade the CJI to take steps but failed. Unless the institution of Supreme Court is preserved, democracy won’t survive in this country.”
He added that the four had met chief justice Misra with a “specific request” but were unable to convince him.
“…We were left with no choice except to communicate it to the nation that please take care of the institution…Don’t want people to say 20 years later that we did not take care of the institution,” said justice Chelameswar.
A letter released by the judges raises issues such as the justice delivery system and allocation of cases.
The clash comes in the wake of a controversial order in November in which the CJI declared that the chief justice “is the master of the roster” having exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge.
“There is an issue of assignment of a case which is raised in that letter (to the CJI),” said justice Gogoi.
On being asked if it is about special CBI judge BH Loya, he said, “Yes.”
The remarks assume significance as the Supreme Court today took up for consideration petitions requesting for an independent probe into the death of judge Loya who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case of 2004, in which various police officers and BJP president Amit Shah are named as parties.
“There have been instances where a case having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned by Chief Justice of this court selectively to benches without rationale basis. This must be guarded against at all costs,” says the letter by the judges. “We are not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution but note that such departures have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent.”
All the judges rubbished questions on whether they have broken ranks.
Justice Gogoi, who will be succeeding chief justice Misra in October, said, “It’s a discharge of debt to the nation which we have done.” Asked whether they wanted the chief justice to be impeached, Justice Chelameswar said: “Don’t try to put words in my mouth.”
Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who hails from Assam, had been at the Gauhati High Court before being transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on September 9, 2010. He was appointed as Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2011. He was elevated as a Supreme Court Judge in April 2012. Justice Gogoi recused himself from hearing the plea filed by a lawyers’ group against the proposed elevation of Justice J.S. Khehar as Chief Justice of India in December 2016. Justice Gogoi also led the Bench which heard the sworn statement of former CBI officer in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.