Divisions at the top in the Supreme Court burst out in the open on Friday when four senior sitting judges took an unprecedented step of publicly accusing Chief Justice Dipak Misra of not strictly adhering to rules in assigning cases to appropriate benches which they said can create “doubt” about the integrity of the apex court.
Speaking to the media at the residence of Justice J. Chelameswar, the judges said the Supreme Court administration was “not in order” and released an undated letter they wrote to Justice Misra in which they conceded that the Chief Justice was the master of roster but this was “not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues”.
“It (press conference) is an extraordinary event in the history of judiciary and more particularly in this nation, even for this institution (Supreme Court). It is with no pleasure that we have been compelled to do this. Administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. Many things less than desirable have happened in the last few months. We owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. We tried to collectively persuade the Chief Justice that certain things are not in order and remedial measures are necessary.
“Unfortunately our efforts have failed in convincing the Chief Justice of India to take steps to protect this institution,” Justice Chelameswar said at the hurriedly called press conference.
#JudgesAtWar Frankly, I am glad that the milords have started abusing/exposing each other and the muck within, since no one else can. Can of worms.
— Shalini Singh (@shaliniscribe) January 12, 2018
The four judges — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar — did not refer to any particular matter the Chief Justice had decided in assigning benches. Asked specifically if they were upset over reference of the matter seeking a probe into the suspicious death of Special CBI Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, Justice Gogoi said: “Yes.”
But in the seven-page letter they said they were not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution because “such departures have already damaged the images of this institution to some extent”.
The clash among the judges in the highest court also comes in the wake of a controversial order in November in which Justice Misra declared that the Chief Justice “is the master of the roster” having exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge.
The CJI had given the order a day after a two-judge bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had passed an order that a five-judge bench of senior most judges in the apex court should be set up to consider an independent probe into a corruption case in which bribes were allegedly taken in the name of settling cases pending before Supreme Court judges.
Holding that the Chief Justice was only the first among equals, the four judges contended that in a matter of determination of roster there were well-settled and time-honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice, be it the convention dealing with the strength of the bench required to deal with a particular case or the composition thereof.