For the first time in the apex court’s 68-year existence, four seniormost judges — Justices J Chelameswar, R Gogoi, M Lokur and Kurian Joseph — have publicly questioned the CJI over the allocation of work and the constitution of benches.
The judges complained on Friday that the “administration of Supreme Court is not in order and there have been things less than desirable that have happened in the court”.
They went on to suggest that the CJI, who is the ‘master of the roster’, was assigning cases having far-reaching consequences selectively to benches “of his preference”.
The manner in which these allegations were levelled against the leader of the judiciary was even more alarming than the substance of the charges. This is an extraordinary event that exposes a rift in the Supreme Court and pits the CJI against his brother judges.
The credibility of the office of the Chief Justice of India and the functioning of the incumbent, Justice Dipak Mishra, has been questioned by the four judges — one of whom, Justice Gogoi, is slated to become the next CJI. On the one hand, this development provides a window into the manoeuvrings that go on behind closed doors in the higher judiciary. At the same time, however, the allegations portray the highest judiciary in a bad light.
As things stand, the task of the CJI is going to be difficult from here on — particularly in matters of appointment and administration — and there will be serious repercussions not just for the judiciary but for the nation.
Appointments to the high courts, which are woefully understaffed with some working at half strength, will be affected, and transfers and elevation of judges to the apex court will be hit.
Differences between judges is not new — there have been instances of judges disagreeing with each other in the past, but these events have never made the headlines; they happened in private, and were resolved internally.
So, what is the way ahead for the higher judiciary? One option would be for the CJI to reach out to the four judges, tell them to put the past behind, and assure them that he will seek their help and guidance in future.
The second option could be for an eminent jurist — such as Fali Nariman or the Attorney General of India KK Venugopal — to broker peace.
A third option could be to get a retired chief justice — such as Justice Venkatachaliah (senior enough for all the judges to listen to) or Justice Lodha, who has worked with all the judges in question in the past — to mediate.
Finding a solution is important, in the interest of the institution and the nation.
(Source: The Hindustan Times)