SC judges' revolt: Congress says 'democracy in danger'; ex-law minister holds Ravi Shankar Prasad responsible

Four senior Supreme Court judges mounted a virtual revolt against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra on Friday, as they listed a string of problems that they said were afflicting the country's highest court.

At the unscheduled press conference held at his residence, Justice J Chelameswar said that the administration in the country's top court was "not in order" and said that Indian democracy is 'in danger.'

Chelameswar, accompanied by Justices Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph heavily criticised the Chief Justice and said that they had failed to persuade him to take "remedial measures" on issues affecting the institution.

The press conference — the first of its kind event in independent India — drew critical reactions from political squares and the legal fraternity.

Opposition sees red 

The Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Friday said democracy is in "danger", while the CPM called for a thorough probe.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said a thorough investigation was required to understand how the independence and integrity of the judiciary was getting "affected", after the judges said many "less than desirable" things had taken place in the apex court. He said it was necessary for the three wings of democracy —  the executive, the legislature and the Judiciary —  to ensure that whatever issues had been raised were corrected.

"This merits a thorough, proper investigation and understanding of how independence and integrity of judiciary is being interfered or is being affected, which is impermissible in a secular democratic republic," Yechury said.

SC judges revolt: Congress says democracy in danger; ex-law minister holds Ravi Shankar Prasad responsible

Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar along with other judges addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Friday. PTI

West Bengal chief minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee voiced "anguish" over the judicial crisis in the Supreme Court. She also said "extreme interference" of the Centre in the functioning of the judiciary was "dangerous" for democracy, but did not elaborate.

"We are deeply anguished with the Friday's developments about the Supreme Court. What we are getting from the statement of the four senior judges of Supreme Court about the affairs of the court makes us really sad as citizens," Banerjee, said in a statement.

"Judiciary and the media are the pillars of democracy. Extreme interference of central government with judiciary is dangerous for democracy," she said. Earlier in the day, CPI leader D Raja's visit to Chelameshwar's residence raised eyebrows. However, Raja said that he met the senior Supreme Court judge over the "extraordinary step" and rubbished that his visit had any political affiliations.

Presser shocks legal fraternity The legal fraternity termed the press conference "unprecedented", as some experts called it "shocking" while some others said there could have been some compelling reasons for such a move. Former union law ministers Salman Khurshid, Hansraj Bharadwaj and Ashwani Kumar, and former judges RS Sodhi and Mukul Mudgal expressed concern over the press conference, while senior advocates Indira Jaising, and Prashant Bhushan welcomed the move.

Justice Sodhi questioned the move of the top judges approaching the media, calling it "appalling" "How can you administer Supreme Court by press conference. Are you going to hold a referendum and ask people what is right and wrong," Sodhi said.

Former law minister Ashwani Kumar said it was a "sad day" in the history of India that judges were "compelled" to bring in public domain the happenings in the top court.

He also called for a collective resolve to address the issues flagged by the judges "instead of finding fault with what they have said". "...I hope that the honourable CJI and all those concerned will take urgent remedial measures," the Congress leader said.

Former law minister Hansraj Bhardwaj said that it was the current Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's responsibility to see how the judiciary functions.

Firstpost spoke about the matter with Satish Maneshinde, one of the country's top lawyers. He expressed shock at what had happened and said that it needs to be examined by a full bench of the Supreme Court. He said that the matter was of great concern to everyone and the position of the Chief Justice has been made awkward by Friday's proceedings.

"If what has been alleged has actually been happening, then the judiciary is not independent. The government has distanced itself from the matter from now. However we must not keep quiet, and must take up this issue," said Maneshinde.

When asked about the government's role in the matter, he said, "while it doesn't have any powers of judicial administration, the legislature could move for impeachment of the judge(s). And this indeed might be the only option if the allegations made are actually true. The judges wanted to air their greivance in public which hadn't been resolved in private. It is good that we are finding out what happens before closed doors as the functioning of the court was earlier quite opaque." Meanwhile, retired Justice AK Ganguly said that the move would create apprehensions in the minds of the people.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan appreciated the four senior Supreme Court judges for taking on the CJI, saying they had made people aware of the "extraordinary abuse of power" by the latter.

Meanwhile, former solicitor general N Santosh Hegde said he was "devastated" by their action which has caused "irreparable" damage to the institution. "As a retired judge of the Supreme Court, I feel devastated... For some reason or the other, their cause is justified, (but the) relief they are seeking is wrong.... Going to the media? No. Judiciary was always considered as a family. Family disputes are never taken to the streets," he said. He added, "It amounts to a constitutional crisis now. And it will lead to all sorts of criticism from aggrieved people from the judiciary and people who have benefited from the judiciary will not speak about it. And in the long run, judiciary is (will become) another subject matter of Tom, Dick and Harry," he said. The former Karnataka Lokayukta and the retired Supreme Court judge said that the judiciary is totally different from the legislature and executive, and by raising allegations in public, the four judges have brought them to the same level. However, former Maharashtra advocate general Shrihari Aney backed the four Supreme Court judges.

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With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 09:18:39 IST

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