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.
For the first time in history, 4 sitting SC judges publicly questioned the functioning of the Supreme Court. Is the Modi Govt interfering with India's judiciary? #DemocracyInDanger pic.twitter.com/T79EeYyMPU
— Congress (@INCIndia) January 12, 2018
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.
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.
Have known him for a long time. When I came to know of the extraordinary step taken by him & other judges, I thought must meet him. Not giving it political colour. These are concerns for everybody, it's about future of country & democracy: D Raja on meeting Justice #Chelameshwar pic.twitter.com/yHyMxz8KcD — ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
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.
Deeply sad & pained, also feel a sense of agony that highest court of land should come under such severe stress that forces judges to address the media: Salman Khurshid, senior advocate on press conference by 4 Supreme Court judges. pic.twitter.com/vtGg2JRQYJ — ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
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.
It's the loss of prestige of the entire institution. If you lose public's trust what remains? Judiciary must remain pillar of democracy. It's responsibility of Law Minister to see how it functions: Hansraj Bhardwaj, former Union Law Minister on allegations made by the 4 SC judges pic.twitter.com/kcnn9DoNX0
— ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
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.
Feel very disturbed over the issue, this should not have happened, but it has and there might be strong reasons for them. Consequence would be it would create apprehensions in minds of ppl: Justice(Retd) AK Ganguly on press conference by four Supreme Court judges pic.twitter.com/z3KDkLKsqb — ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
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.
Truly unprecedented! Kudos to 4 seniormost judges of SC who addressed a Press Conf today to apprise the people about the extraordinary abuse of 'master of roster' powers by CJI in selectively assigning politically sensitive cases to hand picked junior judges for desired outcome
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) January 12, 2018
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.
These are very senior judges & come only after CJI. They wouldn't have taken the step without thinking. If it has fallen upon them to take action, it's up to us to understand what led to that: Shrihari Aney, former Attorney General on allegations made by 4 #SupremeCourt judges pic.twitter.com/dp6cPWyFOL — ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2018
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 09:18 AM