'Democracy at stake,' say four Supreme Court judges
New Delhi: On a day which will have a permanent place in the history of the Indian judiciary and Constitutional affairs, the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court on Friday mounted a virtual revolt against the country's chief justice, warning that democracy is at stake and raising questions on "selective" case allocation and certain judicial orders. The unprecedented move by the four judges including Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior judge after Chief Justice Dipak Misra, sent shockwaves across the judiciary and polity, bringing to fore the simmering differences between the country's top judge and some senior judges in the apex court in recent months. The Supreme Court currently has 25 judges.
Justice Chelameswar himself described it as an "extraordinary event" in the annals of the Indian judiciary when the judges addressed a joint news conference during which he said "sometimes administration of the Supreme Court is not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in the last few months." The judge accused Justice Misra of not taking any "remedial measures" on some of the issues which affected the functioning of the apex court that they had raised. Justice Misra became the CJI on August 28, 2017 and he is due to retire from on October 2 this year.
Unless this institution is preserved, "democracy will not survive" in this country, Justice Chelameswar said at the unscheduled press conference, in the first of its kind event in independent India, leaving uncertain how this open dissension in the hallowed institution would be resolved. In a scathing criticism and unvarnished self-reflection of the Supreme Court, Chelameswar, who was accompanied by Justices Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph at the Press conference, said that they had met the chief justice in the morning and "raised issues affecting the institution". The CJI and the four judges comprise the Supreme Court collegium that selects judges for the higher judiciary.
"Unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country," Justice Chelameswar said, adding that it was "extremly painful" to hold the press conference in such a manner. The conference was held at his residence here. He said all the four judges "failed to persuade the CJI that certain things are not in order and therefore you should take remedial measures. Unfortunately our efforts failed. And all four of us are convinced that democracy is at stake and many things have happened in recent past."
Asked what these issues were, he said that they included the "allocation of cases by CJI". The remarks assume significance as the apex court earlier in the day took up for consideration the issue of alleged mysterious death of special CBI judge B H Loya, who was hearing the sensitive Sohrabuddin Sheikh 'fake encounter' case. Justice Chelameswar said "we owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. Our efforts have failed in convincing CJI to take steps to protect the institution." "This is an extraordinary event in the history of any nation, more particularly this nation and an extraordinary event in the institution of judiciary... It is with no pleasure that we are compelled to call this press conference."