Four sitting judges of the Supreme Court of India on Friday said the administration of the highest court was not in order, warning that democracy would not survive in the country unless the institution was preserved.
The judges blew the lid on a growing rift with Chief Justice Dipak Misra at a news conference, the first of its kind held by sitting judges of India’s top court, where they revealed a letter written to the chief justice a few months ago.
According to reports in the Indian media, the press conference comes amid a tug-of-war between the government and the judiciary over how to appoint judges to the high courts and Supreme Court.
“The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country,” Justice Jasti Chelameswar said on the lawns of his residence in the Indian capital. The judge is the senior-most Supreme Court judge after the chief justice.
Chelameswar, speaking beside his colleagues, Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph, said they did not want to be accused of not having spoken up for the institution, or of “selling their souls”.
Efforts to alert the chief justice that certain things were not in order and that remedial measures needed to be taken had failed, prompting the news conference, Chelameswar said.
“This is an extraordinary event and it is with no pleasure we are doing this…We are left with no choice but to address the nation,” said Justice Chelameswar.
The four Justices alleged irregularities within the top court, and accused the CJI of not being responsive to their requests.
The judges have five main grievances:
a) Important cases get heard by the CJI-led bench, and do not get distributed to other senior judges heading benches.
b) Cases with resounding consequences for the nation and its legal system were assigned by the CJI selectively – based on preference, instead of rationality.
c) A public interest litigation seeking a probe into Judge BM Loya’s “mysterious” death was assigned to court no. 10 and not to any of the first four benches other than the CJI-led bench.
d) The medical college admissions scam was sent to court no. 7 after a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar sent it to a five-judge bench of himself, the CJI, and Justices Gogoi, Lokur and Joseph.
e) They feel it was wrong on the CJI’s part to head a small bench and deal with the memorandum of procedure when it was earlier heard by a five-judge bench.
The judges added that they had sent the CJI a seven-page letter to which they did not receive a response, and then they met him again this morning, but in vain.
“We collectively tried to persuade the CJI that certain things aren’t in order so take remedial measures but unfortunately our efforts failed,” said Justice Chelameswar.
When questioned whether the issue also had to do with the Collegium, the four judges neither confirmed nor denied speculation.
When asked if CJI Misra should be removed, one of the judges said, ” Let the nation decide on his impeachment .”
In a letter to the chief justice, the top judges of the Supreme Court said they were concerned about the selective assignment of important cases.
The letter added that cases were being assigned to benches without any rational basis.