In an act they themselves described as “extraordinary”, four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court publicly accused Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra of selectively assigning cases to judges of his choice without any rational basis and refusing to take corrective measures about it.
Transcending judicial protocol that sitting judges should not interact with the media, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, in a first-of-its kind press conference, accused the CJI of assigning cases of “far-reaching consequences to the nation” to particular judges against the time-tested convention, practice and tradition of the apex court.
In a letter circulated by the judges at the press conference, the four judges accused certain Supreme Court judges of judicial indiscipline. The letter, addressed to the CJI, said certain judges arrogate to themselves the “authority to deal with and pronounce upon” cases which ought to be heard by other appropriate Benches. The letter is of October 2017 origin.
Justice Chelameswar, speaking for the four judges, said they had collectively tried to persuade the Chief Justice to take remedial measures, but their efforts unfortunately failed.
The judges said that with the independence of the judiciary and the future of democracy at stake, they had no other choice but turn to the nation for help. “We had no other choice but communicate to the nation to please take care of this institution.”
Justice Chelameswar said they decided to act now because they did not want “any wise men say 20 years later that Justices Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian sold their souls and did not take care of the interests of this illustrious institution”.
Justice Chelameswar recounted that the immediate trigger for the press conference was a meeting they held with the Chief Justice on Friday morning regarding the assignment of a particular petition seeking an independent probe into the mysterious death of CBI judge Loya to a particular Bench.
They had expressed their reservations to the CJI about the assignation of the Loya case. But the CJI had refused to budge. They had then informed the Chief Justice about their intention to go public.
Though Justice Chelameswar did not name the Loya petition specifically, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is scheduled to take over as Chief Justice of India after Chief Justice Misra retires on October 2 this year, spoke up to say the petition is indeed regarding Judge Loya’s death. “Yes, yes. It was Loya case,” Justice Gogoi said.
“It is the discharge of our debt to the nation that brought us here. We have discharged our debt to the nation by saying what is what,” Justice Gogoi said firmly.
The revelation at the press conference comes a couple of hours after a Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra heard the Loya petition.
Without naming any, Justice Chelameswar said that several other important cases like this had been assigned to preferred Benches over the past months. The convention of the court demands that important cases of public interest or sensitive matters should be first heard by the CJI. If the CJI is not willing for some reason to hear the case, then it should be assigned to the next seniormost judge in the Supreme Court. Instead of that, such cases have been assigned to certain Benches and eventually destined to a quiet burial.
“Unless the institution is preserved and allowed to maintain its dignity, democracy will not survive. The hall mark of a good democracy are independent and impartial judges,” Justice Chelameswar said.
When asked whether the CJI should be impeached, Justice Chelameswar said “let the nation decide”.
The four judges denied they were breaking ranks by holding this press conference, and said they were only discharging their responsibility to the nation and asking the nation to decide. “Tomorrow is Saturday, then it is Sunday, and on Monday we go back to do our job,” Justice Chelameswar said.
The judges had finished their roster of cases for the day before meeting up at Justice Chelameswar’s residence at noon to hold the press meet. Justice Chelameswar, at 10.30 am, addressed the courtroom, saying he would only hear urgent matters and finished hearing them before rising for the day.
The Bench led by Chief Justice Misra also rose at noon, saying they would re-convene at 2 pm to hear the rest of the cases listed for the day.
Justice SA Bobde, who is expected to be Chief Justice of India in November 2019, went to meet Justice Chelameswar later during the day.
Speculation was rife in the media throughout the day that Chief Justice Dipak Misra would call a press conference, but no such development occurred.