Justice J Chelameswar's retires: A look back at Supreme Court judge's most contentious statements in past months

Editor's note: This article was originally published on 11 May. It is being republished in light of Justice Jasti Chelameswar's retirement from office.

Over the last few months ever since Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra annulled an order passed by a bench consisting of Justice J Chelameswar on corruption allegations against a Tamil Nadu justice, Justice Chelameswar's views have taken the centrestage and often provided potion for gossip.

Justice Chelmaeshwar always held a different view of things, most-often guided by the determination to bring transparency into the highest court's daily functioning and decision making, but over the last few months a "grudge" element have been attached to everything that Justice Chelameswar has said be it raising his voice against government interference in judges' appointments, acusing judges of doing the government bidding, or most notably the 12 January press conference when the second most-senior Supreme Court judge called a presser at his house along with three other judges, accusing CJI Dipa Misra of dishonouring the apex court's traditions while stating that highest court of the country was not in order.

File image of Justice J Chelameswar. PTI

File image of Justice J Chelameswar. PTI

The latest gossip item from the Supreme Court is Justice Chelameswar refusing to attend a farewell slated to be organised in his honour by the Supreme Court Bar association, and his letter to the CJI seeking a meeting of the collegium on KM Joseph's elevation to the Supreme Court.

With Justice Chelameswar slated to retire on 22 June after spending nearly seven years as a Supreme Court judge, Firstpost takes a look at some of the things that Justice Chelmaeshwar said over the last six months, and which for good or bad, became the talking point.

12 January: Four judges allege the Supreme Court is not in order

In an unprecedented move, four Supreme Court Justices — Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph —  listed a litany of problems, including the issue of assigning of cases, plaguing the apex court. In the presser, the four judges distributed a letter dated 2017, and addressed to the CJI where they highlighted problems affecting the apex court's functioning. They said that the traditional norms of the apex court were being sidelined.

At the presser, Justice Chelameswar had said, “About a couple of months ago, four of us gave a signed letter to the Chief Justice. We wanted a particular thing to be done in a particular manner. It was done, but in such a way that it raised further questions on the integrity of the institution.”

Stating that the CJI is "only the first amongst the equals – nothing more or nothing less", in the letter, the four judges said that "there have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justice of this court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs."

The four judges also sought "for a need to revisit the process of appointment of judges and to set up a mechanism for corrective measures other than impeachment" and that any discussion on the Memorandum of Procedure should be in the Chief Justices’ Conference and by the Full Court, and if it has to be "discussed on the judicial side, it should be dealt with by none other than a Constitution Bench".

The presser brought no changes in the issues that the four judges raised, except highlighting a schism within the apex court and being a talking point for everyone.

21 March: In a letter to CJI Misra, Chelameswar accuses Karnataka HC chief justice of doing government bidding

In a letter addressed to the CJI and sitting judges of the Supreme Court, Justice Chelameswar said that some judges were doing the government's bidding. In the letter, Justice Chelameswar was referring to an inquiry being launched by Karnataka High Court's chief justice Dinesh Maheshwari against Principal District and Sessions Judge P Krishna Bhat.

According to a report published in LiveLaw.in, Justice Chellameshwar said that the Karnataka High Court had no right to launch an inquiry against Bhat without informing the CJI and that too in a case in which Bhat was cleared by Maheshwari's predecessor. He also said that the inquiry was launched at the behest of the Ministry of Law and Justice to stall Bhat's elevation to the High Court, which was cleared by the Supreme Court collegium.

6 April: Not elevating Justice Gogoi to CJI will prove true our allegations

In an interview with Karan Thapar, Justice Chelameswar said that he hoped Justice Gogoi is promoted to the next CJI once CJI Dipak Misra retires in October. However, if that doesn't happen, it would only prove "true" the issues Chelameswar, Gogoi and two other judges had raised during the 12 January press conference.

13 April: There's a relentless campaign accusing me of wanting to grab some office

Judges always refuse to hear pleas, but the reason Justice Chelameswar gave while refusing a plea to hear a petition by Shanti Bhushan saying that the power to decide the composition of benches and allocation of cases be vested in the collegium rather than the CJI, got many talking in April about him for the second time in the month. Justice Chelameswar revealed his frustration saying there's a relentless campaign accusing him of wanting to “grab some office”, and therefore he can not hear the plea.

“There is a relentless campaign in the last two months against me, accusing me of wanting to grab some office. You please understand my difficulty,” Chelameswar said, according to The Times of India, adding, "Sorry, I cannot take up the case. I do not want to hear the case. The reason is too obvious... I do not want one more reversal of the order in the next 24 hours.”

Justice Chelameswar's reasoning once again reminded every one of the discontent that surfaced in January, but it also showed that Justice Chelameswar was getting worked up by the media reports. According to the report, he turned down the plea saying that it might lead to another controversy and said he had less than two months to retire and wanted to leave the office in peace.

22 April: Not a signatory to letter seeking a full court meeting to address institutional issues plaguing the judiciary

A week later, when Justice Gogoi and Justice Lokur wrote a letter to the CJI seeking a full court meeting to address institutional issues plaguing the judiciary, Justice Chelameswar was not a signatory. The reason for this is best known to Justice Chelameswar and those close to him, but it was a significant departure from the stand that Justice had taken a month ago.

He was not a signatory to the letter written on Sunday by Justices Gogoi and Lokur, who had asked the CJI to hold a full court to address the institutional issues plaguing the higher judiciary.

25 April: Justice Chelameswar skip customary lunch meeting

As part of a tradition, the Supreme Court judges meet for lunch every Wednesday, with each of them taking turns to bring 'ghar ka khana' (home food) from his or her home state. However, on 25 April, Justice Chelameswar skipped the meeting. Though the justice's office merely said that judge didn't go to work today, no reason was mentioned for his absence. His absence from the court found mention across media, especially since Justice Chelameswar was present in a morning meeting two days ago when the vice-president rejected the impeachment notice. According to reports, while Justices Ranjan Gogoi and MB Lokur had favoured moving forward by keeping behind the impeachment issue, Justice Chelameswar remained quiet at the meeting.

7 May: 'The law has undergone modification'

In the second most recent comment from Justice Chelameswar (after his refusal to attend his farewell meeting), Justice Chelameshar made an intriguing comment. While hearing Congress' plea against the presidential order quashing an impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice J Chelameswar said that the law of the country has changed.

According to News18, the judge’s remarks came when he was told by senior advocate Kapil Sibal that Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra cannot cannot exercise the power to decide how the (impeachment) case will be heard and by which bench, since the petition seeks initiation of impeachment proceedings against the CJI himself since the "law in this country has been that nobody can be a judge in his own cause.”

id="web1x1_ros">Justice Chelameswar retorted: “I think the law you are talking about has undergone modification in the last few months.”

9 May: Justice Chelameshwar reiterates elevation of KM Joseph to Supreme Court

In a letter to the CJI on late Wednesday evening, Justice Chelameswar asked him to convene a meeting of the collegium to urgently forward to the Centre the name of Uttarakhand Chief Justice KM Joseph as the judge of the apex court.

The government had on 26 April returned the Collegium's recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph seeking its reconsideration, saying the proposal was not in accordance with the top court's parameters and there was an adequate representation of Kerala in the higher judiciary from where he hails. It had also questioned his seniority for elevation as a judge of the apex court. In the letter, according to PTI, Justice Chelameswar answered all the issues raised by the law ministry, while urging the CJI to send Joseph's name back to the government.

With inputs from PTI


Updated Date: May 18, 2018 10:01 AM

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