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Supreme Court judges vs Chief Justice of India: With revolt underway, who will sit in judgment of our judges?

For a democracy, this is indeed a dark day.

Like Julius Ceasar’s wife, the Supreme Court of India has been above reproach and any criticism has always been tempered by a deep and abiding respect. For 70 years, it has maintained that distance and that dignity. Despite the occasional hitch and doubt about its overreach, the awe has survived these decades.

Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar during a press conference at his residence in New Delhi. PTI

Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar during a press conference at his residence in New Delhi. PTI

That Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has been cornered by four senior justices of the apex court in a public forum through a press conference and literally accused of messing about with the established conventions and rules that have governed its functioning certainly brings the institution into the realm of the commonplace and off its regal pedestal.

This is not a one-off sulk and must have been brewing for months to reach this explosive point.

There will be those who will believe that it is a gutsy move and deserves commendation in that the four justices had to go public because of the thorough mess in procedures and what was amounting to a miscarriage of the judicial prerogatives in assigning cases. What choice did they have but to go to the people?

We must assume therefore that before taking this huge step into the public domain and stepping down from their legal mount of Olympus to a tawdry media melee more in keeping with celebrities and scandals, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur, and Kurian Joseph had exhausted every other avenue including the option of having intensely discussed in private with the CJI their concerns and fears before going public.

The letter does not say anything about the failure of any such meeting or series of meetings and seems to leapfrog straight from a sullen anger to a public attack from which there is no going back. The conclusion is devastating. Our upper-most echelons in the judiciary do not get on. Not as having different opinions on specific cases, but in the basic administrative dispensation of justice. That boggles the mind.

Now, whether this move has damaged or enhanced the image of the Supreme Court is yet to be seen.

That a bit of the esteem has fallen off like wet plaster is a possibility. If things were so bad, then clearly the Supreme Court has been hit by an internal divisiveness that places great weightage on the scales of justice. Just like the moon lost its lustre and mystique after a man walked on it, the Supreme Court, too, has overnight been exposed to the caprice of the human factor.

What ripple effect this will have on cases past and present and how this impasse will be resolved is going to make for a very painful walk into the future. This is not a kiss-and-make-up situation; it is the eminent collapse of our judicial system. When four judges take on their boss and do so in their wisdom with a press conference, albeit with the intent to save the institution, will the result be the opposite?

Which is why there will be, after the din has abated, some deep soul-searching in the body politic, the public at large and in legal circles that the sanctity of the judiciary in India has badly bruised and in going public, reduced its efficacy. There should have been far more circumspection; after all, these are not film acrtors, cricketers or tacky politicians.

In context, who will now sit in judgment on our judges?

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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2018 14:34 PM

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