Squabble in SC: Judiciary independent, will sort itself out, says Modi govt

Illustration by Binay Sinha
The reaction from the Narendra Modi government was guarded on Friday on the four Supreme Court judges claiming that the situation in the apex court was “not in order”. The government indicated it would not intervene in the matter, and it hoped the judiciary would resolve the matter itself.

While Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad didn’t comment on the issue, Minister of State P P Chaudhury said: “Our judiciary is reputed all over the world, is independent and will sort out the matter itself.” Senior government sources said as there were no reference points, neither in India nor internationally, the executive would prefer to wait and watch. Sources also said the apex court should settle the issue at the earliest as the faith of the people in the judiciary was at stake. Government sources also conceded all the four judges were known for their credibility and integrity.

The four — J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — had at a joint press conference said the situation in the top court was “not in order” and many “less than desirable” things have taken place.

Later in the day, Attorney General K K Venugopal said he believed the SC judges would resolve the issue among themselves on Saturday. Chief Justice Dipak Misra might meet all Supreme Court judges on Saturday, sources said.

The Congress and other opposition parties expressed concern and asked Chief Justice Mishra and the Centre to take remedial steps. Some Opposition leaders awaited the lead of the Congress on whether they should collectively move a motion for impeachment of the chief justice. But the Congress ruled that option out.

After the development, Congress President Rahul Gandhi met senior party leaders, including former Union ministers and advocates P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Vivek Tankha. After the meeting, he said that “the four SC judges have raised extremely important points and spoke about threat to democracy, which needs to be looked into”. He also demanded a high-level SC-monitored investigation into the circumstances of judge B H Loya’s death. He was the trial judge in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.

A Congress statement said it was “deeply perturbed” at the developments. The non-finalisation of the memorandum of procedure, an issue raised by the four judges, “has left nearly 40 per cent of the sanctioned posts of the judges vacant, leading to delay in justice delivery.”

The Congress said the full court of the SC should take up the issues raised by the four judges. “In the matter of assignment of cases, the established conventions and traditions of the courts must be followed and the selective assignment of the cases must be stopped forthwith.” The party said cases that have far-reaching implications to society and governance must be heard in accordance with well-established conventions by the senior most judges of the Supreme Court.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy said when such judges come out to do a press conference, it was necessary to take them seriously rather than finding faults. Swamy said the prime minister should take an initiative and contact the chief justice and the four judges to resolve the situation through consultation.

Several Opposition leaders also criticised Communist Party of India (CPI) Rajya Sabha member D Raja reaching the residence of Justice J Chelameswar.

National Conference chief Omar Abdullah termed Raja’s move “hasty and ill considered”, which “plays into the hands of those who want to discredit what the judges said/did.” A senior CPI(M) leader said his party dissociates itself with Raja’s action. Embarrassed, CPI chief S Sudhakar Reddy said Raja met Justice Chelameswar in his personal capacity, not as a representative of the party.

The CPI(M) said in a statement the four judges have “raised important issues which have a vital bearing on the institution of the Supreme Court, such as the way the roster of judges are allocated to hear cases,” it said. CPI(M) chief Sitaram Yechury said a probe was required to know how the independence and integrity of the judiciary was getting affected.

Former Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav said: “It is a dark day for democracy that even the judges are working under pressure and without independence.”
An impeachment motion requires signatures from 50 members of the Rajya Sabha, if it is being submitted in the Upper House, and 100 of the Lok Sabha, if submitted in the Lower House. The Rajya Sabha Chairman, or the Lok Sabha Speaker, as the case may be, has discretionary powers on whether to admit it and refer to a three member committee, which comprises a sitting Supreme Court judge, a sitting High Court chief justice and a senior advocate.

Squabble in Supreme Court

Four apex court judges called a press meet over a litany of problems, they said, were afflicting the court. sahil makkar takes a look at the profiles of the CJI and the other four

Justice Dipak Misra

Date of birth: 3-10-1953
Term of Office: 10-10-2011 
(DoA) to 2-10-2018 (DoR) 
Appointed as the Chief Justice of India: 28-08-2017
Misra’s appointment as CJI has been marred with controversies. Before his anointment, former law minister Shanti Bhushan and others had appealed to the govt that it should not follow the seniority criteria in the case of Misra. He pointed to Misra’s name in a previous land case and in the suicide note by former Arunachal Pradesh CM Kalikho Pul. Main judgments: Said no to marriage as a compromise in rape cases, upheld the death sentence of Nirbhaya case convicts, passed an order making the playing of the national anthem in cinema halls mandatory, headed the Bench that ordered the auction of Sahara’s Aamby Valley property

Justice J Chelameswar

Date of birth: 23-06-1953
Term of Office: 10-10-2011 (DoA) to 22-06-2018 (DoR) 
Chelameswar, the second-most senior judge in the SC, led the charge against the CJI. He was the lone judge who upheld the validity of the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act (NJAC). The delay in elevation to the SC had robbed him of becoming CJI, and put him behind the current CJI Misra in seniority. Referred the privacy case to a larger Constitutional Bench and is hearing petitions on Aadhaar

Justice Ranjan Gogoi

Date of birth: 18-11-1954
Term of Office: 23-04-2012
(DoA) to  17-11-2019 (DoR)   

Gogoi is next in line to become CJI. Was appointed as permanent judge of the Gauhati HC on February 28, 2001. He had issued a notice to the CBI on allegations that the agency didn’t probe the larger conspiracy behind the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. A Bench headed by him had issued contempt notice to Markandey Katju, a former SC judge

Justice Madan Bhimarao Lokur

Date of birth: 31-12-1953
Term of Office: 4-06-2012 (DoA) to  30-12-2018 (DoR)
Lokur was appointed additional solicitor general of India on July 14, 1998. He was made an additional judge of the Delhi HC on February 19, 1999, followed by his permanent appointment on July 5, 1999. His profile says Lokur has interest in judicial reforms, computerisation of courts, judicial education, etc. In-charge of the e-panel of the SC

Justice Kurian Joseph

Date of birth: 30-11-1953
Term of Office: 8-03-2013 (DoA) to 29-11-2018 (DoR)
Joseph began his legal career in 1979 in the Kerala HC and was elevated as judge in the same court on July 12, 2000. Important posts: President Kerala Judicial Academy (2006-08); executive chairman, Kerala State Legal Services Authority (2009-10), etc.

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